Study in a foreign climate can make good financial sense

Studying for an MBA abroad puts you in contact with other business cultures and offers the opportunity to learn another language. Lucy Hodges looks at five leading schools
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So you're thinking about an MBA. But where do you study, in Britain or abroad? That's an increasingly pertinent question in today's global marketplace. If you want a career in international management, it makes sense to go abroad, according to those who have done so. That way you will get to know another culture and maybe another language. You'll also meet a whole bunch of globally-oriented business people, and appreciate that the way foreigners do things is certainly different, and sometimes better.

Once you have decided to study abroad, the big decision is whether to go to America or Europe. Some British high-flyers, particularly those from the top firms of consultants, and especially the big American companies, confine themselves to only the most prestigious institutions. In America these are schools such as Harvard, MIT Sloan School of Management, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg (at Northwestern University in Chicago), the University of Chicago, Columbia and Berkeley. In Europe, they include three names: the London Business School, the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland and INSEAD, the swanky institute at Fontainebleau in France attended by Tory leader William Hague.

"Don't be deterred by the cost," says Dr Penelope Dash, who trained as a medical doctor and attended Stanford, the Californian school 25 miles south of San Fransisco. Stanford's tuition fees are $48,000 for a two- year MBA (getting on for pounds 30,000) and you have living costs on top of that. Dr Dash, who moved from the NHS to Boston Consulting as a result of her MBA, managed to collect $60,000 in scholarships from various sources - the Fulbright organisation, the English Speaking Union, her former medical school and the King's Fund, among others.

"People are often put off by the money but if you go to one of the top schools you will more than make up for it in the salary on your return - pounds 60,000, for example, plus a signing-on bonus of pounds 15,000. You can always find banks to put up loans - and you'll have a great time."

There are, however, other places in Europe worth considering which may not be as well known but are nonetheless highly regarded and may give you more personal attention as well as a more global perspective than the big American schools. They are particularly useful if you know you want to work for a European company. European firms tend to recruit on European campuses.

One such school is IESE International Graduate School of Management in Barcelona (see profile, above). Situated in the lovely Catalan city, it will give you a passport into the Spanish-speaking business world as well as fluency in the second language of the business world and a Harvard style business education conducted through case studies via its two-year MBA.

Another great advantage of the Continental schools is their cost. ESADE, located in another part of Barcelona, also offers a two-year MBA and costs just under pounds 10,000 a year. Set up by Jesuits and Catalan businessmen 40 years ago, it combines business education with a commitment to social responsibility and business ethics.

You can choose to study the ESADE programme either in English or Spanish, and non-Spanish speakers take Spanish lessons. The first year introduces students to teamwork and cooperation, and teaches them the basics of business and management. In the final year, they learn the main functional areas of management and study a major. As part of the international major they may spend three months abroad on an internship.

All the Spanish schools pride themselves on their internationalism. The Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, for example, has strong links all over the world, especially in Latin America and the Philippines. Like the other Spanish schools, it attempts the delicate juggling act of being a global school while appealing to students who are interested in the Spanish- speaking world. Its international MBA is bilingual - around three-quarters of the work is in English, one-quarter in Spanish - and contains what the school calls a "World Reality Seminar". The latter lasts four weeks and is concerned with international marketing.

Further north in Europe you can find schools which try, if anything, to be even more international. Very far north is the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration taking one-third of its MBA student population from abroad. Courses are taught by visiting professors from leading schools all over the world.

In Holland, the Rotterdam School of Management claims to have a UN-style environment and to take students from 40 different countries, including 25 to 30 per cent from Asia. It has a reputation for friendliness and informality and students benefit from having access to the facilities of Erasmus University of which it is part. According to Kai Peters, director of the MBA programme, Asians are coming to European business schools because they have become aware of the size of the European consumer market. "They're starting to realise that Europe is the third element in what has been seen as the Asian/North American axis."

Situated in the heart of a cosmopolitan and corporate Rotterdam, the MBA, conducted in English, lasts 18 months and includes an excellent exchange programme. For those interested in information technology, there is an additional IT MBA which has been running since 1988.

The French Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees, at one of France's oldest and most prestigious grandes ecoles, is also strongly international with only 10 to 15 per cent of students from France and the rest from outside. Most of the academics are visiting and hail from business schools in the rest of Europe, Asia and North America.

Located in the original building of this engineering grande ecole, in the St Germain district on the Left Bank of Paris, the school runs a flexible MBA, called a Master in International Business, which differs from the traditional core-plus-electives model. Although the MBA is taught in English, students are required to learn French alongside their business courses. There is no core programme. Instead, each student works out his or her own programme with help from the professors, which requires students to be self-aware and confident about what they want to do. The school is slightly biased towards science and engineering students because of its origins, but Karina Jensen, communications and development officer, says it's no more concerned with number-crunching than any other business school.