MBA: Your global calling card

An MBA can be a passport to success, especially if you study for it abroad.
So, you want to do an MBA. But have you thought about doing one abroad? The arguments in favour of doing so are growing all the time, as companies become increasingly global in their outlook and as the qualification becomes a global calling card. The MBA is an international qualification, recognisable wherever you take it around the world.

If you want to work in Europe it certainly makes sense to study for an MBA in a country other than the United Kingdom. That way you become expert in a language other than English and become acquainted with another culture, which should make you a more marketable commodity.

"There's a real value added," says Judith Ryder, MBA Programme Director at the French business school, EM Lyon. "If you have a second language, you're really attractive to European companies."

The full-time MBA at this French grande ecole - one of the oldest business schools in France and one of the four best schools in France - is a small bilingual programme taught in French and English. Of the 40 students on it, 40 per cent come from outside France, some from other European countries, including the UK, and others from far-flung places such as Hong Kong, India and Mexico. The cost is 100,000 francs (around pounds 10,000) which compares well with leading British MBAs. In addition, the cost of living in Lyon is lower than that in Paris, so you could argue that its MBA offers good value for money.

But if you think perfecting a foreign language while studying for an MBA abroad sounds altogether too stressful, there is an easier option. That is to take an MBA in a country other than Britain, but to do so in English. The Netherlands is a country which appeals to the British because of its beer and tolerant attitudes, but another reason for going there is for its business schools.

One of the best Dutch schools, Nijenrode University, set in a 140-acre park 20 minutes drive from Amsterdam, offers a small full-time international MBA lasting just over a year. Its 60 students come from all over the world - as many as 75 to 85 per cent from outside the Netherlands. "It would be difficult to find another programme overseas as small and as international as this," says Karel Samsom, Associate Dean of MBA Programmes and Professor of Entrepreneurship.

Nijenrode goes out looking for candidates with a demonstrable commitment to living and working with people from different cultures. Certainly, you get plenty of practice at that when you arrive. MBA students live on campus in comfortable accommodation surrounded by a 13th-century castle, wildlife and woods. And when they graduate they stay in touch via an elaborate international alumni network which, incidentally, can also help them to find jobs.

Other attractive aspects of Nijenrode are its emphasis on the "soft" skills such as leadership, communication and cooperation, and the close links it has developed with multinational corporations, in particular with the four which helped to set the school up after the Second World War: KLM, Unilever, Shell and Philips. Executives from these companies are always in and out of the school discussing management trends with students.

The top European business schools, like the top schools in the UK, have no trouble finding applicants. According to Professor Landis Gabel, Associate Dean for the MBA programme at INSEAD in France, business is booming, with an increase in applicants for September this year of 45 per cent.

This flagship school packs in the students and is intensely international: it has two intakes a year of 300 a time to its full-time MBA despite fees of around pounds 16,000. Entry is incredibly selective: its average score on the GMAT test is 685 (out of a maximum of 800). When you consider that a score of 600 is equivalent to around 67 per cent, you see just how selective it is. Professor Gabel won't give the proportion of applicants rejected but says INSEAD's average GMAT score is the highest in Europe.

If it is any comfort, INSEAD takes other factors into account apart from the GMAT. Other considerations are the quality of the university you attended and how well you did in your degree. "These factors are as important as GMAT and probably more important," says Professor Gabel. "We're also looking for people with maturity and international experience."

Britons make up the biggest single national group at INSEAD, forming 12 per cent of MBA students. Then come the French (11 per cent). But that is changing. Over time the school is seeing a slow decline in Western European students and a slow increase in the number of Americans and Asians. One reason is that 18 months ago INSEAD changed its language policy. Previously it had insisted all applicants speak French; today it still requires two languages but French doesn't have to be one of them.

For those who are really searching out value for money it is worth looking further afield, to a place where MBAs cost a good deal less than pounds 10,000. That country is South Africa. The full-time MBA at the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town costs pounds 6,500; at Wits Business School in Johannesburg it's a mere pounds 4,500. The reason, according to Professor Mike Ward, Dean of Wits Business School, is that all students attending South African institutions are subsidised, including foreigners studying the MBA. In addition, the cost of living is lower in South Africa than in Europe

Around 30 per cent of Cape Town's students come from overseas, the single largest contingent from Europe and some from the UK, so you won't find yourself cut off from all contact with your own culture. Like some other schools overseas, Cape Town, also has accommodation for its MBAs, though you have to pay for it. Wits, however, takes few foreign students, keeping numbers down to 10-15 per cent.