So some may be surprised to find that a business school from the Midwest has set out its stall in Europe. But that is what the highly-rated Chicago University Graduate School of Business is doing. From next July up to 80 managers in Europe will be able to obtain a Chicago MBA by attending part-time courses in Barcelona.
While claiming that it is the first leading US business school to take such a step, Robin Hogarth, the institution's deputy dean for MBA programmes, also insists that University of Chicago has a long-standing commitment to the much-in- vogue internationalisation of management training.
'We've been aware for some time that international management is an important aspect,' said Mr Hogarth. He pointed out that more than one fifth of Chicago's students come from outside the United States and that the school had also been running exchange programmes with nearly 20 schools since 1968.
Indeed, the school, which is consistently in the upper ranks of US business schools and proud of its Nobel laureates, was approached several years ago with a view to recreating the concept somewhere in Europe, but turned the project down because it did not feel it was feasible.
However, Mr Hogarth and his colleagues felt they needed to do something to make the school's curriculum match the cultural mix of students and teachers. Having decided to tackle this by both developing special courses and by adding an international element to classes, it was apparently a small jump to setting up an executive programme in Europe.
Chicago, which claims to have led the way with executive MBAs 50 years ago, expects a demand for a US-type MBA in a continent where the qualification has developed rather differently. This is largely because in Europe many people enter a business after obtaining specialist qualifications at university and only seek management training some way into their careers, whereas in the US, business school typically comes a few years after a first degree. But the school is also looking for benefits, or 'spillovers', for itself. In particular, since it is making a point in the marketing of the new programme of stressing that some of its senior faculty will be teaching on it, it sees its staff using the opportunity provided to create courses that can be taken back to Chicago.
All of which is fine. But as Mr Hogarth, who is in charge of developing the programme, acknowledges, it still leaves the question: Why Barcelona?
The academic answer is that independent market research carried out on behalf of the school showed that such a programme should be based near a big international airport, and that if was to be thought of as truly international, it should be in a different country from the main catchment areas, such as Germany and France. But there was also a financial factor. 'The people in Barcelona and Spain just made it financially possible for us in ways that others were not prepared to,' said Mr Hogarth.
It is envisaged that the 80 students that Chicago is looking for will typically be aged between 35 and 40 and, since they will be recognised as having great potential, almost exclusively sponsored by their companies. Mr Hogarth, who is making regular trips between the United States and Europe to drum up interest, says they will be recruited from all over the continent. There are also plans to attract people from elsewhere in the world.
He is optimistic that the first class will be a good one and sees two main sources of participants. First, US multinationals, largely because they are more likely than European companies to be aware of Chicago's reputation. Second, large European companies that want to become bigger internationally.
But he also expects a few people from smaller companies who want a US MBA without having to live in the United States for two years.
The programme, which will be taught in English, has a modular format. There are 10 sessions, each lasting one or two weeks, stretching out over 16 months. Although most of the work will be in company time, Chicago is recommending that companies follow the US practice of getting participants to donate a week's holiday a year to it, with the aim of making them more committed. And in addition to the 14 weeks of intensive course work there are assignments to be completed between the modules.
In the summer of the second year participants, who are continually assessed throughout the programme, will take courses alongside their US counterparts doing the executive MBA in a purpose-built centre being completed in Chicago.
Some in the European business school community have cast doubts on executives' willingness to do so much travelling in the interests of learning. But Mr Hogarth says the idea has worked well in the United States. Indeed, he says that by sending people back and forth over a period of time the education becomes more integrated with their work than if they had simply had an interlude, which can be 'like a vacation'.
Another potential stumbling block is the price of tuition: dollars 40,400 ( pounds 27,000) for the course beginning next year (travelling costs will obviously depend on where particpants are coming from). But Mr Hogarth makes no apologies. The cost is the same as for those obtaining the MBA in Chicago because the same qualification is being awarded. 'It is not a franchise operation, not the McDonald's of the University of Chicago,' he said.
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