Graduate Plus: Sow the seeds for post-grad study and reap the rewards

Roger Trapp reports on recent attempts to raise the profile of a scheme designed to promote Anglo-US understanding.
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The Independent Online
Over the coming weeks some of "the best and the brightest" of young British and American business people will be crossing the Atlantic to embark upon post-graduate courses at some of the two countries' most prestigious business schools.

By any standards, Richard Sanders is a force to be reckoned with. Currently a financial analyst with the investment bank Morgan Stanley, he has tried his hand at the law, qualified as a ski instructor, worked for an adventure company in Nepal and a safari company in Africa and speaks two foreign languages. Now - thanks to an award from fellow investment bank Salomon Brothers - Richard is about to begin an MBA at California's Stanford Business School.

Salomons is one of 23 sponsors of awards organised by the Fulbright Commission, an organisation that last year celebrated its 50th year of encouraging international educational exchange under the simple philosophy of bringing the best of American youth to the UK and the best of British to the United States. Others include BAT Industries, which is helping to send Sanjeev Verma, until now a derivatives trader with NatWest Markets, to study for an MBA at Pennsylvania's Wharton school.

The benefits of the programme to the individual are obvious. Mr Verma, for instance, hopes that the programme will help equip him with the skills required to achieve his goal of running his own company, while Mr Sanders is looking for preparation for "leadership in the financial or commercial world". But, as Michael Prideaux, director of group public affairs at BAT, explains, there are potential advantages for the sponsor, too. He sees it as a way of promoting BAT - which owns the Farmers insurance business in the United States as well as Allied Dunbar, Eagle Star and the asset management company Threadneedle in the UK - to US post-graduate students.

It is not expected that the sponsored student will end up working for the sponsoring company, though BAT is holding out the possibility of its students doing internships, and other companies are optimistic that the association will put them in touch with prospective employees. As John Mueller, chairman and chief executive of the UK arm of the diversified US industrial company 3M, puts it: "The scheme gives us access to some of the brightest young minds around."

Such enthusiasm is highly encouraging to James Moore, executive director of the Fulbright Commission, who is seeking to convince more companies that supporting a programme in this way can complement their existing activities in the increasingly complex area of executive development.

In addition to converting companies to the benefits of the scheme, he is seeking to make more would-be students aware of the opportunities of gaining awards that cover air fares to and from the USt and maintenance costs for an academic year. The commission is, for example, setting up a link with the top 25 US business schools so that British applicants will automatically have access to its Internet web site. "We need to make sure that we have lots of outstanding candidates," explains Mr Moore.