Business schools are teaming up to give students an international edge

One of the executives taking part in ESADE business school's new global MBA is a Brazilian working for a Canadian company based in South Africa who travels extensively as part of his job. The Spanish school says a student with this sort of broad international background is typical of the executive who's attracted to a global MBA.

"These people are travelling so much that they can organise themselves so that they spend some time working in that country before or after the modules," says Professor Pedro Parada, who helped design the programme. "By combining both work and study part of the cost can be paid by the company."

Most executives now demand some type of exposure to global markets as part of their studies. This might take the form of a programme which brands itself as "global" or an MBA that includes a module spent in at least one different country. But however you choose to gain your global credentials, will the soaring cost of air travel have any impact on the cost of study?

ESADE's MBA is about as global as it gets. It has teamed up with Robert E McDonough School of Business and Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service – both part of Georgetown University in Washington DC – to offer six modules of between a week and a fortnight, each in Europe, South America, India and the US. Next year China will replace India

The rising cost of air travel has yet to feed into the pricing of ESADE's MBA because the programme is planned so far in advance and Parada expects that most students will be able to cope with increases. Fees are €85,000 (£70,800) and each of the current 35 students, who come from 14 different countries, is funded either fully or partly by employers.

Professor Davide Sola, dean of the London campus of the ESCP-EAP European School of Management, says that students on ESCP-EAP's European Executive MBA have so far not felt the pain of rising air fares, even though the programme demands considerable travel. Students visit the school's five European campuses as well as Brussels, and either the US or Norway and a module in Brazil, India, China, or South Africa. ESCP-EAP's MBA costs €39,000 (£32,500) but this does not include the cost of air travel. In most cases, if the employer is paying for the fees they will also pay for the flights.

"The good thing is that most of our campuses are connected by low cost airlines," Sola says. "It is true that the cost of the international seminars will be affected but we normally plan things well in advance because when you're moving 160 people around it's not something that you can leave until the last minute. And most of the time we can offer group discounts on flights."

But as air travel looks set to become more costly, and for students concerned about the environmental impact, is it better to gather global experience from the classroom? IMD, based in Switzerland, recently introduced a "global literacy test" as a way of encouraging students to become "more globally aware citizens". Questions included "What does Picasso's 1937 painting Guernica depict?"

Sola believes that true global awareness only comes by mixing students from different countries. "They learn more from students who are globetrotters and by being moved around. Things like, how do you get an entrepreneur to sell a company in a Latin country where a company's for life, versus the Anglo-Saxon world where everything is for sale at the right price? In Spain you could offer an enormous amount of money for a company that's not worth it but they would still not sell it because they say, 'I've inherited it from my grandfather and I'm going to give it to my son or my daughter.'"

According to Parada: "The limitations of the test could be that the global experience is so complex that it's difficult to capture everything in a few questions, but it could be useful for self-understanding."

He adds that most of the management consultants studying for ESADE's GMBA are already partners in their firm and several completed their first MBA 10 years earlier, often at a large European business school.

"They look at the networking possibilities of a global MBA, the global exposure and the geo political view. They see the non-traditional approach as complementary to their first MBA or internal training programmes."

The time it takes to cross the globe can be just as important a factor in your choice of school as the price of air travel. One executive was tempted by the glamorous foreign modules on offer at several business schools but decided to study at Cass in London. Just as important as the school's reputation was the fact that he would be based in London and could plan his work and family commitments to fit in with tuition.

'I'm keeping my foreign languages alive'

Marie Armstrong, 36, is Asian business development director for international law firm Reed Smith, who are funding her Executive MBA at ESCP-EAP.

"I was enthused by being one of only two Brits out of 150 based in five campuses: London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Turin. I'm keeping my foreign languages alive and have a better knowledge of how to put an international team together.

A lot of the assignments are in groups and you have to work across different time zones. There's the challenge of trying to get the Italians to work with the Germans when the Finns won't speak to the French.

In the emerging markets seminar you could elect to go to India, Brazil or Shanghai. I opted for Shanghai because I knew my firm was planning to enter that market. It told us a lot about the culture of doing business in China so I felt more up to speed by the time I got to Hong Kong.

I've avoided some of the pitfalls of doing business in China. The innovations seminar in Austen, Texas, looked at the technology boom and we spent a week in Brussels studying international law. We really have moved around.

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