Jana Siber, a Czech, arrived in England, aged 20, with £50 in her pocket but bagfuls of determination to make something of her life. Now, aged 32, with an Oxford degree under her belt and a career in management consultancy, she is in her first year of an MBA programme at the London Business School, looking to secure a summer internship in strategic marketing back in Eastern Europe.
When she eventually returns home to Prague, she wants a top job in a top company, and believes an MBA from a premier Western business school, along with her knowledge of Western business practice, will make her indispensable in an enlarged Europe. She wants to be at the forefront of the commercial integration that accession to the European Union of countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Latvia is bound to bring long-term.
But she also believes the growing band of bright young Eastern Europeans looking to secure places in top British business schools also have something to give to the West. Often, they are very well-educated, but they are also determined, hard-working and ambitious, with knowledge of working in a far more volatile commercial environment than the UK - knowledge which is crucial to companies wanting to move eastwards. Jana is confident her management training, and her knowledge of the volatile Eastern Europe's commercial environment, will prove valuable to future employers.
"I think global companies working in the Czech Republic recognise the value of the MBA and gradually it will catch on," she says. "It gives you so much knowledge about entrepreneurship and business legislation in the West, which is invaluable to Eastern European countries now part of the EU. But Eastern Europe has much to give. Our experience is so different from that of MBA students working in Britain or the US. We bring a very different perspective. You really have to work for everything you've got, because the economies are so far behind."
Applications from Eastern Europeans to full-time MBA programmes in Britain and Western European business schools have increased by about 10 per cent in recent years - hardly a flood, due to difficulties in students raising the cash, but a steady hike, and one that looks set to continue. INSEAD, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France, initiated a recruitment drive into Central and Eastern Europe about 10 years ago to create a market of what it sees as top candidates. Johanna Hellborg, associate director of admissions for the MBA programme at INSEAD's Fontainebleau and Singapore campuses says these students were very motivated and very bright.
"Their education is top notch, especially in areas like statistics and maths finance; they are very mature and they are very very determined. They are also very flexible, as they have lived in countries where nothing is stable, everything is evolving, and that is invaluable experience," she says.
Professor Terry Garrison of Henley Management College says Western students tend to associate business management with money-making rather than the "politics of an organisation", but in an enlarged Europe, he says "stakeholder management" will have to be taken on board. Eastern European students are much more attuned to the politics of business, he says. "They are in politics up to their eyeballs. Western students have forgotten what politics is about."
Professor Danica Purg, dean and founding director of IEDC, the international business school in Bled, Slovenia, says Eastern and Central European business students bring intellectual breadth to the discipline, to match the skills base of Western students. She says: "We have a broad education and a much more open-minded and philosophical approach to business. That is important in the global situation."
Jerzy Glinka, 31, who is Polish, hopes to use his MBA from the London Business School to secure work in consultancy for companies on mergers and acquisitions. "If Western companies want to enter the Polish market," he argues, "people like myself are in a good position to drive that forward because we have knowledge of both the local and Western culture." He worked for ABB in Poland, the global power and automation technology company.
However, the enlargement of Europe is unlikely to provoke a flurry of Western MBA providers looking to set up shop in Eastern Europe, as is the case in China and India. Established business schools in the accession countries, notably IEDC in Slovenia and Leon Kozminski Academy in Warsaw, are looking to set up "innovative" links with Western providers, but US schools which were very active in the Nineties, are far less active now. Hull, which had links through MBA programmes in Poland in the 1990s, pulled out after a few years due to problems over "legislation, language and lack of money out there".
Bradford University School of Management, however, is in its second year of links with Leon Kozminski, running an MBA and MA programme in Warsaw for around 50 students in total, extending its reputation in an enlarged Europe and "planting seedcorn" for the future. But it has to be seen as a long-term investment.
Bradford concedes that presently "it is not making a lot" and that local companies still need to be convinced of the value of the MBA as British companies did back in the Sixties when this new-fangled qualification was imported from the US. But the MBA, like Microsoft Windows and Coca-Cola, is an icon of globalisation. It will catch on and European enlargement will undoubtedly speed up the process. Western providers have to be able to afford to bide their time.
Professor Ian Turner, director of postgraduate qualification programmes at Henley Management College, which runs a distance learning MBA programme in Croatia says "language, costs and political barriers all get in the way. But the impact these course have on the lives of the people who take them is enormous."Reuse content