International contests between schools can be fun and rewarding, but what do they teach students?

This summer, Barclay Rogers, 35, seized the chance to be part of the team fielded by Judge Business School in Cambridge that would take part in an annual competition between leading business schools from all over the world.

The US-born Rogers is an experienced competitor in events such as the Innovate China Global Challenge, organised by China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and held in Shanghai. A lawyer working in the environmental field, he has taken part in no fewer than three competitions during his one-year MBA programme at Judge. "These competitions are fascinating," he says. "Students bring such amazing energy and enthusiasm. You could call me a serial competitor."

Competitions between business schools are attracting ambitious MBA students in increasing numbers. The question is: are they a distraction, or can they add real value to the learning experience?

MBA students are encouraged to be good team players, but they also harbour a deep-rooted competitive streak. It's a prerequisite of business success, after all. Beyond their core studies, many are entering the growing number of competitions organised by business schools and the corporate sector, which offer a chance for MBAs to make a showing on the global stage and win some useful cash to help fund their course.

There are literally hundreds of competitions to pick from around the world, often run by students themselves. Many offer cash prizes that can amount to thousands of pounds, and they range from case study analysis contests to business plan pitches, to international sporting events. And the competition begins at home, as students vie with one another to be selected for a place on the team that will represent their peers overseas.

Other institutions competing in Shanghai included the Stern School of Business in New York, and the London Business School (LBS). The objective of the intensive four-day competition was to find the best strategy for a big Chinese manufacturing company to enable it to expand its markets globally. For Rogers, the chance to immerse himself in Chinese business and to face real decision-makers, was very motivating. "We didn't get much sleep over the four days, but the buzz of staying up all night to put the final presentation together, to the panel of judges and a 200-strong audience, kept us on our toes."

Judge's team didn't win, but Rogers came away from Shanghai having seen how other MBA students approach the same challenges. It was also an invaluable chance to apply what he had learnt in class. "I've discovered a lot more about myself and how I analyse problems," says Rogers

The chance to interact closely with business was the main attraction for Joo Yi, 30, from Korea, a member of the CEIBS team, who worked for McKinsey before her MBA. "It definitely put the harshness of the problems that real companies face into perspective, and how I may be in a CEO's shoes one day and have to make similarly tough decisions," she says.

The question for MBA students, already under huge pressure, is whether these competitive forays are just a tempting distraction or a valuable learning exercise. Fabiana Olivera, 33, who comes from a consulting background, was another member of Judge's team. She found the timing clashed with her course work. "When we arrived in Shanghai, I was working on an assignment, but as MBAs we must get used to prioritising and multi-tasking," she says. "The China challenge was a one-off chance to get an insight into the Chinese way of doing business. I may move to Asia to work, and the contacts I made will be helpful."

The CEIBS dean, Rolf Cremer, has no doubt about the competition's worth. "It hones skills that CEIBS already stresses in our MBA course, such as analysis, strategy, finance and marketing skills, as well as teamwork and innovation," he says. "On top of that, teams typically need to excel in cross-cultural co-operation. And the students must exhibit stellar presentation skills and strong nerves under pressure, together with an ability to meet deadlines."

Judge's MBA director, Jochen Runde, sees these international competitions as an important outlet for his students' talents and skills. "In the current corporate economic climate, many more than usual are planning to start their own businesses," he says. "These competitions can help them by offering a chance to test out their entrepreneurial ideas on people who can give them leads in raising capital."

LBS is an important player in the competition scene. As well as encouraging its students to participate it also hosts the European rounds of various major contests. The Global Social Venture Competition, for example, awards prizes for business plans that deliver the double bottom-line of both economic and social returns. Haas and Columbia business schools in the USA got together with the Indian School of Business and the LBS to run this competition. The final was held in California.

"At LBS, we are trying to build lifelong learners, and one way to do that is to have people actually apply what they learn, rather than simply listening to the faculty," says John Mullins, chair of the Entrepreneurship Group at LBS. "If you are being taught how to build high-performing teams, what better way to learn than to assemble a student team to run one of these competitions?"

In the Venture Capital Investment Competition, students go one step further by acting as investors facing a real entrepreneur who is trying to raise money. To decide which entrepreneur merits the cash, and on what terms, is a priceless experience you cannot get in the classroom.

"The cash prizes are not the only attraction of these contests, but they certainly do get interest going. Students will often tell you that participating in a major competition was the best single experience they had at business school," says Mullins. "It's all real world stuff. That's the beauty of it."

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas