Diana Hinds investigates the growing trend for business schools to collaborate with other institutions at home and around the world

Ricci Whitlow, 39, is the worldwide director of operations for a company specialising in medical devices and her job means that she never knows which country she will be living in next. "I've been wanting to do an MBA for some time to increase my business acumen, but I needed to find a programme where it didn't matter where I lived in the world."

The TRIUM global executive programme – a collaboration between NYU Stern, HEC Paris and the London School of Economics – proved to be just the thing and Whitlow signed up last year. Launched in 2001, the 18-month programme (costing $116,900 [£58,450], excluding flights) comprises six highly-concentrated modules, hosted at the three partner schools as well as in Mumbai, India and Shanghai, where MBA students meet Chinese business people and tour a factory.

"We're getting a feel for what it's like to do business in these different countries," says Whitlow. "Most of us on the course are in jobs where you have global responsibilities, so it really helps us to learn in this 'hands-on' way."

Collaboration between business schools is a growing trend, particularly as a way of enhancing and enriching the international experience offered to MBA students. International exposure for potential managers is seen as increasingly important and the percentage of chief executive officers with overseas experience has more than doubled in the past decade, according to annual surveys by the search firm Spencer Stuart.

Some business schools, however, are critical of the trend towards collaboration and argue that partnerships between schools can lead to a loss of integrity and a diminution of standards. Professor Edward Snyder, dean of the University of Chicago Business School, for example, believes that "faculty commitment to these partnerships is often lacking" and that "monitoring the efforts of each party is difficult". In his view, "pure Chicago" programmes are the only way forward for his school.

At the LSE, Professor Matt Mulford, executive director of the TRIUM programme, rebuts such criticisms. "This is a rigorous and fully integrated programme, where quality control hasn't been a problem," he maintains. "What we can give our MBA students are these different global dimensions that they wouldn't get if they were studying in one institution."

Grenoble Graduate School of Business is another school that believes that international collaboration is good for its students. Ranked 15th this year by the Financial Times and accredited to AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB, Grenoble has teamed up with a rather less prestigious London institution, the London School of Business and Finance, founded in 2002. The LSBF does not run its own MBA course, but as from March 2006, students can take the Grenoble MBA at the London School, taught by a combination of Grenoble and LSBF staff.

"We want to develop an international activity that gives us exposure and experience and this is an opportunity for us to extend and enrich our operation in a major financial centre," explains Phil Eyre, Grenoble MBA director. "It means we can attract students who would not necessarily want to come to a provincial city like Grenoble. This is the first year of our partnership with quite a new institution but we take the view that it's worth taking the risk. It's up to us to ensure that the standards we maintain at Grenoble are transferred to the London site."

At the London School, Irina Tumanova, in charge of MBA admissions, is in no doubt about the benefits. "Customers are looking for strength of brand in an MBA," she says. "This partnership means that they get a triple-accredited MBA from Grenoble while being able to stay in London and carry on with their part-time jobs."

Grenoble has also formed a partnership with the University of Mississippi, known as Ole Miss, to offer a doctorate of business administration (DBA) degree for mid-career executives.

Greenwich School of Management has other reasons for seeking a partnership. As an independent higher education college, it does not have degree-awarding powers and therefore needs its MBA to be validated by a university. Over the last 10 years, around 1,000 Greenwich students have gained University of Hull MBAs, studying in Greenwich but travelling up to Hull for their graduation ceremonies.

Now that Hull is concentrating on its own brand new business school, Greenwich has formed an alliance with the University of Plymouth. As from October 2006, Greenwich and Plymouth share a joint board of studies and joint exam board and Plymouth assesses Greenwich for quality in all aspects of its MBA course.

"In administrative terms it is quite a heavy workload, but the partnership works very well and MBA students feel they are members of both institutions," says Stephen Fettes, director of development at the Greenwich School of Management. In time he believes Greenwich may gain degree-awarding powers, possibly as part of a consortium.

"I think that will come as a result of our successful collaborations with public sector universities," he says.

'The best thing about doing the MBA this way was the convenience'

Captain Frederick Price, chief of staff of the Joint Service Command and Staff College, gained a University of Hull executive MBA while studying at the Greenwich School of Management.

"I joined the navy with a PhD from King's College, London, but what I lacked was currency. I felt I needed an MBA to give me some more credible skills in terms of interacting with business. I was working in Whitehall and living in Greenwich, so the Greenwich School of Management was close to home – plus my wife had done her MBA there.

To begin with, I had some concerns about to what extent Greenwich might be living off Hull's good name. But I was quickly reassured that it was a Hull degree I would be getting, just like any student on the Hull campus, and I knew that the University of Hull was long-established and well-respected.

I found the course quite demanding and more time-consuming than I'd thought. Some of the lecturers were from Hull and others were accredited to Hull but based at Greenwich. At times I had to stretch my imagination a bit to relate the military context to the business environment, but overall the course was helpful and relevant.

The degree ceremony at Hull was fun and quite quaint – nicer than for my first degree at Oxford, which was very formal and had no party at the end. The best thing about doing the MBA this way was the convenience – no more than a two-minute walk for me. And because the Greenwich School is a small concern, it's got a more personal approach, which I liked."