Monaco's international business school provides a chance to study amid the trappings of brash success. By Kathy Harvey

What do you do when you've made your fortune, moved to sunny climes and played a few rounds of golf? How about signing up for an MBA course? Monaco has its own university devoted to business courses and is starting to attract a wide range of executive and full-time students.

If the number of huge yachts moored in Monaco's harbours is anything to go by, its residents know a thing or two about how to succeed in business. The principality, perched on less than a square mile of the Côte d'Azur, is a playground for the rich, who flock to Monaco as much for its tax regime as for its climate.

Only a few minutes' drive from its world famous Monte Carlo casino, a group of business school academics are quietly indulging in a gamble of a different kind, designing business degrees which they hope will attract future stars of investment banking.

Belgian-born Maxime Crener is the dean and driving force behind the plan to build the reputation of the privately owned International University of Monaco (IUM). After a career in business and academia within the French elite Grandes Écoles business school system he spotted a bargain, and a chance to fulfil a personal ambition. "The university here was not doing very well and was up for sale. I could see an opportunity to create something unique." He and three other investors put up almost half the money, with a Geneva-based Hedge Fund, Alp Star Management, providing the remaining capital.

Hence the emphasis on financial management. "We don't want to struggle to emulate other, well-established schools. But in an area like financial engineering we think we will be able to put some of the top students into the market," says Professor Crener. There have already been some successes, placing MBA graduates with investment banks and hedge fund groups.

But the university is convinced its reputation will take a leap forward with this month's launch of a centre for hedge fund research. A whole floor of IUM's unassuming office block near Monaco's sports stadium has been converted into a hi-tech virtual trading room, using biometric technology to ensure secure access to real data used by hedge fund managers. "Staff from Alp Star will come from Geneva or London to teach the students here," explains Professor Crener, "and we will choose the students who take part very carefully. They'll sign confidentiality contracts and have a great chance to learn from industry experts."

An MSc in financial engineering is already up and running. James Beadle, a British participant, found his way to Monaco after working for a Russian equity group. "I already had an MBA from a Spanish business school but I wanted a more specialised qualification. I chose this course because my corporate finance professor from my MBA course in Spain recommended it."

Keen not to neglect the obvious local connections, IUM is also expanding its courses in wealth and luxury goods management, with Masters programmes planned as well as MBA electives. Students pay just under €20,000 for the 10 month full-time MBA programme and a similar amount for the modular executive MBA - which can be completed in anything from 18 months to five years. The full-time programme mixes case studies with lectures and a business project runs throughout the year and there's a mentoring programme matching students with local business people.

The associate dean overseeing MBA programmes, Bill Lightfoot, also emphasises the importance of cross-cultural management, communications and ethics. Whether Monaco's reputation as a place of loose business morals prompted the decision to include 30 hours of ethics role play exercises is unclear - but student pleas to cut some of this compulsory element recently fell on deaf ears. "These issues are an essential part of the work environment," says Dr Lightfoot. "People may have different ideas of what is socially acceptable or legal - and we need to spend time raising questions among our multi-cultural student group."

Alexandra Bell, 41, moved from Britain to Monaco after a marketing career in the special effects industry and is now studying for her MBA part-time. "I had started to work for myself, investing in property and land. I decided to move to the south of France and gravitated to Monaco because of its international atmosphere." She had considered studying for an MBA and even went to an open day at Manchester Business School, but felt she had little in common with the applicants she met.

"Compared to me they seemed so young and I wasn't sure I'd gain anything from the course. Then I went to a business forum in Monaco, where the British entrepreneur Philip Green was main speaker. IUM had organised it and I found the MBA director very convincing. Some of the other MBA students seemed to be serious professionals, tax advisers or bankers, for instance. I was really impressed."

Business school rankings played little part in her decision to sign up.

But Maxime Crener acknowledges that the IUM MBA, which enrols around 30 full-time students a year, is unlikely to grow in numbers or reputation by word of mouth alone. Its MBA has recently been accredited by the British-based Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the process of achieving accreditation from the American equivalent, the AACSB, is already underway.

"It is a simple strategy," says Professor Crener. "If you want a good reputation you need external accreditation." Staking a claim as an international school attracting top finance specialists won't be easy but Monaco's Prince Albert has signalled his desire to expand its business activities and counteract the impression that Monaco is an easy place to launder money. If he succeeds, IUM's dean hopes fund managers will increasingly choose to move to Monaco and seek links with the local university.

Personal contacts, a desire to live in an international atmosphere (fewer than 6,000 of the 32,000 people who live and work in Monaco were born there) and enjoy the sunshine seem to be the main reasons for MBA students to gravitate to IUM. Once there, Maxime Crener points out that they benefit from Monaco's deep pool of business expertise. "There are a lot of people living here who have made their money and retired, but still have a lot to offer."

Alexandra Bell admits the opportunity to study while living on the Côte d'Azur played a big part in attracting her to the MBA course. So, after a day discussing business ethics, does she head for the casino or the yacht club? "It's not like that, I'm afraid. I've spent most of my evenings as an MBA student doing my homework."