In a highly competitive market, it's the added extras that attract students. Peter Brown looks at some luxurious new courses

As a human resources consultant specialising in services training, she found the British attitude to service was stuck in a straitjacket. "In Iceland I would just have asked the bank manager to sort it out."

Her experience will be familiar to the thousands of foreign MBA students who come to Britain each year to study. These days, however, the best schools provide dedicated induction staff to help them. Hinriksdottir's path was greatly eased when Edinburgh put her in touch with a fellow Icelander already studying here. The school also offered free English language lessons, which she is taking up this term as she gets into the course.

With full-time MBA applications falling globally, business schools are hard at work improving and promoting ancillary facilities such as induction courses. Indeed, the Association of MBAs (AMBA), which accredits MBA programmes, has recently beefed up its criteria. Mechanisms must now be in place "to ensure that students, especially international students, receive adequate support throughout their course."

"There have been a few complaints that students didn't get special consideration, given that they were coming from overseas to a new country," says Robert Owen, AMBA's director of accreditation services. "Schools also realise they must provide more and more after-services."

Rachel Killian, MBA marketing and recruitment manager at Warwick Business School, agrees.

"In the current market, it is no longer enough to be fully accredited, have top academics teaching on your MBA in great facilities, and an international and culturally diverse class mix," she says. "The best participants want all of that, plus add-ons such as top quality social and sporting opportunities, and luxury catering."

In this respect, keeping up with American schools is an uphill fight. "Quality levels are going up and up," says Paul Humphries, facilities director at London Business School. "At LBS we're competing on a world stage and there always seems to be another challenge facing us. For example, we have a lovely gym with a swimming pool and we put a lot of effort into it, but by American standards it's small.

"We have 160 people working here on cleaning, catering, telephones, accommodation, maintenance and so on. We try to create a 'no-problem' culture. That's what the Americans here expect. They also want quality food, served fast, and available late."

Schools on or near university campuses have some natural advantages. Warwick Business School boasts of the campus arts centre - "one of the largest in the UK" - with its concert hall, two theatres, art gallery and cinema.

The Tanaka school, part of London's Imperial College, points to its nursery - "extremely popular with students" - and a £17 million sports centre, opening next year, which will be free to students.

But how important, really, is a college environment for a student? Very, says Professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster Management School, which has just had a £180m makeover. "And there's a lot of research to prove it. This campus is absolutely gorgeous, there's a first-class restaurant and I look out over green hills from my office."

With 5,000 bedrooms on the university campus, Lancaster can justly trumpet its accommodation. Other business schools are not so fortunate. Halls of residence are sometimes not available at the start of a course, for example. The wise MBA student will sort out a room well in advance.

At Manchester Business School, most students arrived more than a month ago. "The majority of our students are international - about 80 per cent - and they often come here with partners and families," says Helen Dowd, admissions manager at MBS.

"One of their main concerns is finding suitable accommodation. These days we have designated access and welcome advisers. MBA students go for the upper end of the accommodation market - private halls of residence, for example.

"The students have a month's induction. There are lots of social activities. We show them around the college and there are also skill-based courses and careers advice."

With gyms, swimming pools, spas, saunas, tennis courts, free laptops, free yoga lessons, business school brochures now read like hotel advertisements. External access to library software is a given at most schools, and high-tech campus security is also growing in importance.

Of course, choices remain unpredictable. Simon Buller, MBA programme manager at the Tanaka Business School, talks of a student who said he opted for Tanaka because of the quality of its canapés.

Some schools offer local specialities. IESE business school in Barcelona provides at least one Spanish dish a day in its two dining areas. For late-working students at its rival Barcelona school ESADE, tapas are served in the canteen between 8.30 and midnight. At the French school Audencia in Nantes, oysters have been spotted at lunches.

But Britain is catching up. Ashridge the Hertfordshire business school, has a prize-winning chef in Andy Bachelor. Sixty per cent of the produce served is bought locally and the college even has its own herb garden.

"We hold focus groups with MBA students," says David Russell, Ashridge's director of hospitality services. "They want light, contemporary food, speedy service, lots of variety and an international cuisine. People used to say the food here was fantastic but they'd put on half a stone, so now we're developing an optimum well-being meal plan. We're now looking at glycaemic loads and vitamin intakes."

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