The global student

Location, location, location - the benefits of studying an MBA abroad extend far beyond picking up another language
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The Independent Online

Are you aiming to boost your career prospects in an international context? Then studying abroad for an MBA can yield healthy dividends. In a global marketplace where major companies can demand a strong international dimension to their recruits, it can make sense to spend a year or more studying at a school beyond these shores. Not only will you experience daily life in another culture, but the exposure to a wide range of nationalities among fellow students and faculty should be intensely rewarding and will introduce you to different ways of doing business beyond the Anglo-Saxon world.

Are you aiming to boost your career prospects in an international context? Then studying abroad for an MBA can yield healthy dividends. In a global marketplace where major companies can demand a strong international dimension to their recruits, it can make sense to spend a year or more studying at a school beyond these shores. Not only will you experience daily life in another culture, but the exposure to a wide range of nationalities among fellow students and faculty should be intensely rewarding and will introduce you to different ways of doing business beyond the Anglo-Saxon world.

American schools have historically set the gold standard in MBA education and the kudos of a qualification from a top-rated US school such as Wharton, Columbia or Harvard remains hard to beat. However, a clutch of European schools including INSEAD in France and London Business School, are giving their American counterparts a run for their money in terms of quality and global prestige. "Generally speaking, European schools have the advantage over their North American counterparts in offering their MBA students greater international exposure," says Julio Urgel, Director of EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System), which accredits European business schools.

While on average around 30 per cent of the MBA students at the leading American schools are from outside the US, at Rotterdam School of Management, for example, where over 50 nationalities are represented, only 3 per cent come from the Netherlands. As the school's Dean, Dr Mike Page, explains: "This diversity makes group learning demanding but ultimately results in a richer and subtler learning environment."

According to Peter Calladine of the Association of MBAs, which also accredits MBA programmes throughout the world, a key question is whether the course is likely to offer value for money, regardless of where you plan to study. "Although fee levels tend to be significantly higher in the States than in Europe, the advantage of a two-year MBA, which American schools offer, is that you are going to cover more ground and come out with a qualification that is globally recognised. Also, because many US schools have very large student intakes, you will also benefit from career-long contacts with a huge alumni group. As a rule, it is best to choose a school in the region of the world in which you are most likely to work.

"If you are aiming to work for a US-owned business or will be trading primarily in North America, it can make sense to study at a school over there and learn about the American business culture. Bear in mind though that work permits are increasingly hard to get in the USA, whereas, as an EU national you can work in other European countries," Calladine says.

US schools are keen, however, to emphasise their global credentials. Alex Brown, Senior Associate Director of MBA admissions at Wharton School in Philadelphia, emphasises that your MBA will lead to opportunities to pursue a career anywhere in the world. "For UK citizens who study with us, this naturally includes returning to work in Europe after graduating. Our European corporate recruiters are increasingly interested in hiring graduates from our MBA programme who come from that region, whether it be in management consulting, private equity, banking or other industries."

While it is certainly true that an MBA from a Top 10 American school will strengthen your case when applying to a leading international investment bank or consultancy, if your career is likely to unfold in Europe, it can nonetheless make sense to study for an MBA on the Continent. "Apart from the lower cost factor, this will allow you to make useful contacts among European-based alumni," says Peter Calladine.

There is also the language aspect to consider. Although the MBA is almost invariably taught in English, living among non-English speakers for a year brings the opportunity to acquire at least a working knowledge of another European language and local culture. At IESE Business School in Barcelona, the MBA is taught in English and Spanish, with Spanish tuition available to beginners as part of the programme. ESCP-EAP European School of Management is unusual in providing a pan-European MBA experience via its network of campuses in Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Oxford (soon to move to London). Although MBA students are based in Paris, they have the opportunity to follow a short seminar programme in each of ESCP-EAP's national centres. In 2005, the school's newly opened Italian campus in Turin will also play a role in MBA and executive education programmes.

Making sure that you will be studying alongside people with similar business experience to yourself is an important issue, regardless of the school's location. At Theseus International Management Institute in the South of France where the MBA focuses on high technology management, the average age of students is 32. "This is significantly higher than you will find at most schools in the United States," says the Dean, Dr Francis Bidault. "We find that mature candidates with substantial work experience prefer to be with people at the same level. This makes the MBA experience more like a management seminar than a student course."

As they gain ground from the US heavyweights, European schools are keen to stress their links with international business, both in terms of contributing to the learning experience and recruitment of MBA graduates.

Notwithstanding the diversity of reputable courses available in Europe, if you are set on gaining North American exposure, it is worth checking out business schools across the northern US border. Canada offers world-ranking MBA courses usually at far less cost than many US schools and with a broader multicultural mix. At McGill University in Montreal for example, over 50 per cent of the MBA class are non-Canadian. "If you are keen to experience the North American way of doing business as a member of a truly international student body, Canada could provide the answer," suggests Peter Calladine.

'I knew I had much to learn about strategy'

Chris Ball, 32, is studying on a two-year MBA programme at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is partly funded by a Fulbright scholarship. A former NHS physician, he decided to study for an MBA after becoming involved with a start-up healthcare research company

I had come to enjoy business and saw it as my future career path. However, I was making a lot of mistakes that cost me time and money and knew I had much to learn about strategy. Having previously worked in the States and enjoyed the can-do approach, I wanted to study at an American business school with a strong focus on leadership and entrepreneurship. Wharton stands out in that respect. I also felt it would be important to build contacts in a country which has so much influence on the world economy.

Wharton is one of the most international schools in the US in terms of nationalities. The faculty is also very diverse and the teaching staff enjoys an easy, open relationship with students. The school's informal feel is, however, combined with an in-depth rigour. Before completing my MBA, I have already found a job with a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson in the UK. This will be an entrepreneurial role and I am looking forward to applying the practical grounding in business that I've acquired.

'A one-year MBA fits ideally'

Jason Kliewer, 28, is an American investment banker who has worked in London on cross-border mergers and acquisitions. He elected to study for an MBA at Cambridge University's Judge Institute of Management

I was looking for a school with a greater international spread among the student body than I knew I would find in the States. At the Judge, we have students from 31 countries. The average age is closer to 30, whereas in the States, it is normally around 25. This was another attraction, as I wanted to learn with people who had at least five years' business experience. Also, for someone in my position who does not plan to change careers, a one-year intensive MBA course ideally fits the bill.

I am now in the midst of a month's consulting project with Standard Chartered Bank in London. Above all, the Judge MBA has given me the opportunity to check out both the entrepreneurial and corporate worlds.

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