The Independent MBA: Sun, sea and international students

An MBA from a foreign business school gives you an insight into another culture and the edge in the job market.
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The Independent Online

MBA graduates are expected to understand the complexities of global business, but going abroad to study adds a genuinely international dimension to a CV. There has always been a steady stream of applicants heading across the pond to well-known American schools, but the Association of MBAs believes interest in continental Europe is increasing.

"We know there is greater awareness from inquiries at our MBA fairs," says Peter Calladine, the association's educational services director. "A few years ago, the number of people asking us about continental schools would have been tiny, but people seem to realise that they offer a valuable experience."

With most European schools offering programmes taught partly or exclusively in English, the options for British students have widened over the past few years. Many of those who choose to study abroad say they are keen to use the time to improve language skills. The Barcelona-based business school, IESE, offers foreign students the opportunity to do an intensive Spanish course before beginning its 21-month international MBA programme. After that, the first year is taught mainly in English, but students can expand the number of Spanish taught electives in the second year, once they are more confident.

Insead, the Fontainebleau-based international business school, competes with top schools in the USA for British high-flyers and requires a second language from all UK students who apply. During the 10-month course, they also learn a third language.

IESE says it tends to attract British students who are looking for a two-year programme more akin to those in the United States. With living costs and fees higher in the US, studying at IESE will probably make less of a dent in the finances. The Spanish weather and the proximity of Barcelona to beaches and mountains may not be top of the list of influencing factors, but they probably help.

In fact, most MBA programmes in continental Europe compare favourably on cost with those in Britain and the United States. This is partly due to a stronger tradition of state aid for education and a consensus that costs for students should be kept as low as possible. Even in the Netherlands, Nyenrode University, which is a private institution, charges students the equivalent of £14,250 for a full-time programme, which appears modest against the fee of £20,000 for somewhere like Imperial College in London.

Victoria Briscoe, who handles admissions for Nyenrode, says applicants are often attracted to the fact that accommodation and living costs in the Netherlands are slightly lower than the UK. "At MBA fairs, I find the people who show an initial interest in us often know someone who studied here, or may have worked for a company based in Holland at some point." The fact that English is so widely spoken in the Netherlands makes it an easy place for British students to experience another culture.

Nyenrode, which was founded by Dutch business leaders after the Second World War, is making the most of the fact that its president, Karel Van Miert, is a former EU commissioner. It has recently launched its own Competition Institute to lead research and teaching into competition and anti-trust law.

The constant battle to compete for a global profile is drawing business schools into a number of cross-border alliances. This means a student who studies in a credible business school in Europe may be able to reap the benefit. EM Lyon, one of a group of so called "Grandes Ecoles" of elite French business schools, has a joint programme with Cranfield in the UK, allowing exchange students to graduate with a degree from both institutions. It is also part of a wider alliance which brings lecturers from schools such as Warwick, Bath and Thunderbird in the United States to France to conduct courses. A partnership with a corporate patron, the Daimler-Chrysler Group, will give students the chance to go to Germany for work placements at the groups headquarters in Stuttgart.

If you are sure where you want to work or you have have connections with a particular country, doing your MBA there may help when the time comes to look for a job. Top schools may attract global MBA recruiters, but alumni with strong ties to their former business school can often provide a vital link to recruitment at a local or national level.

For some applicants, the desire to spend some time working in the United States is still a big factor in the decision to head for a two-year programme in North America. Big names such as Wharton, MIT or Harvard are magnets for students with the highest GMAT scores and the determination to repay big loans. Despite the high cost of many American MBAs, students say the availability of teaching assignments on campus and the fees for company project placements go some way to lessening the financial burden.

Business school rankings, however controversial, have gone a long way to increasing awareness about the options for studying abroad. Internationally recognised accreditation schemes have also made it easier for students and employers to gauge the quality of MBA programmes.

"So many people work for companies that are not UK owned," says Peter Calladine of the Association of MBAs. "By the time they choose a business school, they are actively thinking about how to maximise their saleability."

In a difficult market for senior jobs, an MBA from a foreign business school might just make the difference.

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