In a global marketplace, business schools are falling over one another to portray an international image. Competition for students is fierce, and British students can choose from a range of full-time courses worldwide where the majority of classes are taught in English. British high-flyers have been going to Insead in France or IMD in Switzerland for years, and US schools such as Harvard also attract top students. But business schools across Europe are stepping up their efforts to recruit internationally. "There are a lot of good courses around," says Mike Jones, of the Association of MBAs. "This means there is plenty of scope for personal choice when it comes to picking a business school."
A key factor for many students looking in continental Europe is the opportunity to experience a different culture and learn another language. Katherine Arnander, who has just completed her MBA at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, was also influenced by her plans to find permanent work in Spain. "I was thinking about the networking possibilities, and also felt that I would have a chance to learn about a business culture which is very different from Britain's." She eventually opted to come back to London, but thinks the time she spent at a Spanish business school gave her advantages over friends back home. "A lot of the students were from Latin America and the professors had nearly all been to US business schools, so in a way I got more of a taste of the American business culture than I expected." Despite all the benefits, she issues some words of caution. "Only a third of the course was in Spanish, but some people found this hard going. Don't forget that if you come to a new city and your life centres around your studies you may find it difficult to make contacts outside that group."
If cost is an issue, many continental business schools can work out cheaper than the US. Unlike American courses, European schools offer more one-year courses. "It's not just the fees you have to think about. Rents and living costs have been going up in Spain, but it is still cheaper than at home," says Arnander.
The MBA programme at Nyenrode University in Holland costs about £13,700, compared with £19,500 at Imperial College Management School in London. Professor Ronald Tuninga, who directs the MBA programme at Nyenrode, says British students are attracted to the course for complex reasons. "They may know someone who has studied here before, or they may want to go abroad but still be able to get back quickly to see family or friends in the UK." He advises anyone looking at MBA programmes to think carefully about where they want to work before making a decision. "If you are looking for a career in Europe, you may want to be part of a European alumni network." He adds that students in this autumn's intake will be able to see, first hand, how the Eurozone reacts to the introduction of the Euro.
A two-year course will clearly make more of a hole in the pocket, but American business schools claim the job prospects and salary increases of their graduates justifies the extra cost. The Tuck school, at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, claims to be the oldest business school in the US. Six British students are among the current group of 200 enrolled on the two-year, full-time MBA. Director Steve Lubrano points out that half of those who graduated last year found jobs in consulting or banking – the preferred options for MBA graduates. "Payback is the key. If you look at the return on the investment you make, Tuck is a great place to come."
If you have your sights set on a two-year course at a top-ranked school, there are a number of scholarships to ease the financial burden. Simon Hughes, who now works for Microsoft in the UK, funded his two years at MIT's Sloan School of Management with two scholarships from the American Fulbright Commission and the Sainsbury Management Fellowship, which aims to encourage engineering or computing graduates into senior business roles. He says: "I was extremely fortunate, but I also spent a lot of time researching the kind of help available." A qualification from MIT doesn't come cheap, but Hughes believes it has been worth the investment. "Think of the career options afterwards. It is a big commitment, but it is traditional to do a long summer internship as part of an American course, and that is paid work. MBA students can often get teaching assistant jobs on campus, which helps with funding, and firms offer MBAs a signing-on bonus. On a personal level, the experience has been fantastic for me. I have a worldwide set of friends, and an understanding of US business culture which is invaluable."
The full-time MBA is not the only route to global credentials. An increasing number of business schools are forming alliances to offer executive, part- time courses with an international element. The London School of Economics has started a programme with HEC Paris and New York University's Stern School of Business. Classes are held across the globe, with campuses in Hong Kong and San Paulo. London Business School has developed a joint programme with Columbia University in the US and Duke's Fuqua School of Business has opened a European campus in Frankfurt.
Whether you opt for a full-time or part-time course, international exposure will probably bring as much personal as professional benefit. George Bruell was offered a place at the London Business School but opted for Tuck in the US. "I wanted a completely different experience from anything I had had before and studying in another country was an important part of that," he says. At the end of his course he joined a multinational food company, Cargill, a decision taken after Tuck alumni at the firm visited the school. He intends to return to the UK with his company next year. "I wanted to come home, but doing my MBA abroad has brought me a new and valuable perspective. If your rationale is to broaden your horizons, you should seriously consider it."