The world just got smaller

Why are more and more MBA students pursuing their courses abroad? Steve McCormack finds out
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The Independent Online

The economic emergence of China and India, following on from the opening up of the eastern half of Europe, has brought increasing numbers of foreigners to British institutions. At the same time, there's been a growing trend among Brits to go abroad for their own MBA.

Most find that, on top of the benefits of the programme itself, the added dimension of studying in a foreign country can be of immense value.

The benefits are obvious to Svetlana Cicmil, recently appointed director of the MBA programme at Bristol Business School at the University of the West of England. After initial studies in the engineering field, in her native Yugoslavia, and work experience in Europe and the Far East, she completed her MBA at De Montfort University in Leicester, and later entered a career in management education. This experience has taught her the importance of being exposed to as many different management practices as possible.

"Management exists in numerous different systems and cultures," she explains, "and it is dangerous to assume that one isolated practice, for example the Anglo-Saxon one, is accepted all over the world."

MBA students following this route widen their knowledge in two ways. First, by exposure to the views and experiences of the other members of the group, and second, less directly, by absorbing the business and social mores of the host country. If the business approach there is radically different to the one dominating the country they've come from, then the learning dividend becomes all the richer.

For those choosing to come to the UK to do an MBA, the attractions appear threefold. First, the reputation of higher education in general; second, the all-pervasiveness of the English language; and third, the predominance in teaching content of the Anglo-Saxon approach to business. All three exert a strong pull on students from the Far East and the eastern half of Europe.

At Henley Management College, a large proportion of the foreigners who make up around half of every intake on the full-time MBA, come from these parts of the world. The director of graduate qualifications, Ian Turner, has only one cautionary message for this category of student.

"If your grasp of the language of teaching is in any way shaky, you'll struggle," he warns. "An MBA itself is a demanding enough."

Western European students, particularly those with international business experience, are not as likely to perceive linguistic obstacles, and Turner has noticed a rise in participants from the other side of the Channel on the executive, part-time MBA at Henley. This is down to the growth in cheap air travel.

"If you live in Dusseldorf, and are deciding on where you do an MBA, it is now just as easy to travel to Henley as it is to Munich," he explains.

But every application decision has its tipping point, and there's usually a key element that confirms any student's decision to strike out to foreign fields.

Among those who recently completed the Lancaster MBA at the university management school on the edge of the Lake District was Mahua Guha, 31, an IT analyst from India. She felt it important to get different business and cultural exposure, before returning to India to work.

Married couple George and Rachel Mubipe, from Zambia, came here because of the reputation of British education, and because of the adventure that a year in the UK would offer their two children.

Arnaud Giblat, a French national, with five years' recent experience working for a French company in Belfast, is midway through an MBA at Manchester Business School (MBS). He was attracted by what MBS call the "Manchester Method", where all students work on commercial projects for real clients.

But there is one very important consideration. That is the way an MBA from overseas may be viewed in the country where the next serious job search will happen.

Cana Witt, MBA career development manager at Lancaster, says this can be a gamble. "Studying away from home can, for some MBA graduates, be seen negatively back home and can impact on their career development," she says.

So the message is: go on and get your passport out. But look before you leap!

Julian Harland, 30:'You absorb not just the course, but the culture'

Julian is halfway through a 12-month MBA at ESADE in Barcelona. After doing engineering at Brunel University, he worked in engineering in the UK for seven years, latterly for a marine diesel engine company in Bristol

I needed an MBA to consolidate my experience. I chose ESADE because I want to get a job in Spain, as I've married a Spanish woman. I may have to change job sectors, and work in another branch of engineering, or in consumer goods, and the MBA will give me a platform to investigate other areas of employment.

Studying in Spain will also enable me to become fluent in the language, because I've realised that speaking English is no longer an advantage on its own. You have to have one or two other languages.

The teaching on the MBA course is in English, but I'm taking an intensive course in Spanish at the same time, which makes things hard work, but worth it.

Doing an MBA in another country gives you so much more. You're absorbing not only the material that forms part of the course, but also the cultural background of where you are and all the other course participants.

It's such a privilege to be able to further your education by getting out your passport.

It's like having an accelerated cultural awareness course. It lasts 12 months, but you learn what would normally take several years.

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