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UK business schools go global

As Warwick targets a London campus, Mark Leftly looks at how British MBAs are attracting students across the world
  • @MLeftly

Indian billionaire Anil Ambani is currently rubbing shoulders with Steven Spielberg. The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Schindler's List director is working on a script set in the disputed Kashmir region that will be co-produced by Ambani's Reliance Entertainment; last week the tycoon even threw a star-studded party to celebrate the pair's most recent collaboration, the award-laden Lincoln.

But Ambani, above, hasn't forgotten the roots of his success, much of which he can trace to a leafy campus in the West Midlands: the Warwick Business School.

Located in a quiet area on the outskirts of Coventry, this part of the University of Warwick trains students keen to acquire some of the most highly-rated MBAs in Europe.

Ambani studied there and now sits on the school's board. Other alumni include the Malaysian government minister Idris Jala and the former Jaguar Land Rover chief executive David Smith.

And The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the school is now looking to crack one of the most important business markets in the world: London. Mark Taylor, the school's dean and one-time adviser to Dame Margaret Beckett under the last Labour government, says: "London is one of the world's greatest capitals, so why wouldn't we open there? The aim is to do it in September 2014."

That Warwick is looking to take on the likes of the London Business School and Cass on their home turf shows just how much this market is growing and how fiercely competitive Britain's business institutions are. For example, the UK has by far the highest number of schools accredited by the three most important associations – Amba, Equis, and AACSB.

About one-fifth of postgraduates now take MBAs or a business-related degree, which ends up contributing £7.5bn to the British economy. This is one of the UK's undoubted growth industries and not just in London – these business schools are also looking to campuses overseas to top up their coffers.

London Business School offers degrees covering human resources, leadership, finance and general management at the Dubai International Financial Centre. Cass also has an on-site campus there, while broader universities now have sites in Asia that offer business degrees such as Nottingham in Malaysia.

"There is a growth in the transnational market," says Julie Davies, deputy chief executive at the Association of Business Schools. "But the UK Border Agency is having a detrimental impact on business schools here. People don't want to come over because they can't stay beyond graduation – and that is why we are increasingly seeing degrees blended with distance learning."

The Government is tightening its grip on immigration, and talented students who want to study for a British MBA are put off because they won't be able to stay on once they've gained the degree that British businesses consider so valuable. Not only do the brightest brains move elsewhere, it hurts the finances of the business schools that are otherwise so well regarded around the world.

If Ambani hadn't had a family empire in Reliance to return home to in India, one of the most successful businessmen on the planet just might have stayed on and helped the UK economy. Today, he wouldn't have that choice.