Comparing American and European business schools is academic, argues Stephen Hoare

Last year John Quelch, the dean of London Business School, issued on his way to a new post at Harvard a challenge to European business schools. They were, he said, not sufficiently funded to compete with the top US schools and in research they are not ranked as highly as the US schools.

But this is not how an emerging cadre of top European schools sees the issue. If the criticism were true, why would so many overseas students – including executives from North America – come to Europe for their management education? Why would so many US business schools establish partnerships with European counterparts? And why would schools such as LBS, HEC, Instituto de Impresa, IESE and Rotterdam Management School do so well in international league tables?

Joost de Jong, director of business development at the Dutch business school Nyenrode, believes that talking of Europe and the States is like comparing apples with pears. "Of course Mr Quelch is right," he says. "America has more history when it comes to the MBA, but the world is rapidly changing. If you look at the needs of business and senior managers, then our product is more applied. Nyenrode has seven different MBAs – different products for different markets, different pricing, different mode of delivery and different design."

Heavily geared to business sponsors, Nyenrode is one of the few European business schools that is private – it is not part of a university and has no big endowment. The fact that many of the academic staff having a foot in academic and consultancy camps gives Nyenrode greater responsiveness to industry needs and a true finger on the pulse. De Jong says: "What we consider to be more important is the application of research in day-to-day business. It's not about publications."

Kai Peters is director of Rotterdam Business School and equally keen to move the argument on. "What John Quelch wanted was to create a set of direct comparabilities between LBS and the top five North American business schools. That's a misguided strategy. We're simply not in the States. We have a different geography to deal with."

Peters emphasises Europe's plurality – its many languages, its distinct business practices, ethics and a culture that values "the human element in the deal".

Far from propagating a single model of management based on US principles and supported by the traditional MBA, European schools favour diversity. Spain's IESE, for example, runs Spanish language classes alongside its MBA to bring delegates up to speed with the local language and business culture. Ten per cent of IESE's students are from the USA and the school also has a strong Latin American contingent. The rest are from across Europe.

Given the sharp differences in approach, business schools in Europe prefer accreditation to rankings. Equis and AMBA top the list as the most popular, but an increasing number of schools are looking to the US for American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation.

Bernard Ramanantsoa, principal of HEC in Paris, says: "It's very important to us. We are the only school in France to have all three. The AACSB is particularly useful. It's a kind of reassurance for Asian and American students."

Joost de Jong says: "The accreditation bodies take a more unbiased view, providing valuable peer review. Ranking is a one-way statistical exercise."

But rankings cut both ways. Many schools are proud to be ranked with the best in America. Professor Ansel Cabrera of Madrid's Instituto de Impresa says: "In the first tier there's LBS, INSEAD, IMD, Impresa and IESE and probably Rotterdam as well. Variety and competition is good for all of us and rankings demonstrate Europe is a high quality destination for MBAs."

America may still be number one but American business schools are acknowledging their weakness when it comes to understanding the world picture, hence a greater number of links between US and European schools. HEC's link with London's LSE and New York University provides an international executive programme, the Trium, at three locations.

Fuqua's Frankfurt campus and its global MBA programme takes this idea further than most. Members of the 70-strong faculty at the US school's North Carolina campus take it in turns to deliver courses in Germany and students spend half their time in Frankfurt and the remainder in the States.

Felix Mueller, the director of marketing, explains the attraction of a base in Europe. "We have all the advantages in research terms of a US business school but we need to combine it with a global view, which is why we're here. Many people complain that US schools are too US focused."

Across the Atlantic this is a charge that schools are keen to deny. Tuck Business School in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, has a student exchange scheme with Templeton College, Oxford, and London Business School – both with high numbers of overseas students. Paul Danos, dean of Tuck, says: "London is a prime draw for American business students so we want to have a relationship. Our faculty is very international and research focused and we have 125 alumni in the UK and around 200 in Europe."