The European MBA Alternative

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Mobility has long been a by-word for MBA graduates, so amidst the current economic woes and uncertain MBA job market, more and more applicants are considering an MBA outside the US. In fact, a study this month by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation shows that a growing number of students believe they will find better job opportunities outside the US.

An international MBA is the springboard to open professional doors in Europe, the Middle East or Asia. With their typically shorter programs (the majority of international MBAs are one year), business schools in Europe offer an ROI that attracts candidates who would have otherwise have opted for top US business schools.

Back in 1998 BusinessWeek gave only a glancing acknowledgement to business schools outside the US. Ten years later, the rankings testify to the strength of the international MBA market. So who are the contenders to the European MBA throne?

Not surprisingly IMD, INSEAD, and London Business School fare well in the major rankings, and are a familiar trio to applicants around the world. But Cambridge-Judge, ESADE, HEC, IE, IESE and Oxford-Saïd are catching up fast. In fact, by combining the results of the most recent full-time MBA rankings from the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and BusinessWeek, the combined scores show these schools moving ever closer.

The new elite of European business schools all outperform in different ways:

Cambridge-Judge and Oxford-Saïd in the UK are relative newcomers to business education (their MBAs began in the mid-Nineties), but the earnings power and employability of their graduates continues to propel them. And amidst the dreaming spires of the 800 year-old universities the business schools are developing reputations for international management and entrepreneurship.

HEC Paris shines among the top schools in France – in fact the alumni reads like a Who’s Who of European business. Ranked #1 business school in Europe by the FT for the last 3 years, and recognized by Princeton Review as the strongest business school outside the US for marketing, HEC enjoys a partnership with Apple that is setting new standards for technology in the MBA classroom.

ESADE was #1 in the last WSJ international ranking, and is recognized by the Aspen Institute as the second most innovative MBA program in Europe, incorporating corporate social responsibility into the curricula. And if you are going to spend 12 to 18 months getting your MBA (ESADE offers a flexible structure so candidates can choose), Barcelona is surely one of Europe’s great cities in which to study. The city is also home to IESE, created with the assistance of the Harvard Business School. Graduates rate the school as amongst the best for new career opportunities. In neighboring Madrid, the IE Business School draws nearly six applications for every available spot in the class and the Centre for Eco-Intelligent Management is an example of the school’s forward thinking.

Hidden gems

As well as its cultural aspects, Europe also boasts a growing number of outstanding business schools that are leaders in particular fields, and whose international partnerships provide new opportunities in fast developing economies. Below is a round up of some of the schools to watch out for:

EM Lyon is one of the continents leading schools in entrepreneurship, and has recently launched a Global Entrepreneurship Program with Babson College and Zhejiang University from China. A campus in Shanghai, and plans for Dubai give students privileged access to two of the world’s most dynamic economies.

Nyenrode Business University is one of two stellar business schools in the Netherlands. Set in a medieval castle in the outskirts of Amsterdam, the school has long been the European partner for Northwestern – Kellogg, and enjoys strong corporate ties whilst placing a high value on social awareness and sustainability. Down the road at the Rotterdam School of Management, environmental, social and governance issues feature strongly at one of Europe’s top research universities. New Dean George Yip has ambitious plans for this top European school.

In the heart of the European Union, graduates of Belgium’s Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School seem to be doing better than many on the job market, benefiting from the multinationals and IT / biotech cluster around Brussels. Ranked #7 in Europe by The Economist, the school is now taking its blend of innovation and entrepreneurship to St Petersburg and Beijing.

And if finance or luxury brand management is a focus, you can’t do much better than SDA Bocconi in stylish Milan. The leading Italian school has one of the largest alumni networks in Europe, and of course some of the best coffee.

Warwick Business School was the first business school in the UK to gain triple accreditation, from AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, and ranks #6 in the world for graduate salaries. The renowned faculty has written many of the textbooks now used at other business schools, and the new Global Energy MBA underlines the schools commitment to relevant global industry.

As candidates around the world question the ROI of an MBA, and look for ways to distinguish themselves in an immensely competitive job market, the affordable international MBA experience could provide the answer.

By guest blogger, Matt Symonds. Matt is co-founder and former director of the QS World MBA Tour and is co-author of the ABC of Getting the MBA Admissions Edge.

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