We followed up our post on BusinessWeek's "In Hunt for Students, Business Schools Go Global" by interviewing top MBA tour operators to discover their perspectives on global MBA recruitment expansion.
Peter von Loesecke, the founder and CEO of The MBA Tour; Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and CEO of QS World MBA Tour; and Wassan Humadi, Higher Ed Diversity Consultant from the US Educational Group and Al-Jamiat Magazine each expressed a strong sense of optimism and pride—optimism for the future of international MBA prospects and pride for the measures their organizations are taking to help students around the world achieve their MBA dreams.
The article in BW reports a decline in attendance at fairs in countries like Korea and India, previous "heavyweights" (in terms of sending students to US business schools). According to Quacquarelli, the decline in Korea that was seen in 2008, was due to the significantly weakened exchange rate. Korean application volume has already seen recovery in 2009, due to the strengthened Korean currency. Regarding India, says the QS World MBA Tour founder, the number of interested students in studying abroad is actually steadily increasing. However, as it becomes more difficult to acquire a visa, Indian students are shifting their interest towards business schools in Europe, Asia, and Canada, rather than to the US.
Von Loesecke, from the MBA Tour, attributes the "heavyweight" decline to the lack of current job prospects for MBAs. If prospective students don't see job prospects, they'll be less likely to apply—this year at least. "This happens in every recession," says von Loesecke, "although this time the recovery will be slower. I don't think [the decline in interest] is permanent."
Both the MBA Tour and QS World MBA Tour are expanding their MBA fair programs into previously untapped markets. QS has been visiting Vietnam and Malaysia for the last five years. The fairs are successes, attracting over 1000 MBA candidates in each country, as many prospective students as attend fairs in more developed markets.
QS World MBA Tour has grand plans, and has already begun implementing them. The ambitious company recently launched its African Tour (that BW mentions) and plans to visit new venues in the coming year, including a trip to Saudi Arabia. Cities on the 2010 Spring Tour schedule include Bogota, Sao Paulo, Dusseldorf, Dubai, and Moscow. Latin America is another big growth region for US b-school recruitment, as is Europe—because of its depressed economies, says Quacquarelli, many Europeans are applying to American MBA programs.
World MBA Tours also offers the TopMBA Connect 1-2-1 program which provides opportunities for applicants to meet with admissions representatives from top business schools at scheduled one-on-one meetings. These opportunities also reach out on a global scale, with upcoming events in Sao Paulo, Bogota, Mexico City, Moscow, and Dubai, among many other cities in Europe and the US.
While the QS World MBA Tour makes expansion look like a piece of cake, the MBA Tour gives us what seems like a more realistic view. "Expansion in this economy requires careful consideration," says von Loesecke. "Schools are willing to invest where they find quality and numbers. Schools are not taking risks to participate in events in markets that are not sophisticated." He defines market sophistication as "how well students can articulate the value of an MBA degree and how familiar those students are with the requirements to get an MBA."
MBA programs' drive for diversity is of utmost importance to Wassan Humadi whose organization promotes b-school attendance among potential MBA students in the Middle East.
"MBA programs are saturated with diversity groups from certain countries," explains Humadi, "[but have a] terribly low number of students from the Middle East."
The Middle East is underrepresented in MBA programs because of its lack of access and exposure to the programs, says Humadi. The trend towards increased recruitment in the Middle East will improve classroom diversity.
Humadi isn't kidding when she says the Middle East is the next big target market for MBA programs. A recent fair USEG Tours held in Saudi Arabia, a stop along its 10-city Middle Eastern tour, saw 3,500 students within the three hours of the fair. 30-40 universities (not all MBA programs) were represented at the event.
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