There is no substitute for the experience of living and working abroad. Learning to adapt to the social and business cultures of another country is a key skill for those likely to work with overseas partners. The Association of MBAs reports that there is a growing trend amongst overseas executives to supplement their international business experience by studying for an MBA within the UK.
So how does the UK school fare internationally? The age of global business requires business schools to show that they are international. Only then will they attract the best MBA students - those with sufficient experience, ability and ambition, and who can pay the course fees or get sponsorship.
So all business schools claim to be international. But what do they mean?
"It's really about your interpretation of the word 'international', says Peter Calladine, education services manager of the Association of MBAs. "It could mean a major programme for overseas students, it could mean that you have a genuinely multinational faculty, it could mean that students take part of their MBA course outside the UK, it could mean links with overseas schools. In the best cases it could mean all four."
For instance, at London Business School (LBS), two out of every three members of the faculty come from outside the UK, mainly from the US, India, France, Italy and Germany. Last year, only one in six of its new full-time MBA students was British. A quarter came from Asia, one in five from North America, one in five from Europe, with a handful from Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand. In total, LBS has exchange programmes with 32 business schools in fifteen countries.
Manchester Business School also has links with numerous places. It is associated with schools in fifteen countries, including three prestigious US institutions. Only about one-third of its MBA students are British, and half of them have the opportunity to spend three or four months at an overseas partner school. All students get a chance to compare international management issues in Eastern and Western Europe.
Cranfield School of Management runs exchange programmes throughout the world, as well as a double degree with a French business school in which participants follow the core curriculum at one of the two schools and spend terms three or four at the other. Two-thirds of its seventy visiting professors and fellows are from outside the UK, and it aims to have a mix of half its MBA students from Britain and half from elsewhere.
A high number of Imperial College's faculty are British, but most of them have international experience, and the business school uses a great many international case studies in its program. Many of its overseas students are sponsored by their companies or by the British Council, and Imperial prizes these students, because you have to be first-rate to get that sort of sponsorship.
Birmingham Business School's three full-time MBA courses are also international. Every student on its European MBA course spends one term in Montpellier and one term in Birmingham, with a third term doing a project in either Britain or France.
More than 90% of Birmingham's MBA students are from overseas, the second-highest proportion of any business school in the world (the highest is at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland).
Of course, overseas business schools are just as keen to break into the UK market as British schools are to get high-paying overseas students to study here. For example, the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, a Spanish business school, runs an international MBA that is taught in English for the first term and Spanish subsequently. It also offers intensive Spanish classes before the main course starts. Half of the students come from outside Spain.
As a result of globalisation, you can learn wherever you are by downloading teaching materials and communicating with tutors and fellow students on the Internet. You can study the Open University Business School MBA from anywhere in the world, and the OU recently announced an agreement with the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris to translate and adapt one of its courses for French-speaking markets.
Henley Management College has 22 overseas associated schools, all of which allow study for a Henley MBA. Henley runs an in-company MBA for 250 IBM managers in Europe entirely by distance-learning, and even claims that it can get the students thinking and working as a team by creating a virtual classroom environment.
Warwick Business School's (WBS) treatment of e-learning gives students the opportunity to work with, and learn from other students across the globe. WBS has also launched its own on-line e-business course for its distance learning MBA. This will give international groups of students the opportunity to tackle real e-business issues and problems with input from e-business practitioners.
E-business MBAs extend the length of time used for learning, and are convenient for those who find it difficult to travel to the business school. However, many of the business schools believe that a cornerstone of the MBA program is the face-to-face interaction. Peter Calladine says that some subjects are better suited to on-line learning than others. These tend to be subjects where interaction is not so essential. On an MBA programme this would include quantitative methods and accounting. For the most 'touchy-feely' subjects such as HRM, strategy and so forth, peer group discussion and interaction are essential.
Many business schools still believe there is a key part of the MBA experience that cannot be captured in distance learning. But the method is attracting an increasing share of the market. It may be that in the next century, students will cease to worry about how international their local business school is, because they can just as easily do their MBA at a school on the other side of the world.
Before embarking on an international MBA, seek advice from the Association of MBAs, who have information on all reputable business schools. The Association annually publishes The Official MBA Handbook, which explains everything you need to know about MBA study, including: how to select the right school, apply for a place, and what you can achieve with an MBA. There is also a world-wide listing of individual schools, giving essential details such as size, culture, programme content, faculty, student body and facilities. The Association of MBAs website is: www.mbaworld.com/
Author: Peter Calladine Association of MBAs