International exposure is key to the MBA experience

It’s not necessary to travel all the way to Singapore to swot up on global business
But studying at a foreign business school isn’t the only way to get it

GLOBALISATION has turned many corners of the world upside down, but few more so than business education. When the Tuck School of Business was founded in 1900, a tiny faculty taught an initial cohort of just four US students. Today, at most schools, classes are drawn from distant corners of the world; 98 per cent of IMD’s MBA students have travelled from abroad to study.

And with good reason. A 2013 report by PwC predicted that the number of workers required to take on global assignments would rise by 50 per cent over the next decade. MBA graduates with a sensitivity to how business issues are approached worldwide will undeniably be better-placed to take advantage of this.

Does this mean looking past the established business school powerhouses when choosing your MBA? Should candidates wishing to demonstrate a global business perspective up sticks to India, Shanghai or another nascent international business hub? Not necessarily.

While institutions outside the traditional US-European axis have made strides in recent years, they’re not close to catching up with the likes of Harvard, London Business School or Cass yet. In QS’s recent Global 200 Business Schools Report, institutions were split into four categories according to their perceived quality among employers. The ranking was based on a survey of recruiters and human resource managers at the world’s leading companies (28,000 responded), who were asked which schools they would consider recruiting MBAs from.

Between them, North America and Europe had 31 of the 33 institutions in the top “Elite Global” cluster (18 and 13 respectively, see table below for information on the top five in Europe). By contrast, the Asia-Pacific region had just two (one of which, Insead Singapore, is affiliated with a top European school), while Latin America, Africa and the Middle East had none. Even if A-list employers like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey are opening up increasing numbers of offices in emerging markets, it seems they still wish to hire MBAs from established institutions closer to home.

And there’s no reason to think that studying at home means foregoing a set of geographically transferable skills. Student bodies are drawn from an increasingly diverse background, especially in a globally connected economy like the UK. According to QS’s 2013-2014 data, London Business School’s intake was made up of 91 per cent international students, Oxford University’s Said Business School’s (SBS) was 94 per cent, Cambridge University’s Judge Business School’s was 97 per cent, while Warwick, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cass all boasted figures close to or above 90 per cent.

“A lot of projects are done in teams, and learning from other students is a huge part of the MBA,” says SBS’s Raquel Lison. At SBS, teams are selected by staff before the students arrive on campus, and Lison says they’re designed to include a mix of different backgrounds and experience levels. “Students will see how different problems would be approached by people from other parts of the world.”

Finally, the best MBA programmes increasingly provide students with the opportunity to study or work abroad as part of the course. Take the London Business School. Roughly 40 per cent of its second-year MBA students choose to spend a term abroad at one of its 34 partner institutions (including the University of Hong Kong, Wharton and Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Brazil), and the school also offers students the chance to undertake one of its Global Business Experiences – a week-long immersion in one of five international locations. Options include working with entrepreneurs on business challenges in South Africa, and a series of sessions with industry leaders in Boston and New York on the challenges facing the biggest players in financial markets.

Similar programmes exist at other UK institutions, and the evidence suggests that these initiatives have done the trick – 55 per cent of the London Business School’s recent cohort secured full-time employment abroad after graduating.