Global Economics

Admission Trends at European B-Schools


From rising numbers of applicants to more students eyeing entrepreneurship and social responsibility, here are the key trends shaping Europe's MBA programs

(Corrects Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School application figure in third paragraph)

Javier Mu?oz, admissions director at IESE in Barcelona, is looking to expand the school's class size by adding a fourth stream to its full-time MBA. "Applications have been very strong this year," Mu?oz says. The increase IESE is seeing in demand for MBA degrees is happening worldwide??nd particularly benefiting European business schools. The QS World MBA Tour reported an overall 5% increase in attendance numbers in 2009 over the previous year, while most European B-schools have reported increases of 10% or more in their number of applications. Peter Rafferty, MBA director at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium, has been able to double his class size in the past 12 months on the back of a 100% jump in applications. St. Gallen in Switzerland has seen a 100% growth in its part-time executive MBA program, alongside strong growth in its full-time MBA program??ith applications coming from across Europe. And in the U.K., Philippa Hain of the London Business School's admissions team also reports strong application numbers, while the lesser-known Westminster Business School has had to wait-list applicants for the first time for its full-time MBA, according to its admissions manager, Agata Mazurkiewicz. What's behind this resounding growth in demand for MBA studies at European schools? Redirecting Careers

The financial crisis has certainly shaken out professionals in financial services, encouraging them to change career paths. Santiago Iniguez, dean of IE Business School, argues that "the MBA remains a transformational experience, a hub where participants can retrain." Among 2009 attendees of the QS World MBA Tour in Europe, 18% came with a finance background, compared with 14% in 2008. The one-year duration of most European MBAs, combined with the fact that the schools tend to cater to a slightly older cohort of candidates than their U.S. counterparts, have made them quite attractive to people seeking new careers. Career insecurity also has encouraged young professionals from a broad range of industries to seek an MBA as a safe haven, using the recession as a period to "reskill" and prepare for opportunities in the future. Usually MBA applications start to slacken at the beginning of an economic recovery. But in 2010 many young professionals have decided that to be equipped for a new business era, an MBA degree may be a prerequisite for success. As a result, applicant demand is more robust than at the same stage in previous business cycles. "Business remains the hottest ticket in higher education, with the widest career opportunities," says IE's Iniguez. One trend in the past 12 months is especially noteworthy: A growing number of people appear to be rejecting traditional corporate career paths in favor of entrepreneurial pursuits. An MBA is an obvious way to jump-start that process. Asked their reasons for attending business school, 30% of attendees of the QS World MBA Tour identified a desire to become an entrepreneur, up from 25% the previous year. Many European B-schools have established strong reputations for fostering entrepreneurs or entrepreneurially-minded managers, including Cranfield, EM Lyon, IE, IESE, Imperial, Insead, LBS, Manchester, and RSM. Good Citizens, Too

Socially responsible careers are another objective that's increasing in popularity, to the benefit of European schools that have built CSR into their curricula. Some 11% of QS World MBA Tour attendees expressed an interest in socially responsible careers, compared with just 6% a year ago. "A significant number of IE alumni are exploring business opportunities in fields such as biotechnology, renewable energies, or 'green' industries," says the school's Iniguez. "Today we live in a new business environment where business schools are challenged to prepare not just good financial engineers or management technicians, but primarily entrepreneurs who are at the same time good citizens." Another big change has been the proportion of international students at business schools who are actively looking to return home or develop careers in emerging markets. A few years ago, an international MBA was a route to a new life overseas??ost commonly in the U.S. or Britain, which were the two most popular career destinations. Now, with tightening work permit requirements in the U.S., international MBAs are instead looking to return home to take advantage of burgeoning opportunities there. Professor Mauro Guillen at the Wharton School in Philadelphia notes that "a higher percentage [of graduates], perhaps as many as two out of every three, are returning to work in their home countries, or in emerging markets, rather than staying in the U.S." European business schools are capitalizing on easier visa requirements in their countries to attract international MBAs determined to stay and work abroad in their country of study. At the same time, European business schools are appealing to "return-homers." They are emphasizing their highly international student mix (at many, more than 90% of the students are international) and their ability to teach international business practices while providing an internationally dispersed alumni network. All of these factors can provide powerful career advantages for those seeking to exploit the rapid growth of China, South East Asia, Latin America, and other emerging economies.

Nunzio Quacquarelli is the co-founder, owner, and managing director of QS Quacquarelli Symonds, an independent expert in London on MBA studies that organizes the annual QS World MBA Tour.

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