For half a century, until INSEAD near Paris launched its MBA degree in 1957, Europe was under-represented.
But over the next decade, MBA degrees sprang up at IESE in Spain in 1964, also the first two-year MBA in Europe; at University College Dublin Smurfit Business School the same year; at Manchester and London Business Schools in 1965, and HEC Paris at the end of the sixties.
Over intervening decades, some of the best business schools emerged in western Europe. Many of these business schools, as with their North American cousins, are associated schools within universities and offer courses including the MBA alongside targeted master’s degrees in specialized subjects such as accounting, finance, marketing or international business. Private business schools also emerged in later years, providing bespoke education unaffiliated to the formal university structure in most western European countries.
Today, in the second decade of the 21st century there are hundreds of business schools in western Europe, enough to compete, in terms of quality as well as numerically, with their cross-Atlantic colleagues. According to the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2010, almost as many MBA candidates would now consider a program in Europe (56% of 3,100 respondents) as in the US (60%).
In the 2011 Financial Times MBA ranking, six of the world’s top twenty business schools are in Europe, with London Business School joining Wharton in Pennsylvania at the top spot. Though half of the Financial Times top 20 are US business schools, the remaining four are in the newest and most crucial educational region, Asia, which has joined the two powerhouses as a serious provider of respected and accredited MBA degrees.
The European MBA degree generally differs from the US model in a few major ways. To begin with, though there are always exceptions, European MBAs are usually one year in length, compared with the two-year MBA degree normally found States-side. Other schools, such as ESADE in Barcelona, have provided a flexible duration to work best and offer an MBA that can be completed in 12 to 18 months according to the student’s needs.
While the shorter program does not allow time for an internship, debate rages in Europe as to whether internships are even acceptable. Internships, an American phenomenon where students will work for experience in their intervening summers, goes against European notions of fairness, to some thinkers. After all, this philosophy goes, why should someone work for free or for limited pay with no guarantee of employment at the end of it?
What the one-year program does offer is a “short, sharp shock,” according to American Eric King, an ESADE MBA alumnus. “It’s a shorter program but it’s amazing what they cram into that shorter space of time.”
The brevity of the European MBA degree also allows for a different set of financial considerations. It’s less of a financial commitment to study for one instead of two years, and it allows the student back into the workplace in a shorter time, to start the return on their investment more immediately.
Western Europe has direct advantages to bring to an MBA program. With such a wide array of cultures, languages and economic systems in what is a relatively very small area, along with a very long history of immigration worldwide, Europe has a wealth of diversity in near proximities that few other regions can claim. This has business implications to the talented leaders of the future.
“Nearly every company interacts internationally in the new ‘flat’ world, and I wanted to get a more international worldview than the typical US school could offer,” says King.
Kelly Longfield, also American, chose Cass Business School in London due to a perceived lack of diversity in the US, but also because of the historical links with a different part of the world. “The US is huge and our associations are more with Canada and South America, so in many ways it’s insulated. Here there is more access to Europe, the old world and emerging markets.”
Despite this, and with accredited Asian business schools catching up fast in terms of the quality provision of MBAs, there is no right or wrong answer on where to study an MBA degree. The US remains the number one destination, but with such a wide proliferation of schools globally offering MBA degrees with subtle but essential differences, the breadth of variety at the best European business schools, and lately in Asian schools, should not be ignored.