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The ‘Trump Bump’: Who Stands to Gain from a US Application Loss?

Where are schools reporting a potential ‘Trump bump’ in applications from candidates turned off by the US’s controversial immigration curbs?

Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric is giving non-US business schools a windfall in applications as talented managers consider MBA programs in Europe, Canada and Australia in greater numbers.

The US is the ancestral home of the MBA degree and close to half of MBA programs ranked in the ‘Global Elite’ category MBA programs ranked by QS are based in North America. But the anti-immigration sentiment and travel restrictions imposed by Trump are damaging the appeal of US business schools, which rely on international students to fill their programs and enrich their classrooms.

Nearly two-thirds of MBA programs in the US have seen a drop in applications from international candidates, according to a survey of 300 business schools by GMAC, which administers the GMAT entry test. Over 40% of non-US MBA candidates told GMAC they were less likely to apply to programs in the US because of the outcome of the country’s presidential election in November.

Trump’s immigration stance has candidates considering their options

Candidates are looking at MBA programs outside the US as backup options, according to one CEO of an admissions consultancy firmPolitical developments in the US are contributing to a surge in applications to MBA programs outside the country. Business schools report a ‘Trump bump’ in applications from candidates turned off by the US’s controversial immigration curbs. Applicants fear that, under Trump, it will be more difficult for them to secure the right to work in the US — a key reason for studying there.

“People are looking at non-US schools — such as Rotman, [Oxford] Saïd, INSEAD and HEC Paris — as options in case the issuing of study visas or work permits is restricted in the US,” says Chioma Isiadinso, CEO of Expartus, an admissions consultancy which helps people get into top business schools.

“Canada is known as an inclusive country” says Rotman School director

Trump’s stance on immigration is pushing MBA candidates to countries which are perceived as being more welcoming of international students. At Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada, applications are up 27% year-on-year. Jamie Young, director of recruitment and admissions, puts this down (partly) to Trump’s immigration stance.

“The geopolitical climate in the US and the positive attention Canada is receiving as a study destination have increased interest in our MBA,” he says. “Canada is known as an inclusive country and the three-year postgraduate work permit allows MBA graduates to build their careers here.”

Trump administration a “huge opportunity for other business schools and countries”

Business schools in Europe are also reporting a bump in applications because of Trump. “MBA applications from India are up 50% this year. From the US, they are up 20%. For our Master in Management program, applications are up over 100%,” says Nick Barniville, associate dean of degree programs at ESMT Berlin. “That momentum is fed by the negative immigration rhetoric coming out of the US,” among other reasons, he says.

Barniville believes the Trump regime represents a, “huge opportunity for other business schools and countries looking to attract talent through education.”

At London Business School (LBS), MBA applications are up 12% year-on-year, despite concerns that Brexit could make it difficult for international students to secure working rights. The increase has been driven by candidates in India, China, the US and Latin America. However, Gareth Howells, executive director of MBA education at LBS, says, “it is too early to tell,” whether the bonanza is the result of Trump’s immigration stance.

Nevertheless, schools are ramping up their recruitment efforts to attract people who are less keen to study in the US. The Rotman School has targeted people affected by Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries with an email marketing campaign. In addition, the school has extended its application deadline for international candidates to, “accommodate those who have been displaced from the US,” says Young.

2018 to reveal true impact on international students’ preferences 

Business school leaders in the US have rallied against Trump’s immigration policies in public, but some remain sanguine. “It’s difficult to speculate,” says Bill Boulding, dean of Duke Fuqua, which has opposed the US travel ban. “We will not know until next year’s application cycle if international students are less interested in coming to the US.”

However, he says the school is concerned. “Everyone deserves the chance to study, regardless of their country of origin. Students who come from outside the US enrich the education of US citizens through exposure to differing backgrounds, experiences, cultures and world views.”

Isiadinso at Expartus believes US business schools in the mid-tier of MBA rankings will suffer the most because they cannot rely on their brand appeal alone to attract international students.

GMAC found that the biggest declines in international students applying to US schools were in the US Midwest. In the Northeast and the West Coast of the US, where a sizeable proportion of the top-ranked MBA programs are based, application numbers from non-US candidates fared better.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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