How European business schools have closed the gap between them and the M7 |

How European business schools have closed the gap between them and the M7

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated Updated

MBA candidates looking for a high-quality, transformational programme have traditionally focused their attentions solely on applying to the M7, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ institutions in the US which have long been seen as the most prestigious and influential business schools. 

However, that is simply no longer the case. Over recent years, European business schools have grown in reputation, seen greater demand from students and in some cases even begun to outrank their US competitors. 

How and why have European business schools been able to compete with the M7? We spoke to leading figures at some of Europe’s top institutions to learn more.  

Innovation within the MBA 

In the fast-moving world of graduate management education, there is definitely a sense that European schools have moved quicker to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of today’s students. 

Professor Martin Boehm, rector and professor of marketing at EBS Business School, said: “Some of the more visible developments in the MBA market over the past years have been the one-year MBA programme and the online MBA. In both cases, European business schools are at the forefront of the industry.” 

This was definitely a significant factor for Federico Fernandez, a full-time MBA student at Durham University Business School. He told us the lack of alternatives to a two-year programme in the US made Europe a more appealing study destination: 

“From the beginning, I was pretty sure I didn’t want a two-year programme. It’s too much for me, even after a year I feel it’s too much for me because I enjoy working.   

“In South America where I’m from, people always look up towards the US for their studies, but one-year MBA programmes are not very common there. One-year programmes are mostly in Europe.” 

Professor Lee Newman, dean of IE Business School, highlights how shorter MBA programmes no longer mean a compromise on quality either: 

“At IE Business School, our MBA programme is 11 or 15 months, with the breadth and depth of a two-year program delivered at the velocity of real-world business — with corporate projects and business sprints that blur the boundary between ‘school’ and ‘work’.” 

Innovation isn’t merely happening in delivery and format of European MBA programmes. Professor Stefano Caselli, Dean of SDA Bocconi School of Management, is quick to point out how European schools have also evolved their course content and methods of teaching: “Top business schools have been recruiting top scholars and have ensured a perfect balance between academic faculty and professors of practice to give an updated view of key trends and ideas, always with a very hands-on perspective.” 

Prof. Caselli went on to highlight the critical role that business school rankings play in driving this innovation, allowing institutions to adapt to best serve the needs of today’s students: 

“Rankings are a very powerful and healthy exercise, giving you a sense of direction and helping you to focus on the key parameters that, are useful and important.  It is normal, and even routine, to move from rankings info to an internal assessment of strengths and weakness and to react with new ideas and better solutions. It is a never-ending win-win process.” 

Europe’s appeal as a destination 

Schools in Europe are also benefiting from the attractive qualities that many European cities can offer to today’s students, with the area’s rich mix of cultures and nationalities the ideal proving ground for a career in global business.  

Prof. Caselli stresses the advantages of being located within Europe for your MBA studies: “Europe is a great land of culture and located in a strategic position, being a crossroads for the Mediterranean and Gulf regions as well as Asia. European schools therefore offer a very diverse and mixed perspective.” 

Of course, European cities and business schools can also offer a more affordable alternative for many students – another factor which gives them an advantage over M7 institutions. Whereas the high costs of a US school were once seen as justified, that’s no longer the case. 

Prof. Boehm told us: “We also shouldn’t forget about the price tag. Most European MBA programmes cost only a fraction of their US counterparts which will result in ROI calculations favouring European MBA programmes.” 

Diversity and sustainability at the heart of education 

The mixing of cultures within Europe which Prof. Caselli draws attention to is a theme that’s picked up by Prof. Boehm and placed within the context of what that can mean for graduates entering the modern, global workplace: 

“One of the factors that most clearly differentiates the educational experience of European MBA programmes from the ones in the US is the international composition of the student body. Top MBA programmes in Europe will offer a student population which is composed of more than 90 percent international students coming - in some cases - from more than 100 countries.  

“This offers MBA students the opportunity to build a truly global network that lasts a lifetime – a valuable asset in an increasingly connected world. 

“The diverse classroom experience also provides students with the perfect environment to develop cultural awareness in particular and how to deal with a diverse group in general.” 

Prof. Newman agrees, highlighting the need for today’s MBA graduates to be able to centre business within both wider socio-political and geo-economic contexts – something which is more easily done when coming from a richly diverse study environment: 

“Classrooms in the top European business schools are among the most diverse in the world in terms of the number of countries represented – our institution has students coming from 140 countries, for example. We offer the opportunity for students to become truly global business professionals.” 

It is European schools which are also leading the way in sustainability, a crucial prism through which modern business enviornments must be assessed. Prof. Caselli points out that sustainability is a key foundation of today’s MBA programmes at SDA Bocconi: 

“The key words of our MBA, which next year will celebrate its 50th edition, are impact, sustainability and responsibility. We believe leaders and managers for the future are not simply those with perfect and outstanding CVs but will be those with a deep sense of responsibility. 

“Europe is emerging as a place where sustainability is making a real difference and business schools are a very effective engine of transformative thoughts to provide solutions, laws and regulations.” 

Is the US losing its appeal? 

Of course, M7 business schools will no doubt continue to be seen as the prestigious gold standard within the MBA space, but they must adapt quickly to avoid being completely outflanked by European schools which are more than punching their weight. 

US schools will also need to confront some obstacles not of their own making. As Prof. Boehm points out, there are many factors outside of the MBA classroom which make studying in the US less appealing for some international students:  

“Research by GMAC has shown that the anti-immigration rhetoric in the US has motivated international students to consider Europe as a viable alternative when pursuing their graduate education.” 

While these issues cannot be completely solved by the schools themselves, there is perhaps work to do to better convince international students that they will be welcomed and supported if they choose to study in the US. 

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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