Greek Students Look to the UK for MBAs

Greek Students Look to the UK for MBAs

Greek students thinking about MBA degrees are looking overseas, especially to the UK, for their courses. Most Britons, when they think of Greece, think of golden beaches and azure skies, of island-hopping, the Acropolis and a history that stretches back millennia.

The relationship between the two nations has, with a few exceptions, been largely friendly and reciprocal, a feeling of mutual respect and appreciation, and the large Greek population in the UK have settled there almost seamlessly.

Greek perceptions of the UK seem positive too, and no more so than in education. Greece perennially provides the UK with its largest amount of international students. And though numbers are gradually migrating to nations such as Germany for strong Engineering courses and even to Indian schools for business education, far more Greeks attend British tertiary education than anywhere else, including the USA. As table 1 shows, in the MBA arena the UK is almost 50% more popular than Greece itself, with the US a close third:

Where Greek MBA candidates would consider studying

Source: QS TopMBA Applicant Survey 2007

UK

76%

Greece

52%

USA

51%

Italy

35%

Spain

31%

Belgium

21%

Canada

20%

France

20%

Netherlands

14%

Switzerland

13%

Top MBA courses in the UK all show a healthy proportion of Hellenic talent, many of whom studied first degrees at UK universities and chose to take advantage of their privileged EU status to stay to postgraduate level. But why would such numbers of Greek students be leaving their families and the sunshine behind to study in the distant and temperate islands of the UK?

One who made that choice is Alex Dimitriakoudis, an Executive MBA student at Cass Business School in London. "The UK is one of the best places in Europe to live abroad and meet new cultures. I am fascinated by the different nationalities and cultures here. It has a good reputation in Greece and I am very selective so I chose amongst the first rank of universities in the UK and therefore Europe."

The UK's good reputation in Greece is thanks in no small part to the work of the British Council, promoting Britain's image and educational excellence and providing assistance to Greek students at all levels. The QS World MBA Tour has also visited Athens for several years, showcasing many of the world's top business schools, including several from the UK.

Michael Tamvakis is Professor of Commodity Economics and Finance at Cass Business School in London. He explains, "The UK is the most convenient destination firstly as all Greek students study English, followed by French and German. A minority go to those countries and the rest will target the UK or US as they tend to want an Anglophone and Anglo-Saxon style MBA course."

Financial concerns are another reason. The costs involved in MBA education are not to be underestimated, and not simply the tuition fees. Taking a year, let alone two, out of your career and paying the associated costs such as books and living expenses is far from cheap. As such, the UK one-year model is far preferred by Greeks than the US two-year option. The UK's closer vicinity also cuts costs for family-focussed Greeks. As Prof. Tamvakis says, "Most students want to return to Greece three times a year so the UK is much more convenient than the US, and the tuition fees usually a lot cheaper."

Says Alex Dimitriakoudis, "the UK wasn't that expensive to study. My family supported me throughout the undergraduate degree but at postgraduate level I am sponsoring myself. In the north of England the cost of living is not that different from Greece and is still within the affordable limits of a middle-class Greek family."

In recent years the number of schools offering MBAs in Greece has increased manifold. However the cheaper costs involved in studying at home don't seem to deter Greek MBAs from looking overseas for their education. ALBA Graduate Business School charges £17,200 in tuition fees; Cass Business School is £26,500 while London Business School, often the top-ranked in Europe, weighs in at £43,490 for the full 15-21 months of tuition.

There are more complicated reasons for Greek students to look abroad for MBA courses. Nikos Tsanatis, who studied his MBA at Cranfield School of Management near London, says that opportunities for an accredited, multinational MBA in Greece were hard find. "At the time I was applying there were only very, very limited opportunities to study full-time MBAs in Greece that were internationally accredited. I wanted a multinational body of students and this was not possible in Greece. Now there are more MBA opportunities there nowadays, though the body of students remains mainly Greek."

Alex Dimitriakoudis says, "In the Greek system it is difficult to get into the degree that you want to study as Greece does not have the capacity of universities. You could plan to study IT and end up having to study mechanical engineering." The figures support this. According to the British Council, 2005-5 saw only enough university places for 73.3% of Greek candidates while the following year this had fallen to 71.7%, a downward trend that shows no sign of abating.

Political concerns cloud the issue too. All university courses in Greece must be officially recognized by the government if graduates are to work within or for a business that has dealings with the public sector. And although the current political party is attempting to change this rule, all private schools in Greece, including those that provide most tertiary business education, are still not officially recognized.

Could this be to protect the country's complicated National Service rules? According to Prof. Tamvakis, "National service could be 18-24 months depending on which service you are in. However, as long as you are registered in a state-recognized institution, such as a university or the police, you are exempted from national service. If you then go abroad you get another exemption."

As a result, he continues, "there is a brain drain where the best Greek students look overseas for their education and careers, and also where a PhD might return to Greece and only find themselves in a menial job with a modest salary, partly because of strong networking within Greece, regardless of their great achievements and CV, which is more difficult to break into for those who have studied or lived overseas."

Currently Greece does not have any schools in most international Top 200 business school rankings. However, despite the gloomy forecasts, it is starting to look closely at improving business education within its borders, encouraging international students to come to Greece and to try and retain its top MBA talent.

The country is trying hard to market its strengths and raise its international standards. Vasilis Theoharakis, academic director at Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA) says, "What people like studying about studying in Greece is that it's small but connects Europe with the Middle East and Eastern Europe. If you want to get close to emerging markets in a friendly, European market then this is the place to be." ALBA aspires to the highest international academic standards. It currently offers, "a highly demanding academic MBA, for university graduates and professionals with three to five years of experience, with a placement record of over 95% within five months from completion of studies." The entire course, with 38 places this year (30% of whom are from overseas) is conducted in English.

As to how Greek business schools are faring, Athanassios Roulias, General Manager of the Hellenic Management Association, argues the case for more officially recognized private business education. "In the past decade a significant shift has occurred from the public to the private sector, as students show more confidence in programs offered by private business schools. Such institutions are well funded, more businesslike and have established close links with the market, thus ensuring better opportunities for a remarkable professional career after completion of studies."

The cost of Greek courses and the culture are also big motivations for considering a Greek MBA. It is a vibrant and interesting country to live in, with a very high level of English for Anglophones or those hoping to improve their English, as well as learn Greek. Costs are lower by MBA standards and it is on the cusp of three major regions. It is clear that, with the right guidance, government support and top-level management, Greece could become a contender in the MBA field.

For now though, Greece is hampered. Zoya Zaitseva, an education expert in the region, says, "Greece's business schools are of an improving quality but, after studying at a Greek b-school most are likely only to get a good job in Greece. If you want to increase your international mobility you may find you need to study abroad, so it depends on your long-term and short-term career goals."

As for financing studies overseas, Greek students traditionally expect their families to pay for their degrees. Table 2 compares how Greek MBA aspirants compare with French and American counterparts when it comes to funding their MBA courses:

How Greeks propose to fund their MBA courses

Source: QS TopMBA Applicant Survey 2007

Greece

5.5%

12.9%

16.6%

29.1%

34.1%

1.7%

France

4.2%

34.6%

19.2%

8.2%

33.6%

2.2%

US

4.8%

44.3%

12.2%

7.0%

30.6%

1.1

The strong emphasis on family support suggests that, as Alex Dimitriakoudis says, "many Greeks aren't aware of international scholarships so they are not trying to get scholarships. I know that there are some scholarships available to help Greeks coming here but none of them would provide enough to cover the full MBA."

Michael Tamvakis says, "Most scholarships in Greece are offered through low family income so when they come to the UK Greek people don't really research scholarships much. Those who go to the US where it's more developed may look into funding more deeply. Otherwise the family or the student himself has to cover the costs."

Written by QS Blogger
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