What is a ‘global’ MBA program? A world of hype or a reality in business education?

What is a ‘global’ MBA program? A world of hype or a reality in business education? main image

Many business schools throughout the world now offer the opportunity to study a ‘Global MBA’, and many more are keen to publicize their self-proclaimed global nature as an international business school.

What makes a ‘Global MBA’ truly global then, and how this compares to an MBA that isn’t billed as being global, are important questions to those hoping to enroll at a genuinely international business school.

The rate at which the world is getting smaller is increasing. Not only thanks to improvements in international travel, but technology now means that markets in one region know more about what a company does in another region than ever before.

Although not all companies can please all markets all the time, those markets are nevertheless becoming more closely linked, and this means businesses need to be able to make use of the opportunities international markets present.

Language, culture, traditions, government and legal structures, and politics each impact the execution of cross-border business to varying degrees, and so gaining a deeper understanding of the country or region in which one works is becoming ever more important.

The rise of the ‘global MBA’ is a good reflection of this fact.

What is a global MBA?

“While there is no single factor that defines an MBA program as ‘global’, there are some characteristics to consider in evaluating the global nature of a school,” says Peter Zemsky, deputy dean of degree programs and curriculum at INSEAD, a business school with campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.

These factors include: “the diversity of the students and faculty, and the international orientation of the curriculum as well as the course material, employment and recruitment opportunities for graduates, breadth and reach of the alumni network, and multiple locations of the business school itself, or through its partner programs.”

Michael Lu, spokesperson for Hult International Business School, which has campus presences in the US, UK, China, Dubai and Brazil, adds that the term ‘global’ may be overused in business school marketing literature, but that a truly global MBA needs to offer students a good deal of international business experience.

“[Hult has] seven campuses around the world, faculty from 90 plus nationalities, students from 135 plus nationalities and 59% of students working in a different country to the one they started their studies in,” says Lu, adding that this leads the school to believe that it is providing students one of the most, “diverse educational environments on the planet.”

“It is widely accepted that practical knowledge of business practices, cultures and market dynamics around the world are fundamental to being successful in business nowadays.”

Both INSEAD and Hult add that this level of internationality in students and faculty is not often seen in traditional ‘local’ MBAs, and Zemsky says that there are a few key differences between an MBA that is marketed as a global MBA compared with that which is not.

Key differentiators of a global MBA

First, he says, is this wider diversity among the student and faculty body of an international MBA.

“This means that classroom and group work discussions will not be anchored on the business practices of any single country, but rather reference different regions or countries,” he says.

Global-oriented programs tend to offer some sort of exchange opportunity or rotations to other international business schools too, allowing for more breadth of learning and exposure to varied business practices, regulatory issues, and entrepreneurial environments.

Finally, he says, global MBA programs may also have more geographically diverse recruiting partners.

“For INSEAD, our career services team strives to ensure that we develop recruiting relationships with global multinational companies as well as local or regional industries,” says Zemsky.

“We know that both our students and companies are eager for international employment opportunities.”

The global MBA curriculum at an international business school

Lu also cites wider diversity in student and faculty bodies but gives a specific example relating to the way curriculums may be altered.

“A course on digital marketing would not only cover the marketing and advertising options on Facebook, but would also discuss how RenRen, Kaixin and Weibo (the three most popular social media websites in China) work.

“Similarly, accounting classes not only cover US GAAP, but also explain the key differences to international accounting standards.”

As many business schools are championing the international nature of their MBAs there are multiple factors to consider, from how campus rotation, exchange programs and work placements are organized to which regional focuses are selected: Asia, the Middle East, or South America, for instance?

Perhaps the most important first step though is to ensure that when looking for a global MBA, a business school’s international credentials are genuine enough for what is being sought after.

Finding a truly global MBA

“I would encourage those who are searching for a global MBA program to make sure that some of the characteristics mentioned above are present in their target schools,” says Zemsky. “Indeed, there is a tendency for schools to overly promote their global offerings, and sometimes it’s more hype than reality.”

“Every school seems to have some component of their program that is noted as ‘global’ in the current MBA marketplace,” points out Steve Taylor, associate vice president of enrollment management and student services at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“The driving factor here is that most business schools have recognized that their graduates need to be equipped with a more diverse toolkit to deal with a business environment that has been truly transformed by the forces of globalization to be a more interconnected and cross-cultural landscape.”

“The key to determining whether or not a program is truly global,” Taylor says, “is to look not only at the courses that have ‘international’ in the title, but also to look at the diversity of the student population, the content of the curriculum, and the opportunities for experiential learning.

“If a school cannot deliver on giving students the foreign language and global political economy skills needed on top of their fundamental business education, then they cannot claim to be truly global.”

  • Find out more about global MBA programs and international business schools at the
Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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