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In quest for an MBA, Americans cross the Atlantic

By Shola AdenekanContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / November 9, 2004


Dana Tidikis's European experience may explain something about the growing strength of the continent's business schools.

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A New Yorker and a master of business administration (MBA) student at Spain's IESE - an international business school with campuses in Barcelona and Madrid - she says she chose to study in Europe because business schools in the United States just can't offer the same global perspective.

"European schools offer such diversified student bodies with various cultural perspectives that one is forced to confront cultural issues and reevaluate some of the basic assumptions we make each day," she says. "I'd be less exposed to this enriching growth experience in a US school."

Studying in Europe, of course, also makes it easier for US students to pick up skills in a language other than English. But for Brian Abdelhadi, an American who graduated from DePaul University in Chicago and cofounded an Internet lottery before heading to Spain to work toward an MBA at IESE, the appeal of graduate school in Europe is far more than just linguistic.

"One thing that is immediately apparent of schools in Europe is the little importance given to grades," he says. "Students aren't as competitive among themselves, and going to a school with a truly international student body opens your eyes. Many Americans are in great need of that."

Across Europe, business schools are witnessing an increase in the number of applications from the US. While some US business schools are bemoaning a reduction in student applications, demand for places at several European MBA programs has reached an all-time high.

Last year, for example - even as applications to the University of Michigan's renowned MBA program fell by nearly 25 percent - IESE reported a 60 percent surge in applications.

In part, European administrators ascribe the heightened interest in their programs to applicants' need for an edge in a competitive job market. Whenever the world economy slows down, they say, the importance of a postgraduate business degree increases.

"MBA students have to think ahead to what the economy will look like when they graduate," says Tim Jenkinson, an MBA director at Oxford University's Said Business School. "In fact, applications to MBA programs tend to go up in recessions, as the opportunity cost of taking the course is often lower."

European MBA programs are also appealing to some US students who like the idea of a full-time program that can be completed within a year, says Phil Bowers, full-time MBA program director at the University of Edinburgh Management School. While there is currently a trend in the US toward pursuing an MBA either part time at night or in a grueling combination with a full-time job, some Americans prefer the option of taking a career break for a year, points out Mr. Bowers.

And then, he adds, there's the international dimension.

"Most European business schools are much more international than their US counterparts," he says. "This forces students to come to grips not only with different cultures, but with the problems created by linguistic difficulties."