Business schools enjoy dramatic rise in number of foreign students

After spending six weeks in a program here, John Gracey, a finance director with Thomas Cook International in Australia, said he was sure of one thing: ''I will think twice about cutting the budget in half for advertising.''

Mr. Gracey, along with 84 others sent by their companies from 54 countries around the world, spent those weeks learning about American marketing techniques at Tufts University.

He's one among a growing number of foreigners coming to the United States to take business and management courses. In 1969-70, there were about 15,500 foreign students studying these subjects. That grew to 28,600 by 1975-76; 46, 900 by 1979-80; and 59,400 by 1980-81 - about a fourfold increase over 1969-70. The proportion of foreign to nonforeign students taking business-management courses has also risen steadily - from 11.6 percent in 1969-70 to 18 percent in 1980-81.

One big reason they come to the US is the widespread view that this country leads the way in management and business practices.

''The USA is ahead in marketing thinking,'' explained Jack Enright, a marketing professor for more than 20 years with the International Marketing Institute (IMI). ''We spend more time understanding marketing decisions - understanding how to analyze and improve those decisions.''

Moreover, adds Joseph Thomas, director of the summer Executive Development Program at Cornell University's business school, ''the US constitutes the largest marketplace in the world. Many foreign executives would like to understand that market.''

Unlike many American businessmen, Mr. Thomas says, ''Foreign business people truly understand that we are in a world economy - and want to go seek out information about the world. They want to come here, or someplace else, just because they want to understand the world markets.'' Thirty percent of the 80 to 100 executives in the 31-year-old Cornell program are foreigners.

Cornell and the IMI are among 46 US schools and institutions offering summer business and management courses to foreign nationals, according to ''Summer Learning Options USA; A Guide for Foreign Nationals,'' put together by the Institute of International Education in New York.

The IMI, a nonprofit educational and research institution, has been running its summer program for 24 years. Its Multinational Marketing Management Program is designed to teach corporate representatives from around the world the latest in marketing and management techniques.

In addition to the six-week study program, a pair of two-week field trips are offered. Participants travel to many US companies to study their marketing techniques.

''The goals of the program,'' says Jerome B. Brightman, program director, ''are to expose the participants to a different way of thinking and to make them a part of an international network - with over 2,500 people representing 123 countries.''

Using the case-study method developed at Harvard Business School, students read about a case problem the night before they discuss it with professors. Cases represent actual problems and their solutions. Many guest lecturers and business leaders are brought in to speak to students on a variety of topics.

The classes focus on the methods used to solve the problems. The solution to a problem is not always the main point. ''Sometimes the solution is irrelevant, '' Dr. Brightman said. ''It is the hidden issues behind the problem and the methods of problem solving that we are after.''

Said Professor Enright, ''We are teaching them a process of thinking, an up-to-date strategy and planning process.''

Asked if the marketing techniques taught through IMI are international methods or American methods, Professor Enright said, ''Almost all of this is derived from American thinking and experience. . . . We are not teaching the American solution, but the American method to solving the problem.''

Although he says IMI has no alliance with any US corporation, Professor Enright notes that the program helps the US with business relations: ''The fact remains that the more sophisticated (America's) customers are, the more business we do with them. Our hope is that all of this will benefit America.''

Participant Marisol Wesson of Costa Rica said: ''I know it will increase our product development for export to the United States, and I will definitely share the information I learned with many people in the company. I can provide some real feedback as to what is going on in the marketing area for my company.''

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