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Cass Business School, CEIBS, Chicago Booth, Coppead, Duke - Fuqua, ESMT, HEC Paris, IPADE, London Business School, Melbourne Business School, Nyenrode Business School, SDA Bocconi, Univ Cape Town, Wharton School

Bright Lights, Big City, Best MBA?

(published in CNBC Business, Oct 2010)

In a competitive market, can a business school’s quality really be defined by its campus postcode?

The spread of business education over the past decade means that it’s almost easier – and certainly quicker – to name the major cities that don’t offer some sort of MBA programme. In the US, for example, there are over 450 institutions running more than 4,000 programmes everywhere from the Big Apple to slightly less well-known centres such as Boise in Idaho and Fargo in North Dakota.

But how much effect on the learning experience does location actually have?

Many schools believe that siting their campuses in a major commercial centre gives students the sort of in-depth professional insight that would not be possible in a more remote base. Cass Business School, for example, markets its location in the City of London in this way and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business went as far as moving its European campus from Barcelona to London in 2005 because, as its head of executive education said: “We would be relocating to Europe’s business capital and vastly increasing learning and networking opportunities for students and alumni.” Berlin’s ESMT takes a similar line by contesting that its location gives students a chance to experience one of the continent’s more successful economies by business education’s equivalent of osmosis, helped along by the day-to-day involvement of German companies such as Bayer, Bosch and Deutsche Bank, which founded the school in 2002.

Some prospective MBA students, however, may be persuaded by the view that the economic balance of power is shifting to the emerging markets of the BRIC and Next Eleven countries. If this is the case, it may be smarter to study farther afield.

Shanghai, for example, is host to CEIBS, which maintains it now has the largest network of MBA and executive MBA students and alumni in mainland China. The school also offers students the chance to balance exposure to the rapidly developing Chinese commercial arena with more traditional markets through exchanges with more than 40 schools, including Wharton in Philadelphia, HEC Paris, Milan’s SDA Bocconi and Melbourne. Elsewhere in emerging markets, two Latin American schools now feature regularly in key rankings of MBA programmes: IPADE offers the chance to study in Mexico City, while Brazil’s COPPEAD is within easy reach of the beaches and thriving business centre of Rio de Janeiro. Africa has lagged behind other continents in terms of business education but now has a well-recognised school in the form of South Africa’s Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town.

Several top schools have taken the view that limiting MBA students to just one city may be too restricting in these days of global business. HEC Paris offers students on its executive MBA the choice of studying in a range of locations including St Petersburg, Beijing, Shanghai and, as of February 2011, Doha in Qatar. With its 16-month Cross Continent MBA, The Fuqua School of Business at Duke in the US allows students to study in London, Dubai, New Delhi, St Petersburg and Shanghai, as well as on the home campus in Durham, North Carolina.

“A proficiency in Indian trade practices, or in Russian finance or in Chinese commerce gained from studying in these locations is going to provide anyone seeking a leadership role in modern business with a significant advantage,” insists The Fuqua School’s dean Blair Sheppard.

Living and studying in a city may plug you into the local culture, even though almost all major MBA programmes are taught in English. But how necessary is it to relocate to the other side of the world, when the other side of the world can come to you?

The concerted push for cultural diversity in recent years has left MBA classrooms at major schools, especially in Europe, looking like miniature versions of the UN assembly. Even a relatively small MBA cohort, such as the 30 students at Nyenrode in the

Netherlands, is representative of 20 nationalities while the 400-strong student body at London Business School has more than 60. What this really means is that today’s MBA student can get a crash course in most major business markets inside the classroom rather than having to learn the ropes in the shops, offices and factories of the real business world.

Which means that the choice of where to study may come down to where you want to spend a year or two of your life, rather than where you think you ought to.



About symondsgsb

Matt is chief editor of MBA50.com, a website dedicated to the world's outstanding business schools. He is an internationally recognised business and graduate school expert, consulting to the world’s top business schools, and has written for many of the world’s leading publications including : Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, BBC, Newsweek, CNBC, America Economia, Washington Post, The Independent, Boston Globe, Handelsblatt, 21st Century Herald, South China Morning Post, Vedomosti, San Francisco Chronicle, Expansion, Beijing Daily. Matt was Co-Founder of the QS World MBA Tour Matt is co-author of Getting the M.B.A. Admissions Edge, a B-school admissions bestseller sponsored by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. His new individual school guides will be available in the fall.


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