Last updated: December 3, 2008 5:09 pm

European business schools 2008 Q&A

Q&A: European business school

The past decade has seen a proliferation of business schools in Europe. But with some European countries already in recession and fears that others may follow, Europe’s myriad schools face a test of mettle.

Are they up to the challenge? Can they all survive or will some be unable to cope with a prolonged economic downturn?

Between 2pm and 3pm GMT on Wednesday December 3rd, Santiago Iñiguez, dean of IE Business School, Spain, Prof David Begg, the principal of Imperial College Business School, London and Linda Anderson, Business Education Correspondent, at the Financial Times answered questions online at:

http://www.ft.com/businesseducation/asktheexpert/european-business-schools

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It has come to my attention that whenever a large or small crisis arises, the media, policy-makers and businesses turn to academics for advice. It is what I call the return to fundamentals that businesses pursue following academic advice. However, the top ranked decision-makers of nearly every company in the world have MBA and/or Masters degrees from business schools where these academics teach. Clearly, there must be a broken link in this chain, otherwise we would never deviate from fundamentals. Nonetheless, I always believe that no one person can take the blame for an argument. You always need two to tango. Thus, do Masters degrees offered by Business Schools need restructuring? Similarly, should CEOs attend short business courses every now and then? Both business schools and business leaders should by now clearly acknowledge that the quest for profit should not be the driving force of operation. There is a social responsibility involved for both.
Georgios Kavetsos, unknown

David Begg: Business Schools endeavour to create robust and practical tools, and the environment in which their MBA and Masters students can become skilled in the deployment of these tools in a range of situations.

Heavy toolkits are not carried around with enthusiasm. Like a Swiss Army knife, successful toolkits are portable and user friendly, and can therefore be reliably applied in many situations. But not in every situation. Sometimes, additional tools are required. And when the world changes dramatically, innovative thinking may be needed, either to create new models or reaffirm forgotten ones. That is when businesses perceive the greatest benefits of academic advice.

Dramatic events allow the stress testing of existing ideas. Programmes will evolve, not merely to appear up to date but more importantly because best practice will be affected by recent evidence.

Santiago Iñiguez: Every element of the business environment needs to think about ways of to identify the systemic causes of the current financial crisis. Regulators, ratings companies, government and of course corporations themselves all need support and advice in developing new frameworks to better anticipate these issues in the future. Business schools can play an important role in terms of developing the models and the knowledge that can help us better understand how the new economy evolves and how we can build up more sustainable financial structures and leadership styles. We are in an exciting period when we can revisit and reinvent basic concepts related to financial institutions, risk and exposure, asset evaluation, control systems, and issues related to management accountability and transparency.

We believe that this period is critical in maintaining the social responsibility standards that have been established in the last decade. It is the time for Business to search for imaginative solutions to identify new opportunities that arise from this period of uncertainty, whilst avoiding some of the short term over reactions that have had dramatic consequences. We have previously seen the creation of interesting models and corporations in previous periods of crisis and we expect the same here. Business schools will be part of this equation, through teaching on their masters courses and research. Our aim is to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in all our programs, whilst imbuing participants with a wider sense of responsibility. We will continue to build this spirit and will, of course, be delighted to work with CEOs and managers around the world to help them shape their vision.

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What should be a dominant educational strategy to be executed by the European Business Schools to educate a new generation of talented business leaders?  Who would be capable to contribute to the creation of the knowledge economy in Europe in coming years?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

David Begg: I agree that the knowledge economy is becoming ever more important to prosperity and competitiveness. Europe’s choice is to invest to keep up, or to fall behind.

At Imperial College, we have prioritised the integration of our business school with the College’s knowledge expertise in science, technology and medicine. We believe that we can manage this future better by working more closely with those helping to invent it. To reflect this reality, Imperial has just changed its mission statement to commit the College to excellence in science, technology, medicine AND business.

This has many implications for the way in which we develop the next generation of business leaders. A clear focus on innovation, recognition of the role of intellectual property, awareness of the key significance of healthcare, energy and the environment.

Santiago Iñiguez: European schools are an extremely diverse group of institutions, working in differentiated economies and cultures. However we are seeing increasing convergence in systems and styles, fostered through initiatives such as the Bologna process. There are a number of elements that define the European experience and which I believe are critical in helping to develop the managers and leaders of tomorrow. The commitment to diversity, in terms of nationality, gender and visions of the world in both the classroom and the faculty allows us to really help participants to develop their cross cultural skills and knowledge. This also supports the development of more diverse approaches to business and management as we bring together different and often conflicting views of the role business plays in society. Learning to manage this conflict and find innovative solutions within this diversity is going to be a critical challenge for future leaders.

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What are the newer industries that the MBA student should focus on?
Praveen Krishnamurthy, India

David Begg: The digital economy is the platform for many new Innovation technology platforms that allow businesses to simulate changes before they undertake them, thereby reducing costs and managing risks.

Services are 70 percent of most developed economies, and innovation in services is critical to future success, from banking to healthcare and creative industries.

Developing sustainable energy solutions remains the single largest challenge for the planet. Embedding these in business models and business cultures is a hugely exciting challenge.

Santiago Iñiguez: There are some really interesting opportunities arising in industries such as energy, health, security, public private partnerships, biotechnology. Key questions such as peak oil and wider energy sustainability mean that demand for innovative thinkers in this sector is booming. We have a seen a noticeable increase in demand for our graduates from renewable energy companies as well as seeing our graduates set up new ventures in this arena. Of course many of the traditional sectors in industry, consumer goods etc are in the process of reinventing themselves, looking for new models or paradigms in which to operate. This, of course, gives great scope to entrepreneurs and visionary leaders.

Linda Anderson: MBA students should look to sectors such as retail and pharmaceutical which promise to have new opportunities in the coming months.

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Taking a cue on this downturn, would it be wise for business schools to introduce Crisis Management as an elective or a core subject?
Praveen Krishnamurthy, India

David Begg: Good management practices are needed in all situations, and the soundest defence to a crisis is to have good systems in place, not to make hasty ad hoc decisions

Santiago Iñiguez: Much of the teaching within business schools is not just focused on managing in good times. The business fundamentals are applicable in different contexts. In times of uncertainty it is important to remember the basics of sound business and management. Of course, in these times management tools related to issues such as cost efficiency, cash management, organizational effectiveness and flexibility become more in demand, and we do emphasise these in our programs. However we fundamentally believe that innovation through corporate venturing, new venture creation is particularly relevant in times of difficulty, as business seeks to find new approaches and new ways of creating value. Crisis provide the acid test for moulding true managers and leaders.

Linda Anderson: I think once the dust has settled many schools will see the need to introduce new topics into their programmes, especially in core areas such as accountancy.

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What kind of changes can make it possible for European business schools to overcome the challenges and win the competition with the North American and Asian business schools towards the education of a new generation of business leaders?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

David Begg: Not sure I agree with European triumphalism. European culture and history will always give us a distinctive contribution. Our aspiration should be play a full role in training and attracting the next generation of business leaders. But the world will be multilateral - a significant rise in Asia, an America still powerful though coming to terms with a reduction in its dominance, a Russia that is very different from its either of its recent incarnations.

I remain optimistic that closer European integration will be a force for good, and a platform for a stronger European influence than would otherwise be the case. In the world university rankings published by The Times of London, the UK still has 4 universities in the global top 10. European education has a distinguished history, and European business schools will continue to play an important role.

Santiago Iñiguez: Business schools on the three continents provide a complimentary offer, but certainly have different, distinctive features. The European business schools have developed a wider stakeholder approach. MBAs in Europe are normally shorter, attended by more senior and diverse participants, the faculty at our schools often have a more clinical profile with extremely close links to the business environment. There is a wider range of educational offerings outside the MBA, ranging from undergraduate programs, to executive education, by way of a number of different Masters degrees for distinct profiles. My guess is that Asian business schools will mirror themselves more on the European model given that we have similar business models and that there is less reliance on endowments. I believe that European MBAs give a strong focus towards experience rather than a transfer of knowledge.

Linda Anderson: I think European schools are already on equal footing with their US and Asian counterparts and produce competent and able students. All schools strive to produce well-rounded students and European schools with their mainly shorter programmes and diverse student body are already at the top of their game

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In the current scenario of global meltdown, how do you think European business schools will stand out and equip students with better skills? Also, which would be the most preferred programmes which students might opt in the near future and why?
P.Nagarajan, India

Santiago Iñiguez: We expect the MBA will retain its place as the hot ticket in post graduate management education. At the same time the implementation of the Bologna accord is going to open up a huge market (estimated at around 500000 students, GMAC study) for the Masters in Management programs.

As previously mentioned I feel that the European model in terms of diversity and cross cultural preparation will equip students with key skills for the emerging new global economy.

Linda Anderson: I think European business schools are well equipped to weather the current economic upheaval. These schools are already well used to catering for diverse cultures and it is not unusual to see 15 different nationalities represented in one programme. Consequently, they have a global outlook and can respond swiftly to outside events. Their students are often multi-lingual and are usually looking to work in another region and are therefore already open to ideas of job flexibility - essential in today’s volatile economic climate.

Given the tubulence in the economy I suspect that the MBA - a general management programme - will be the programme of choice for students. It provides the basic tools for students to enter a wide range of sectors and would therefore offer value for money in times of economic uncertainty.

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I am interested in enrolling in an MBA program next year. I am working as a financial advisor and I have a BBA degree. However, I think I should diversify my knowledge and take an MBA with some emphasis. What should be the best emphasis for a BBA graduate? Also, if my primary goal is good salary, is it a good idea to go with a one year MBA and a little bit cheaper university than the top 20 schools?
Boyan Yovev, Sofia, Bulgaria

Santiago Iñiguez: Firstly the MBA is a career transformational experience which should look beyond economic ambition. One lesson of this crisis is that executive salaries will probably become more aligned within the institution and society. The starting point for thinking about an MBA should be beyond economic considerations. It is also worth pointing out that the MBA was and is still designed to be a generalist management degree, although you can certainly focus your experience through electives, exchanges and other activities to help with your career goals. Your choice of school should be aligned with your personal and career goals, I recommend that you talk to graduates, students, employers and a range of schools to find an experience which will deliver you the most benefit in achieving your ambitions.

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I am a Law graduate and will qualify in Spring 2009 as a solicitor in Ireland. Now that I have a professional qualification and some employment experience I am keen to change careers to a more general management role and ultimately to entrepreneurial pursuits. I am considering a one year taught masters, the new Masters in Management in LBS or MSc in Management and Strategy at LSE are both attractive but is there a course which would better incorporate my legal training? Or any other route you might recommend?
Robert, Dublin, Ireland

Santiago Iñiguez: Interestingly we have an international LLM program in conjunction with Northwestern University school of law, which is focused on providing practicing lawyers with experience the opportunity to broaden their focus in international business and management, along with an advanced approach to international business law. This might open up some interesting career possibilities that combine both your legal training and desire to open up wider career opportunities, please feel free to ask us about it.

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Which are the best European Finance Master's programmes?
Sandra Otalora, unknown

David Begg: I cannot speak for other Schools, but Imperial is very proud of its range of Finance Masters programmes - Finance, Risk Management, Actuarial Finance - which combine rigour and an emphasis on practicality. We take nearly 300 students a year and the competition to get in is fierce.

Santiago Iñiguez: I suggest looking at the recent FT report on financial training, look at the different institutions and their offerings. This is a rapidly growing area within Management Education with numerous different offerings available, from general Masters in Finance programs to more specialized programs focused on particular areas.

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I am about to apply for business schools in Europe for entry in 2009/2010.  Both your schools are on my potential list.  Both your schools have a strong emphasis on Entrepreneurship.  In this market it is likely that your MBA graduates will have a very hard time finding a job and therefore many of them may try and set up businesses themselves. Have your schools given any thought to providing an incubator service, or some sort of formal launch pad for potential business ideas developed by students AND alumni? This could include contacts or deals with finance sources to provide venture capital for these projects, and would go beyond the scope of existing Business Plan Competitions that you may already run.  I am keen to hear your strategy in this regard.
Faisal Haq, Rome Italy

David Begg: Imperial has been ranked in the global top 10 for the last 5 years running, so by now it is deeply embedded in how Imperial operates. All our MBA students participate in projects that work with live intellectual property and explore practical applications with real companies. Two of our MBA students became overnight millionaires when Imperial floated Ceres Power, in which the students had earned a small stake as a result of their project work.

As one of the leading global generators of intellectual property - in fields as diverse as medicine, photovoltaics,and bioengineering - Imperial College has a well developed incubator and retains a major stake in Imperial Innovations, the holding company for its spin out and licensing deals.

One of the advantages of joining a Business School closely integrated into a science technology campus is that there are well worn pathways for those ambitious to set up their own businesses.

Santiago Iñiguez: At IE we have a number of projects to support the development and launch of new ventures. One of our most popular electives is called the Venture Lab, which involves students developing a business plan from opportunity identification to pitching the idea. This project is linked with Caja Madrid, the leading Spanish savings bank, and offers the opportunity for participants to present their plans for funding from the bank and other venture capitalists. There is also a competitive element to the elective where business plans move through a selection process in accordance with evaluations made by IE and Caja Madrid. During the last stage a committee decides on 10 finalists who have to present their plans before a forum comprised of potential investors. Winners receive a follow-up of their plan by IE for a full year after winning the competition. The winning project is also awarded a loan from Caja Madrid of 30,000 Euros at 0% interest for 5 years, plus one further year of interest only payments.

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I hope to submit my application to one of IE’s MBA programs soon.  I have two questions.  Will IE offer a distance learning MA in Global Affairs in the near future?  Will IE offer a distance learning dual degree program, i.e., MBA, with MA in Global Affairs?
Fahad AlKhattaf, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Santiago Iñiguez: Many thanks for your interest in IE. Actually we launched a Master in International Relations this year that has already started comprised of a very international pool of participants. In fact, the curriculum of this program is strongly influenced by management issues.

In line with the strategy of IE, combining face-to-face with online forms of delivery, we plan to launch a blended masters/degree program in International Relations in the near future. We also plan to offer double degrees mixing Masters in Management with other disciplines, including international relations.

Furthermore in reply to your question about MBAs with Global Affairs, our MBA already has a strong component of this, which includes, amongst other initiatives, our series of conferences with renowned international leaders.

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What are the top business schools in the Central and Eastern Europe today?
Ivan, Ukraine

Linda Anderson: There are many good schools in Central and Eastern Europe. I would recommend looking at accredited schools - Ceeman, Equis, Association of MBAs and AACSB.

Santiago Iñiguez: Eastern Europe has great potential for Management Education and is experiencing a huge demand for top management positions. In fact some of our MBAs from Eastern Europe go back to their countries to occupy CEO or other C-level positions. If you ask me about what would my preferred business schools in Eastern Europe I would mention Skolkovo Business School in Moscow and CEU in Budapest.

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Does having the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation help you enter into a TOP 10 ranked MBA program?
Beatriz Martin, Spain

Linda Anderson: Any qualification is of benefit when joining an MBA programme as it helps to give the student a more rounded portfolio. Competition for a place on a top-ranked programme is fierce and a CFA designation would help differentiate a student’s application.

Santiago Iñiguez: Obviously this is a highly esteemed personal accreditation and can only help to support your candidature. However, here at IE we appreciate all aspects of a candidate, recognizing the whole range of what is considered “intelligent” that are key to success in business: analytical, political, emotional, social and creativity.

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What about schools which are not actually business schools but offer similar programmes, e.g., Sciences Po? Does it serve a niche or how are these schools useful in comparison to their business counterparts? It doesn't either figure in the FT rankings either.
Kath Bogana, Paris

Santiago Iñiguez: These school certainly have a part to play in management education. Management has become cross-disciplinary and we will see in the future many more educational offerings from different academic quarters. If I may take this opportunity to explain my answer, I will use IE University, a new higher educational institute launched by our business school, which runs degrees in many different disciplines, from architecture to psychology, all including core modules of management. We believe that in almost all cases good professionals in any sector require good business practice.

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Do you feel MBA graduates should return to Business School to take electives every few years on a part-time basis to stay in touch with the latest business and management techniques and theories or does the practical aspects of working in management posts negate the need for that consideration?
Bill Gallacher, Greenock

Linda Anderson: Keeping abreast of current management thinking and trends is I believe a good idea. Of course one can learn on the job, but returning to business school to take an elective every few years, gives a fresh perspective and time to reflect on the issues before returning to the workplace and putting them into practice.

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I’ve always heard that graduate school is a good idea during difficult economic times. Do you think that still holds true?
Paul Williams, Washington, D.C
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Linda Anderson: During difficult economic times, business schools traditionally see a surge in applications. Education is always of benefit and if you were considering studying for an MBA now, whilst the economy is in decline, might be a good time to do so.

Santiago Iñiguez: Traditionally the level of applications to full time MBA programs was conceived as counter cyclical, and it seems that this time again this is holding true. A post-graduate management degree can add value at many stages.

Timing is a critical element in maximizing the impact of the program on your career. The current financial climate opens up opportunities for those choosing to pursue a program. It could potentially be an excellent opportunity to think about the current business environment and learn how it is changing and what opportunities these developments open up. However, one must of course consider the recruitment environment for corporations in times of turbulence and weigh up the costs and benefits you will find from taking the program now.  

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I will like to ask David and Santiago what they feel the prospects of MBA graduates are considering the current economic climate. Financial institutions are currently laying off staff due to the financial crisis and they were the main employers of MBA graduates from top European schools.

I would like to look know what their own take and perspective is on this and if it is justifiable in these times to still pursue an MBA considering the costs and potential lack of Job opportunities.
Tunde, London

Linda Anderson: Obviously graduating MBAs are anxious about recruitment. Nonetheless companies are still recruiting, despite the difficult conditions and an MBA will always be of benefit. For those considering entry into a business school in 2009, with graduation in 2010 or 2011, the economic climate will by then be very different and I would expect recruitment to be picking up once again.

Santiago Iñiguez: Here at IE we have, as we had in the past, a wide array of recruiters from different sectors and we didn´t rely heavily on investment banking for example.  So the answer to your question depends more on the school that you are considering applying to rather than the general economic situation. Those considering entrepreneurship should be encouraged  to apply to an MBA by the new opportunities due to the need for companies to innovate and save costs, especially in the renewable energy sector.

David Begg: Historically, full time MBA programmes have been countercyclical - when the job market is tough is precisely the time that least salary is sacrificed by taking time out to enrol on an MBA.

For EMBA programmes, much depends on the extent of sponsorship by firms. Some enlightened employers will conclude that it makes sense to look after their star employees by investing in their training. However, other employers may be forced to cut all avoidable costs.

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As you are on the forefront of management thinking, I would like to understand how you have applied this to your own institutes. Due to (a fear of) a global recession, how have you prepared your business schools for the following? I can imagine:

1) Less companies have budgets available to sponsor their employees to embark on an MBA.

2) Prospective students themselves are more careful in investing the significant tuition fees during these uncertain times.

3) Banks have less credit available to issue loans to support prospective students that cannot offer security other than future prospects.

Tom Heerkens, Amsterdam

David Begg: My answer to the previous question suggested Business Schools will have opportunities as well as facing threats. But it is always wise to develop contingency plans that can be implemented as threats come closer.

Fortunately, Imperial Business School has doubled in size during the last 5 years, so we are beginning from a growth rate of over 15% a year, and we continue to have new opportunities as a result of our ever closer integration with the rest of Imperial College. For example, we are now working closely with our colleagues in medicine on aspects of healthcare management. To some extent, greater access to research budgets will safeguard our ability to undertake high quality programme delivery.

A forest fire leaves the surviving shoots stronger and less congested by weeds. Business schools have proliferated enormously in the last 15 years. A tough economic climate will encourage a flight to quality. I expect Instituto de Empresa and Imperial to survive the shakeout and continue to prosper.

Santiago Iñiguez: The sad reality is that many talented, conscientious and hard-working people have lost their jobs in these difficult times. Applications from this, more than respectable, group are more than making up for losses in other segments. IE Business School has constantly tried to diversify its offering over the years aiming to cater for all management sector needs. The offshoot to this, is that we are less vulnerable to downtowns in any particular area, if they do occur.

More importantly we believe that we should use our management thinking to aid in the inevitable process of introspection that businesses, all the major actors in the economies and particularly the financial sector will need to go through. Business schools should adapt our curriculum to the changing relationship of business with society and pressing issues such as energy, sustainability and the need for innovation.

It is expected by many economists that there will be a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the coming year and that top companies in every sector, due to reserves of cash etc, will emerge relatively strengthen from this crisis. I believe that this might also apply to the Management Education sector.

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How can European schools compete for top faculty, who are paid very well in the US?
Geeta Bhatia, Boston

Linda Anderson: Competition for top faculty throughout the world has always been intense. Increasingly some European schools are matching their US counterparts on remuneration. However European schools can also offer their academics a wide variety of research opportunities and also consulting opportunities, which many faculty find most attractive.

Santiago Iñiguez: First leading European schools are offering competitive salaries in line with their US counterparts. Second, the decisive factor to attract good faculty is not monetary but a seasoned combination of reputation, support for research, access to top-management and overall quality of living. At IE, given that we are a young and entrepreneurial institution, we like to think we give faculty a chance to make a difference and leave their legacy.

The diversity of cultures and ways of doing business in Europe in a relatively small geographical region can provide many more opportunities of exploration and learning.

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