Last updated: December 7, 2011 3:27 pm

Ask the Expert: European business schools 2011

Ask the experts - Europe

The eurozone is in crisis, unemployment is rising and businesses are struggling to remain competitive as Europe faces the prospect of a double-dip recession. Coupled with that, many European governments are scrutinising applications for both student and work visas for those born outside the European Union. Why, then, would you choose to study in Europe? And if you do, should you choose an MBA or a Masters degree?

On Wednesday 7th December, 2011, between 14.00 and 15.00 GMT, a panel of experts will answer your questions about European business schools. On the panel are:

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IN Ask the Expert

Sean Brady, MBA student at the UK’s Open University, a member of the Royal Marine Commandos and a Financial Times MBA blogger.

Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC Paris in France and Meet the Dean interviewee for the FT European Business School magazine.

Gloria Batllori, MBA director at Esade Business School in Spain.

Della Brad shaw, business education editor at the Financial Times

Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day on this page.

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Given the tough economic scenario, especially in the eurozone countries, will it be a sound decision for a non EU applicant to study for a one year MBA in Europe with a plan to work in the eurozone afterwards?

What is the panel’s assessment of the MSc in business administration programmes offered by some of the Swedish högskola? What is the prospect for students of these programmes in the job market, especially in the eurozone countries? Will attending one be a good strategy as opposed to attending a similar programme in Germany, the Netherlands or France?

Mohammad Shoaib , India

Sean: It is hard to predict how the eurozone countries will navigate their way through the current economic problems. However, it is probably certain that most companies in the eurozone countries will be looking to expand their activities into countries such as India to drive future growth. Therefore, there is a strong logic to plan to study in the eurozone, as you will then be better able to act as a bridge between the two markets. Overall, I have always been an optimist, so although things may look bad now and may get worse before they get better, the situation will improve.

Gloria: Studying a one year MBA in Europe may not be a sound decision for everyone, but it is still a good option for those who want to have a traditional MBA placement opportunity, for example in consulting, investment banking and rotational programmes in industry. In recent years, opportunities were in the students’ home markets, now however, European corporations are increasing their operations in non-EU countries, in emerging markets. We have seen them looking increasingly for people from these markets in their headquarters.

Esade offers both MBA and MSc programmes so we are in a good position to talk about the differences and similarities between the programmes. They are clearly aimed at two different age profiles: the MBA with an average age of 28, and the MSc with an average age of 23. This means that the MBAs have previous professional experience (4-5 years) and the MSc’s are considered pre-experience by recruiters (although they may have undertaken internships or part-time work). This means that in the classroom the content for MBA’s is more strategic, while that of the MSC’s is more technical. In terms of placement, MBAs are going for associate positions and MSc’s for analysts. In terms of similarities, both programmes are totally international and are aimed at students who want to pursue an international career.

With regards to the question on Swedish högskola, the prospects for international candidates post-graduation will depend heavily on the reputation of the school in question.

Bernard: There are two aspects to your question. The first is of the ideal format of an MBA programme. There are two main models here: the one-year vs the two-year MBA (with a range of intermediate alternatives). Your choice will really depend on what you wish your MBA to do for you and how much of a change you would like in your career. We at HEC Paris feel that ‘real’ career switchers enjoy having more time to develop their career plan, acquire the business skills they will need in their future careers and meet with potential recruiters.

The other aspect is where you would like to work after your MBA. Europe is a continent which offers exciting opportunities. It has a number of traditional strengths in sectors such as luxury and e-business. Most MBA programmes offered in the countries you mention will offer you opportunities to work in the sector of your choice.

Della: Mohammad hi, this is a really difficult question to answer because things are changing so rapidly. If you apply for an MBA in Europe today, it is really hard to know what the economic conditions will be nine months from now when you begin your programme - and two years from now when you are looking for a job.

I think the visa situation is a little clearer and as a general trend I think post-study work visas will become increasingly difficult to obtain for non-EU citizens. The right to work in the UK for two years after graduation has already gone and earlier this year it looked as though France would follow the UK in this. However, successful lobbying by France’s business school deans meant that the right for masters level graduates to work in France on graduation has been restored.

I am interested in finance and European business schools seem to provide a lot of scope for mastering in such a specialisation. But the markets being the way they are, I am unsure whether to gamble in such a scenario. Are European schools receiving recruiters in the field of finance or should I be looking at a more generalised course?

Rishi Joe Sanu

Gloria: Yes, we are receiving a lot of recruiters in the field of finance, particularly for our MSC in finance graduates. In fact, this programme has doubled in size in the last year. Having said this, investment banks and financial services companies have not stopped recruiting MBAs. Nevertheless, the number of positions with these has reduced, but at the same time we have seen new recruiters in the fields of private equity and venture capitalists.

Sean: I think you may have answered your own question. If you are interested in finance, you probably want to choose a course which allows you to concentrate on this aspect as you are likely to gain more from studying something you are interested in. From my own experience, not only have I enjoyed the finance modules I have completed so far, I have found them the most useful in my day to day work. I therefore expect that I will choose further finance modules when I reach the elective phase of my MBA.

Bernard: It’s true that the market is uncertain. The only hard facts I can give you is that we are currently experiencing a huge increase in the number of candidates to our masters in finance programme. And our most recent graduates have found good positions, regardless of current economic conditions. We are also welcoming more financial institutions into our career fairs than last year.

Concerning your choice between specialised vs generalised courses, it really depends on your background and professional objectives.

Della: I think that if you are looking to study for a specialised masters degree in finance, then Europe is a fantastic place to study. In the Masters in Finance rankings published by the Financial Times in June this year, European business schools dominated the list. What we found in that survey was that employment was marginally higher for those who studied for this kind of specialised degree over those who studied for a more general programme, such as an MBA. What is clear in Europe is that the banks and finance boutiques are still recruiting, though perhaps not in the numbers of the boom years.

Why do you think there are so few women on European MBA programmes? How do you think this can be best resolved?

Gloria: This question is directly related to the chance to raise a family. Traditionally, European MBA programmes have been aimed at slightly older participants than those in say India or the US, this means that the ideal period for following an MBA programme coincides with that of raising a family. Having said this, in recent years we have seen an increase in the number of women on European MBA programmes due to the fact that increasingly they have been starting families later. Of course, it is not impossible to do an MBA with a young family, but it is a challenge. Perhaps this issue could be resolved or at least alleviated through providing more facilities for participants with families, such as crèche services.

It is also true that recruiters want to take more women on. With this in mind, there is an opportunity to create joint fellowship programmes to encourage more women to do the programme, whereby companies and the school select female participants for the programme, including an internship and post-graduation position.

Sean: I am not best placed to answer the first question. However, I am a firm believer that business and the public sector will benefit from greater diversity and that we should all encourage it at every opportunity. To be competitive in the future, we need to seek out talent and find the good ideas. In the short term, it is likely to require active measures to resolve the balance. However, hopefully as we move into the future, we will not need to address this issue when a diverse mix in business becomes the norm.

Della: I remember a survey done a few years ago by the Association of MBAs, the accreditation body based in London. The women who responded said that one of their main reasons for not studying for an MBA was that the application process took such a long time - that the decision to study for an MBA had to be part of a long-term career management process. Many women said that if they could apply just a couple of months before the programme began, they would be more likely to do so.

One of the other things that sticks in my mind from that survey is that when choosing an MBA programme, women chose the school where the applications staff were helpful and friendly. If the applications folk were arrogant about the school, women voted with their feet!

Bernard: It’s a key question. The most widespread answer is that too many women think (wrongly, if you ask me) that they will have trouble finding work-life balance at the age of 30. As with many other MBA programmes, HEC Paris has embarked on heavy communication efforts to reassure female applicants about this issue.

Does one get a better quality of education when studying on a joint programme (rather than a single degree) - such as Trium - due to the exposure to different schools, teaching methods and countries? Is it worth the investment?

Della: I’m not sure it is a better education, rather a more appropriate education for those managers who are looking for (or whose company’s are looking for) international mobility and a global mindset. In those cases, yes, the investment seems to be worth it.

Sean: I suspect that the quality of the education will be broadly similar, so the answer to this question probably again comes back to what do you want to do once you have finished studying? If you have a clear idea of where you are heading, then you can begin to focus your study. However, if you are still in a divergent phase of your thinking then I would advise you to choose a course which can provide you with the greatest choice for later specialisation, once you have determined what you enjoy and what you are naturally good at.

In addition, it is difficult to quantify exactly the return on the investment you will achieve in advance, so there will always be a degree of uncertainty in whichever choice you make, nevertheless you will gain benefit from whatever option you decide to pursue.

Gloria: It is not a question of which is best, but which best meets the needs of the participant in question. For example, we have a Global Executive MBA run jointly with Georgetown and aimed at more senior participants that want to internationalise their companies. The fact that it is run by two leading schools in different markets gives participants a better foot in the door in both markets and connects them to a larger network.

Bernard: There are many advantages to studying in a joint programme such as Trium. First, the fact that this programme is designed course by course on a joint basis. (This is very specific to Trium, as other very good joint programmes may prefer to develop their course portfolio separately). The advantage of this is to leverage the strengths of each institution and pool them into the course design.

Second, there is a huge advantage to having very diverse cohorts such as Trium, in terms of nationality.

Finally, we benefit from our three networks to offer parts of the programme in countries such as India, Brazil or China.

What are the actions taken by business schools / career services to connect their students to employers outside the EU? What plans are already in place to improve the relation between business schools and industry outside the EU?

Thanks, Fazil

Gloria: There are two ways in which this is done. Firstly, a few companies have centralised global recruitment services based in Europe or the US, so our careers services teams deal with these for recruitment worldwide. Secondly, the majority of companies recruit on a domestic basis, here it is essential to have someone on the ground in the key markets.

At Esade, our associate directors for admissions also handle career services, they have assigned geographical areas, in which they are experts. They spend a great deal of time in these countries. We also use the contacts of the students themselves to put together treks to different countries, for example, UK, Brazil, the Middle East and Mexico.

Bernard: Career services are key to finding the right match between an MBA student and his potential recruiter, wherever they might be (close to 50 per cent of our students find their first job outside their home country). Business schools often offer international career fairs and online resources to help them interact with one another. We at HEC have also developed an extensive network of international partner institutions, offering double degree and exchange programmes. Students who choose this option gain access to a huge network of local recruiters as well.

I have a few questions. How would you rate studying in England with respect to other eurozone countries? I am pretty much interested in a career in the banking sector, should I pursue a general MSc management programme or should I target the specific courses like MSc banking and risk management or MSc investment banking? Is it safe to bet on such courses?

Also, apart from the differences between the course structure and curriculum, some people are opting for a two year programme rather the one year programme in the Euro countries, so that they give some window period for the economy to get back on its feet. According to their math, by the time they finish their course, the economy will recover. What do you think of such assumptions?

Also how do business school admission committees (MSc management especially) view applicants with a family business background? For example, I am an undergraduate in engineering and my family runs a non-banking financial and investments company. After my graduation, I will go into top management levels without any experience. Though I don’t have experience I am mentored by the family peers. How do you view such applicants?

Prakash, India

Della: Prakash hi, on the specific finance and banking questions, hopefully I have answered those in my answer to Rishi’s question. And as to the recovery in the economy, I think things will become a lot clearer in the next few weeks - it is a brave person who will hazard a guess today as to when the economy will recover in Europe, given that each country is in a different situation.

As to coming from a family business... I am sure business schools would be delighted to have someone with your experience, as you will bring a different perspective to the table.

Gloria: With regards to your first question: the standard of education in the UK is very high as it is in other European countries, the one thing you might miss out on is the high levels of diversity you will find on some continental programmes, this however depends on the school. Another value added is the chance to learn another language. In any event, the most important thing for you will be your fit with the school and its reputation.

As a finance professor, I would recommend that if you are sure you want to go into banking, you should follow an MSC in finance or another related subject. I would also recommend that you find one which prepares you for the CFA.

Second question: At Esade, MBA students choose between completing the course in 12, 15 and 18 months and do not have to do so until March of the first year. This year the numbers were 10 per cent in 12 months, 45 per cent in 15 and 45 per cent in 18 months. You can take this as the assumptions of our students about the future, but as Sean said earlier we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Final question: If you go straight from the MSc to top management, you may find that you will need to undertake another programme after a few years. As I mentioned above, the MSc will give you excellent technical tools but an MBA later will equip you with the leadership competencies necessary to take your company to the next level.

Where would you advise MBA / Masters in management graduates to look for jobs in tough economic times, especially during this eurozone crisis?

Della: Well, I hear Brazil is desperate for highly-qualified managers......

Bernard: Finding a job results from matching demand and offer. The demand side depends on you! You may wish to work in Asia or alternatively in Latin America or Africa... Concerning the offer, growth undoubtedly comes from Asia. But don’t be hasty. Many companies from the eurozone have built up cash reserves and are ready to invest, especially in recruiting high potentials.

Gloria: There are many opportunities in emerging markets right now, but that doesn’t mean graduates have to stay there forever, their experience will be highly valued once the crisis is over.

Sean: There will be no secret answer to this question. The key will be to do your research well, to network hard and to determine what differentiates you from all other candidates. Therefore, you must conduct some detailed and honest self analysis and develop a plan to market yourself, so dig out your books on marketing theory and apply them to your own situation. 

With the eurozone in disarray and many European schools facing funding cuts, would it be better to study for my MBA in the US even though the programme will cost more?

Della: I think it always depends on what you want to do on graduation. If you want to work in the US, then go there to study. If you want to work in Europe, it may well be best to study there. Of course, there’s always the Asian business schools....

Gloria: Many European schools are better placed to find graduates excellent positions in emerging markets than US schools. This is due to the high level of diversity in the classroom and the fact that schools have long had to develop their relationships in these markets to meet the needs of their graduates.

Previously, companies looked for a local national with an international outlook, now we are seeing a need for people with experience in emerging markets for positions in headquarters in Europe and the US.

Unfortunately, we are facing a global crisis that affects the developed world as a whole and the US is also suffering.

Sean: As I have previously mentioned, in response to an earlier question, I am an optimist. Furthermore, I believe that uncertainty throws up just as many, if not more opportunities than a stable scenario. Therefore, if change needs to occur in the eurozone, there will be a requirement for business school graduates who are agile; who can think strategically; and who are able to identify and seize fleeting opportunities as they appear. To use a military analogy in times of danger, you are often best to move forward and not back and as such I would seriously consider studying in the UK or the erozone.

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