June 20, 2011 2:17 am

Brandeis Business School: International focus readies students for ‘real’ world

When Pia Yasuko Rask, who grew up in Randers, Denmark, decided to go back to school to get her masters of science in finance (MSF), she visited four schools in Boston.

“Most places I looked at seemed very particular in their gearing towards the banking sector, but I wanted to use my finance degree in a different setting,” she recalls.

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She was, however, won over by one school: Brandeis International Business School, about 10 miles from the city centre. “I liked the atmosphere on campus, the international student body, and the greater freedom in choice of classes,” she says.

Ms Rask, who graduated with her MSF recently and is today a consultant in Shanghai, China, says she made the right decision.

“I loved the breadth in course offerings: the opportunity to learn ‘classic finance’ along with history and politics,” she says.

Ms Rask is not alone in her assessment. Brandeis’s MSF programme has gained a reputation for a rigorous quantitative curriculum focused on international business, a wide selection of courses taught by a faculty comprised of practising managers and academics, and a diverse global student population.

The 10-course degree requires five core classes, three concentration courses, and two electives.

John Ballantine, the programme director, and a senior lecturer, offers a guide to the concentration areas.

The first, he says, is asset management, where students take courses in fixed income, options, and derivatives.

The second is corporate finance, which is more operations-orientated and requires courses in accounting and financial decision-making.

The third is risk management, which involves more quantitative classes.

The degree, which in any given year has between 100 and 125 students, is structured in a way that students may opt to complete the coursework in one year, or spread it over a two, so they may work while they attend school.

A little over two-thirds of students are enrolled in the programme part-time, and about 60 per cent of students work in central Boston.

The global financial downturn has had an impact, says Prof Ballantine, although not a simple one.

On the one hand, it has forced companies to cut funding for employees to study; on the other, the demand for financial expertise has increased.

“People are saying: ‘I need to understand more about how the financial industry fits into the global economy’,” he says. “We have adapted courses to address that.”

Another effect is more demand for one-year programmes globally.

“One-year programmes are more the European model, and there are not as many of them here in the US. But people need additional training and schools are looking at how to meet that need,” he says.

The distinguishing feature of the school is its international student body: nearly 40 per cent are from outside the US, and there are 75 nationalities represented on campus.

“International students feel comfortable here because it’s a global environment.

“Our US students have a real eagerness to learn: they want to understand how the rest of the world works. They don’t want to be in a typical US programme,” says Prof Ballantine.

“From a teacher’s perspective, it’s wonderful to have an incredible mixture of knowledge and experience as part of the classroom discussion.”

Most courses require students to work in multinational teams to complete projects. The assignments are intended to prepare students for the professional world, where they are expected to work with people from other countries.

“When we’re working in groups, it’s interesting to learn about how people from different countries take different approaches to problems,” says Juan Miguel Custodio, a current student from Seville, Spain. “You realise your approach isn’t always the best.”

After graduation, Mr Custodio will take a job in London at Macquarie Bank. “My team at work will be very international, and this programme will have given me good experience for that.”

Brandeis’s international community extends beyond the classroom: its executive speaker series brings dozens of leaders in business, government, and social causes to campus every year.

The school also hosts cultural events, including an African showcase and a Diwali festival.

The MSF programme also involves a week-long intensive immersion in a foreign country.

Past programmes have taken place in London, Prague, Tokyo, Frankfurt, and Istanbul, and this year’s course is set to begin in France in July.

“The global nature of the school affects everything we do,” says Brenda Anderson, a senior lecturer.

“Students are exposed to so many cultures and perspectives. It enriches the experience they have.”

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