December 3, 2012 12:02 am

Looking for bright spots

illustration by Nick Lowndes©Nick Lowndes

Not many people get to pursue their hobby as a full-time job. But such is the opportunity at east London-based technology company Songkick, a service that gives music fans the ability to track their favourite bands and book tickets for their gigs before they sell out. It is one of a new breed of recruiters hiring MBA students.

Already two of the 30 staff at the company have London Business School MBAs, says David Anderson, operations director there, and now that Songkick is hiring for a business development supremo, it has turned to LBS again. ­“Because we’ve had success from LBS in the past, we have explored that as a possibility.”

Like many MBA recruiters these days, Songkick is hiring for a specific job, not indulging in the mass hiring programmes that characterised recruitment as recently as five or six years ago. “The days of relying on the big recruiters are over,” says Fiona Sandford, director of career services at LBS. “We just can’t rely on the A-list recruiters knocking on our door.”

It is not just in London that this trend applies. At Iese Business School in Barcelona, for example, companies in high tech and telecoms, luxury goods and pharmaceuticals top the list of recruiters for MBA graduates over the past year, replacing the traditional banking and consultancy firms. Indeed the top MBA recruiter at Iese this year was Amazon.

And Iese’s neighbour, Esade Business School, reports a further trend – job placement outside Europe, and particularly outside Spain. In 2008, 67 per cent of Esade’s MBA graduates got jobs in Europe. Now that has dropped to 59 per cent.

The figures are starker for the Spanish job market. In 2008, a third of all Esade MBA graduates got a job in Spain on graduation; the latest figures show that is down to 17 per cent, says Pollyanna Nethersole, associate director of admissions for executive education.

These statistics throw some light on the effects of the prolonged economic problems in Europe and continued economic uncertainty looks set to have a long-term impact on business schools, says Philippe Haspeslagh, dean of Vlerick Business School in Belgium.

“What is very clear now is that businesses are not expecting a rapid recovery. So most schools will have felt a softening since the summer,” he says.

This applies to executive education courses in particular. Companies are postponing courses, he says, taking longer to make decisions and taking longer to pay. But he believes one positive trend in the market is that for executive MBAs – MBAs for working managers. “People do an EMBA because it’s a good investment in their careers and prospects,” Prof Haspeslagh says.

With fees for these programmes often topping $100,000, EMBAs are sometimes seen as the cash cows of business schools. As a result, enrolments often rise in recessionary times, particularly at the more highly ranked schools, which increase their intakes. Both Insead and London Business School have expanded their EMBA programmes over the past four years, which means that schools such as IMD in Switzerland, Cranfield in the UK and IE Business School in Spain have seen numbers decline on their ranked EMBA programmes – IMD enrolled 64 students on its EMBA programme in 2008, for example, but just 38 in 2012.

One real ray of hope for European business schools, though, is for pre-experience business students, in particular for both enrolments to masters in management programmes and job opportunities for their graduates. While the jobs markets for MBA and masters in finance alumni has remained tough, recruitment at the more junior level is strong. “There is a real shift to the more junior programmes, especially for financial services,” says Nethersole. “Because of the recession, people have tighter budgets, they are more risk averse.”

Sandford agrees. “The analysts market is the biggest, so if you’re in this market it feels a lot easier. Our masters in management rock the analysts market.”

It is not just the worry about getting a job on graduation that has affected business school enrolments. For many, just getting the appropriate visa to study in Europe is problematical. Though the problem is perceived to be particularly acute in the UK, there are issues across Europe, says Prof Haspeslagh. “Every year we have some students who do not get through [the visa process] in time.”

Like other business school deans, Prof Haspeslagh is outspoken on the issue. “In general, European governments are shooting themselves in the foot by not putting the programmes in place to identify and attract talent.”

The visa issue is just one reason why European business schools are looking to take their teaching overseas – going to the students rather than relying on the students coming to them. China and Singapore have led the field, followed by the Middle East, Brazil and the US. Now Africa is the trending place to be.

The French business school Essec, for example, which announced at the beginning of November that it was building an extensive new campus in Singapore, has recently begun investigating the possibility of a third campus in Mauritius, says Jean-Marie Ardisson, director of Essec corporate education. “We believe some parts of Africa and the Gulf will be important and we want to be part of the trend.”

Essec has begun by setting up consortium programmes for major companies in Mauritius and its African neighbours, as part of the country’s attempts to set up an educational hub in the region to compare with Singapore. “I do believe it makes sense to invest for two to three years and see how it goes,” says Prof Ardisson. “We have responded to the proposal of the Mauritian government in a similar way to the way we responded in Singapore a decade ago.”

Pierre Tapie, dean of Essec, has made no decision on the issue. “The need for business education is growing worldwide. The question is whether our third campus will be in the giants of China or India, or whether it will be in Africa. The demand is there – the growth is in Africa.”

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