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European business schools are riding high as students are queuing up for courses. Furthermore, even better times may be on the way.

Business schools tend to do well in rocky economic times, and the subprime housing loans debacle in the US may result in an increase in applications because executives often opt to acquire an MBA instead of working through a recession.

This year, there has been little change in the rankings, with the two top of last year – HEC in Paris and London Business School – retaining their places.

However, Insead has jumped from number 10 to three and forced IMD into number four. The EMBA programme at Insead, with campuses at Fontainebleau in France and Singapore, was ranked for the first time this year, helping Insead to jump position.

Most schools are also sanguine over the 2010 deadline for the Bologna Process – the harmonisation of Europe’s higher education system that some analysts predicted would cause shockwaves.

Overall, response from the 46 countries that signed the accord has been enthusiastic, as they recognise the benefits of greater mobility of students and faculty.

One of the much-anticipated consequences of Bologna has been an explosion in masters programmes, with more than 12,000 of them teaching management set to be established in Europe thanks to the initiative, according to the US-based Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

How these programmes affect the traditional MBA market has yet to be seen.

So far, MBA applications appear to be healthy.

“Most schools are reporting an increase in uptake of all courses,” says Jeanette Purcell, chief executive of the Association of MBAs,
the UK-based accreditation organisation.

She highlights increased interest in part-time MBAs, executive MBAs and distance learning programmes, but stresses the increase in part-time programmes is not to the detriment of the full-time MBA, although more flexible MBA programmes are growing in popularity.

The reasons for the trend, she says, include participants’ reluctance to leave employment and a lack of employer sponsorship.

“Employer sponsorship is declining and I think that probably has an impact that is influencing the move to flexible programmes because more students are now funding themselves.”

Distance learning is more viable, she adds, because schools are making much better use of technology.

At IE Business School in Madrid, applications have increased by 30 per cent for 2007 and student numbers stand at 290, an increase of 15 per cent.

For next year the school is considering moving to two intakes – in November and April – and combining its full-time Spanish MBA programme with its international MBA programme, taught in English.

David Bach, associate dean of the MBA programme, says that while the UK remains a tough market, there has been a great deal of interest from Asia and strong demand from India. There has also been greater interest from North America with 21 US participants on the international MBA programme.

Prof Bach puts this down to IE beefing up its US marketing. But what draws mainly US students to Europe and specifically IE, he says, is the international diversity on offer and the school’s one-year programme.

UK schools are buoyant in Europe’s increasingly competitive business education market. Jonathan Slack, chief executive of the Association of Business Schools, the UK representative body, is optimistic but sounds a note of caution.

Those universities not yet in management education face “quite high” barriers to entry, he says. “A lot of new entries will struggle if they think that just by putting on an MBA programme, students will flock to them.

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