Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Business education in Europe is changing. The implementation of the Bologna accord - the harmonisation of Europe’s disparate higher education system is set to transform management education. Are Europe’s business schools ready for these changes? Will the increase in masters programmes be to the detriment of the MBA?

Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC, the number one ranked school in the Financial Times ranking of European business schools, Howard Thomas, dean of Warwick Business School, and Linda Anderson, FT business education writer, give their perspectives below.

Does the Bologna treaty mean that UK universities will have to convert, by 2010, their MSc degrees from 1 to 2-year programs?
D Karam UK

Linda Anderson: The Bologna accord will mean a first degree taken over three or four years, with a masters over one or two years. Currently in continental Europe undergraduate degrees are taken over a longer cycle and are seen as comparable to both a first and a masters degree.

Howard Thomas: The Bologna accord does not necessarily mean that UK universities will have to convert their MSc degrees from one yearr to two year programmes.

The changes that business schools face obviously have consequences for the recruitment of faculty. Have you any view on this? What are the implications for the training of future faculty (ie PhD programs)?
Jaan Grnberg, Uppsala, Sweden

Bernard Ramanantsoa: This is a key issue. Part of the competition in the next coming years will be in the recruitment of top faculty. And the forecasts are quite bad. There will be a shortage of PhD students in several fields, for instance in finance. Salaries will increase. Let us be positive: it’s time that MSc graduates applied to good PhD programs.

Howard Thomas: The quality of faculty is one of the key elements in the strategic positioning of any business school. High-quality faculty create high reputation for the school and, in turn, attract high-quality students.

At the moment, there is a real problem in finding sufficient high-quality faculty to staff business schools - partly because for some time business schools as an academic profession have not been as attractive an employment source as careers in management or finance.

The output from PhD programmes worldwide has declined markedly over the last ten years. In short, there is a clear gap of excess demand for high-quality faculty in business schools.

Linda Anderson: Faculty shortage is a problem for many many schools. One can hope that with the Bologna accord and the transparency that goes with it more students will be tempted by academia and opt for a PhD.

What do top City employees really look for? An MBA or a couple of years of solid industry work experience?
George Fischer, Reading

Howard Thomas: The City will really look for a high-quality first degree - sometime in economics or mathematics - or a person with a masters degree specialising in finance. In my opinion, an MBA is not a pre-requisit for City employment and a first degree together with work experience may be more attractive in moving from one city institution to another.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: Both, my friend, both!

Linda Anderson: In talking to recruiters I have found that they appreciate both, the qualification and the work experience. Business schools demand that MBA candidates have work experience and while an MBA might not be an essential qualification for employers it certainly helps.

Does business education in Europe have a healthy future?
Oliver Baines, UK

Howard Thomas: Business education in Europe relative to US education (the original dominant model) was in a much weaker state 20 years ago than it is now.

Each major country in Europe now has one or two dominant players who are well-regarded in global management education, for example LBS, Warwick and Oxford in the UK, HEC and Insead in France, Bocconi in Italy, Iese and Instituto di Impresa in Spain.

And, over time, these national champions are becoming increasingly credible as programmes which attract high-quality students from a global audience. In my view, therefore, Europe has now developed its own styles and models of management education which are increasingly well-regarded in the field and promise a healthy future for business education in Europe.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: For sure! For several reasons. European business education is clearly by tradition focused on diversity and the more globalisation, the more the top managers will have to cope with this diversity.

I am personally convinced that people from North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa will apply in the next few years to European programs for this reason.

Secondly, even for the players coming from non European countries (especially US and Asian business schools), it’s necessary and useful to have a European counterpart.

If we take the specific case of HEC, we have observed during the last three years a significant increase of applications both for the MSc and MBA program.

Linda Anderson: I think it has a very rosy future indeed. The growth of executive education, the executive MBA and full-time MBA have been well documented and companies now expect their high flyers to have a management qualification under their belts. European schools, which by and large offer a one-year or shorter MBA programme, are able to respond rapidly to business trends, understand multicultural markets and offer a wide portfolio of electives.

MBA students who plan to work in several countries in the course of their career find that European schools tend to have a more international perspective, which chimes with their job aspirations.

I see the two working side by side. A masters will often go deeper into a subject than an MBA and is usually taken in early to mid 20’s, either full time or sponsored part-time by an employer. An MBA is usually a rounding of qualification to give one a good credential - especially from a top 10-20 business school. I see more people taking a specialised masters and then the MBA to finish the formal education. This is a perspective from the investment management and investment banking side. Does the panel agree?
David Carr, London

Bernard Ramanantsoa: I agree completely. I see the two as complementary with a student taking his or her masters, followed by two to three years’ work experience, before embarking on an MBA programme.

Howard Thomas: I largely agree with your comments. A specialist masters degree is usually taken pre-experience and right after a bachelor’s degree. Under the Bologna system, an MBA can only be taken after four years of business experience and is generally seen as the gold-standard route for a career in general management.

From an investment management and investment banking point of view, a student with a masters in finance or economics and finance will probably have sufficient intellectual training to pursue a career in investment banking. After five or six years if that person is transitioning to a more general management role, an MBA may be more appropriate.

I’m a student at the Stockholm School of Economics, where I’m studying for a Swedish Msc degree. Since I’m now only in the first of the four years, the school is offering us the possibility to transfer to the new Bologna system. Is it worth spending an extra year to get the new degree? How important do you think it will be, when one would like to work outside Sweden, to have the new degree?
Niklas Kesson, Stockholm, Sweden

Howard Thomas: I do not know the details of your Msc degree at Stockholm but, if it is a four year degree, then it would fit as the first phase of the two-cycle system that underlies the Bologna accord.

If you wish to work across Europe, then there may be a real benefit to you to transfer to the Bologna system and get the extra year for the two-cycle degree. Clearly, it is a potential source of advantage to employers across Europe, who would understand the nature of the new Bologna degrees.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: The main question you should ask yourself is where you are expecting to work after you graduate. It’s clear that having a Masters Degree of SSE is a very good asset.

Linda Anderson: I would say that yes, if you can afford the opportunity costs and plan to work outside Sweden, it would be well worth transferring. The Bologna accord is designed to promote transparency of degree, so that an employer in Spain for example will readily recognise your qualification. As time passes and the Bologna accord is familiar to all you may find it more convenient if you have transferred to the Bologna system.

Also should you wish to study in another country in the future it would also be useful to have a qualification recognised throughout Europe.

I’m currently studying in France. I would like to ask is there any other country that uses the system of two plus one, ie two years of prep-school (not necessarily related to business studies) and then one year of bachelor programme? My other question is concerning the business school rankings of FT - I have a feeling that it doesn’t give a proper perspective. Some of the schools in the ranking focus solely on postgraduate programmes and/or MBA ones, therefore keeping high quality of the course (also due to more revenue), whereas it is more difficult to do that in schools also offering the undergraduate programmes
Michal Zych, Grenoble

Howard Thomas: I know of no programme of the two plus one and, in any case, it would not qualify as a bachelor’s degree in terms of the Bologna accord.

As far as your question about rankings is concerned, there are many systems of ranking business school programmes carried out by the economist, the Financial Times, the times in the UK and Business Week, Forbes, Princeton Review and US News and World Report in the US.

They each offer a different perspective and are clearly not comparable. What is important is that you, as a student, understand the basis of the ranking in each case and make your own judgement of the schools, given that ranking.

Linda Anderson: On the second point, the FT only ranks postgraduate programmes in its rankings. To the best of my knowledge there is no correlation between having an undergraduate degree programme and offering lower quality programmes overall. In deed HEC Paris, which tops the Masters in Management ranking and the European Business School ranking, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school, which tops the MBA rankings, both run undergraduate programmes.

Aren’t the changes in European management education due more to the cross-fertilisation of the French grandes ecoles system and the UK university based business school system rather than the overall Bologna accord, which is basically a necessary calendar adjustment? It is interesting to note that UK schools, the latest of which being Warwick, are now designing masters programmes for younger students along the lines of the French model after spending years decrying it on the grounds that you couldn’t teach business (only economics!) to young students without work experience.
William McNulty, Toulouse, France

Howard Thomas: The real aim of Bologna is to introduce a bachelor/master progression (four plus one or three + two yrs.) instead of the traditional European long-cycle degree system of five years..

It isn’t just a calendar adjustment - it is an attempt to create a two-cycle system of university studies which can provide easily recognisable and comparable degrees for both students and employers, and enable students to study across europe with the implementation of an European credit transfer system.

In the case of Warwick, we have had a system of masters programmes for younger students in fields such as operations research, organisation studies and industrial relations for well over 20 years. And degrees in finance for well over ten years.

Only recently, have we added masters degrees in marketing, management and information systems. I don’t think that UK or US schools have ever decried the value of French management education, which has been an important influence on the development of management education across Europe.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: I do not share your analysis. MSc degrees have been delivered for a long time by British institutions. The result of the Bologna process (it is actually more a process than an agreement) is that we all “discover” that the MSc market is a European market and, maybe in a few years from now a worldwide market.

With reference to cross fertilization, it’s important to remember that there are several established networks of European business schools, trying to facilitate this cross fertilization. The most famous among them is probably CEMS, the Community of European Management Schools bringing together 17 European schools in 17 countries (HEC in France, Esade in Spain, Bocconi in Italy, RSM in the Netherlands, Corvinius in Hungary, Stockholm School of Economics, UCD in Dublin, LSE among others) and associate members in other countries (Russia, Brazil, China, Canada, Mexico to name a few)

Linda Anderson: As far as I understand, the teaching of MBA programmes at European business schools will be largely unaffected by Bologna, in that schools will still demand relevant work experience before students can be considered for an MBA programme.

The Bologna accord is a pan-European reform, rather than the cross-fertilisation of two countrys’ systems. Many new masters programmes are being created, including business masters. However, they are not intended to replace MBA programmes but are seen as pre-experience degrees.

What criteria were used in building the Top EBS for 2006? There are significant changes from last year - Oxford is down 17 places, Grenoble - 14, while the Stockholm School of Economics jumps from 44th to the 12th position. How are such drastic changes possible?
Ivan Kotev, NY, US

Howard Thomas: I am not sure which rating scheme you are using and quoting for the positioning of the various schools (such as Oxford and others). There are many rating schemes available such as the economist and the financial times but they all operate with different criteria. Without knowing which ranking scheme you are quoting, it is impossible for me to answer the question directly.

Linda Anderson: At the heart of the methodology is the balance between quantity and quality of programmes. So if we are ranking business schools - not programmes as in the other four rankings - how much weight should we give to the quality of each programme and how much to the number of programmes the school offers?

We decided the answer was to value both quality and quantity. So, a school like the Said school at Oxford University which has a great MBA programme and also so customised programmes, is not ranked as highly as a school such as HEC Paris, which is ranked in all the four previous programme rankings, even though Oxford’s MBA programme is higher in the Financial Times MBA ranking than HEC.

Who is organising Bologna accord? How do business schools join the programme? What are the benefits for students and lecturers? How will it attempt to drive further integration?
Paul Green, Aberdeen

Howard Thomas: The Bologna accord is a voluntary agreement signed by 40 European countries with the aim of aligning higher education systems and rationalising the granting of degrees across europe.

All the signatories to the accord have agreed that changes towards essentially a two-cycle (bachelors/masters) degree system should be implemented by 2010. The main benefit is that there will be common degrees across Europe which will establish a system of easily recognisable and comparable degrees.

Beyond the creation of networks of european learning, an european-wide credit system will be devised to enable students to study at institutions across europe. Therefore, from a student viewpoint, their ability to study abroad and widen their horizons will be more easily available - and, for lecturers, there will be a wider range of students from diverse countries and cultures who will enhance the global nature of the class.

Linda Anderson: The Bologna accord - the harmonisation of the European higher education system - is an EU driven decision, which applies to all institutions of higher education throughout Europe- universities, colleges and business schools.

The accord aims to create a system of comparable degrees in Europe which are readily understood by employers throughout the EU. It will also establish a clear differentiation between graduate and undergraduate degrees.

The accord will create transparency so that students can take their undergraduate degree in, for example, the UK, followed by a masters in Italy, before moving on to work in Spain.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: The Bologna accord is an agreement between European countries aiming to harmonise the organisation of higher education in Europe. In other words, a common definition of what is a bachelor level, a masters level and a Ph.d. level is now possible.

One major consequence is that European students can now apply to study in another country by presenting the degrees and the credits they already have. Another result is that it’s now possible to compare the different programs and the different schools/universities within Europe.

In your opinion, are European management programs level with the top US programs in terms of incorporating social responsibility or non-profit management - not simply as general business ethics requirements but as meaningful and rigorous options for students wishing to pursue careers in those areas? As an example, Stanford introduces its MBA program with a discussion of managing institutions whether public, private, or non-profit.
Lara, New York

Howard Thomas: The European tradition has always been directed to a much more reflective, integrative style of learning than typical us programmes. Further, the close relationships between the public sector and private corporations in Europe have led to a much earlier focus on issues of public management as well as private management in the design of MBA programmes.

In fact, in Warwick, we have dedicated areas in public management and corporate citizenship that are thoroughly reflected in our student curricula, and we also have an mpa programme as well as an MBA programme.

Linda Anderson: I believe European schools can be compared very favourably with their US counterparts when tackling corporate social responsibility. Many schools, rather than opting for CSR electives, prefer to embed CSR throughout the MBA programme, believing that CSR is not a stand-alone option.

Others have also chosen to establish centres such as Said Business School at Oxford which has created the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Nottingham University Business School which has the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: Good question. This issue is becoming more and more important for international companies and the best business schools have to anticipate these needs. At HEC, in the MSc program, we have a concentration (”majeure”) called “Alter Management” which aims to give an academic and professional background in this area.

We also have one Specialised Master in Sustainable Development. In the MBA program, we offer several electives in this field. Last but not least, M.Yunus, the recent Nobel Prize winner, is a member of the faculty.

As the masters programmes are more affordable, do you think will we see more students opting for cheaper courses instead of the MBA?
Sharon Henderson, Glasgow

Howard Thomas: If a person wants a career in general management, an MBA is the gold standard. The relative affordability of pre-experience masters programmes should not affect MBA enrolments. Typically, specialist masters programmes are taken immediately after a first degree and as a means of increasing an individual’s immediate employability prospects.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: Firstly, even if you’re globally accurate, some masters degrees are more expensive than some MBA degrees. Secondly, even if there are some exceptions, the MBA programs target post-experience students so there is no direct competition between the two segments.

Linda Anderson: Masters programmes are considerably more affordable than a full time MBA and with more and more masters programmes being created undoubtedly they will prove attractive to those students who have decided on their career path and selected an appropriate masters programme.

But for those students who are career switchers or those who need a management qualification if they are to climb further in their careers an MBA is hard to beat.

Also MBA students tend to be older - in their mid to late 20s or early 30s - are further advanced in their careers and so are better placed to afford the higher costs of an MBA. I believe there will always be a market for the MBA, despite the proliferation of masters programmes.

What is the difference between a master in economics and a MBA?
Lise Anderson, Stockholm

Howard Thomas: An MBA is generally taken subsequent to at least four years of management experience and is intended as a training in general management for a career in management. A masters in economics can be taken immediately following an undergraduate bachelor’s degree and is intended to provide specialist, high-level training in economics. Such a degree might prepare an individual for a career as a business economist or in economic research

Linda Anderson: A masters in economics is geared towards those students who wish to pursue a career in for example, government, business or academia. An MBA on the other hand is a general management degree, covering a wide range of topics, with economics one aspect of the curriculum.

Bernard Ramanantsoa: Essentially speaking, an MBA is for post-experience applicants and an MSc is mainly for applicants without professional experience. Secondly MBA is by definition a business degree which is different from an economics one even if there are some courses in economics in an MBA program.

What is the intended purpose of a ranking that comprises multiple program types, many of which are not offered by the majority of European business schools? It is not surprising that HEC is ranked number one because it is one of the few schools to offer all the programs you have selected!
Daniel Charbor, London

Linda Anderson: The ranking consists of all the criteria from each of the rankings in the various FT surveys and reflects both quality and quantity of the programmes offered by European schools. It is a ranking of the FT’s various business school rankings.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.