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Europe is facing an explosion in masters degree programmes – including MBAs – over the next five years, according to the latest research published by GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) last week. In Europe more than 12,000 masters programmes will compete to attract up to 2.4m students once the re-organisation of the European higher education system is complete in 2010, according to the report.

The reorganisation has huge implications for corporate recruiters and employers, not just for universities and students. The report is the fruition of work done by GMAC over the past two years, looking into the implications of the Bologna agreement.

This voluntary agreement was signed in 1999 by 29 European countries; a further 11 countries have subsequently signed up to the scheme. The aim is to introduce a uniform and transparent degree system across the whole of Europe, with a credit transfer system to enable students to move between institutions.

From the recruiter perspective, out will go the Diplomkaufmann, the Laurea and the Grande Ecole diploma; in will come bachelor and masters degrees, already commonplace in North America, the UK and much of the rest of the world.

As well as introducing a transparent system, there is a move by European countries to cut back the traditional five-year degree programme to just three or four years, both to save money and get young people into the job market more quickly.

The implementation of the agreement could generate a huge potential market for the MBA degree among European students. Under the old system most university students studied for five years or more in France, Germany or Italy, which meant they were unlikely to return to study for an MBA in their late twenties.

Under the scheme the same students will graduate with a bachelor degree in three years and some of them – how many is yet unknown – could then return to university to study for an MBA, in Europe, the US or Asia.

The potential for MBAs is enormous, says Rebecca Loades, compiler of the GMAT report. “MBA education can become an integral part of national qualification frameworks and take its place beside pre-experience business and management Master degrees in developing skills,” she says. “Business schools will therefore need to clearly differentiate their programmes and deliver genuine value to students else, in the long term, they may not survive.”

GMAC throws its hat into the ring over the definition of an MBA by recommending that all MBA degrees should be post-experience degrees. Food for thought, indeed.

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