For François Perrot, the debate about whether a masters in management or an MBA has stronger currency is academic.

Like other students at Essec Business School these days, he has both: the Grand Ecole diploma from one of France’s most prestigious business schools and an Essec MBA. At Essec, the two are synonymous.

The controversy which surrounded Essec’s decision to call its masters degree an MBA is irrelevant to him.

When Mr Perrot went as an exchange student to the Haas school at UC Berkeley, he studied alongside Haas’s MBA students. “They just asked me to be as good as they were,” he says.

Essec dean Pierre Tapie argues that it is similar for all the Essec MBAs who take part in exchanges with more traditional MBA programmes in the US. “On average they are two or three years younger but they behave as part of the student group.”

Essec students usually begin their MBA programme when they are 20, earning a bachelor level degree after one year (they have studied in the French preparatory class system for two years prior to joining Essec).

They then graduate from Essec when they are 23 or 24, having complemented two years of study with an average 24 months of professional experience through company internships.

Prof Tapie believes this qualifies them to be awarded an MBA: “It’s not a matter of labelling.

“Today when students have two years of professional experience, and at 25 years of age they are earning €69,000, we don’t see any reason for not calling them an MBA.”

While other European business schools argue
that the kind of work student internees complete is different from the work done by company employees, and that Essec graduates are too young to merit the MBA title, Prof Tapie is resolute.

This despite the fact that none of the other high-ranking French schools have followed this degree model, leaving Essec isolated.

In the past three years the school has seen enormous growth in facilities and students, placing a particular emphasis on attracting non-French students.

The fourth of four new buildings will be completed soon, increasing the academic space by 70 per cent and student residential accommodation by 50 per cent. This means Essec can now guarantee a place in a residency for all overseas students.

It has three campuses: the main one at Cergy-Pontoise, a satellite town 30km north west of Paris; one in central Paris for executive education; and one in Singapore opened this year.

It has 3,700 full-time students and 6,000 executive students, including 800 to 900 executive degree students. And it has the largest number of specialised masters degrees in management in France, nearly 20 per cent of the total, including the Masters in Strategy and Management in International Business which ranks sixth in Europe in the 2006 Financial Times ranking.

Together with executive education revenues, and public money, the programmes bring in €65m annually to Essec, one of France’s few private institutions for higher education.

Its plans to go global include the development of joint degrees, with the University of Mannheim in Germany, for example, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

This year it and the other French business schools were given a fillip when the government said students admitted by competitive examination would have priority in getting visas. Successful international graduates will also automatically get a work visa on graduation if they get a job earning more than €2,000 a month.

Rawad Habib, a specialist in water treatment from the Lebanon, says he chose the degree because of the wide range of courses. “I customised my own programme,” he says. Now he has completed the course he intends to stay in Europe – for a while at least.

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