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There are few people in the world of business schools who would bet against Blair Sheppard, dean of the Fuqua school at Duke University in North Carolina.

One of the most mercurial thinkers in the business, he has been the brains behind many of the most innovative management programmes around. And last year, he decided to pilot another Fuqua first: a one-year masters in management studies degree, intended to give a bit of business know-how to recent graduates in subjects as varied as philosophy, modern languages and maths. The first year of the pilot has been a resounding success, says Sheppard. In particular, the faculty has warmed to the programme: “The students are smart and willing to go with ideas.”

But for Sheppard, this kind of “pre-experience” masters degree (more usually referred to as a masters in management, or MiM) is more than just a degree for kids in North Carolina. As the university continues its quest to build overseas campuses, he says this degree will form the basis of others to be taught at Duke University campuses in countries such as China, India, Brazil and Singapore, and in the Middle East. “In a year or so, you will see a variant of this as the local degree to anchor us in these locations. There seems to be a real need for this degree in each of the regions that we are talking about.”

Though not the first US business school to launch an MiM – Thunderbird, Case Western Reserve University, the Universities of Southern California and Rochester already teach such programmes – the Fuqua endorsement may be the tipping point for MiMs in the US. Though these degrees were traditionally the preserve of European business schools, the concept is gaining traction around the globe.

As business schools queue up to participate in the FT rankings (there are 12 new schools this year) newer programmes that are not yet eligible for participation have been launched in countries that, like the US, already have a strong MBA tradition. These include Canada (Ivey, Queen’s and the Sauder school at UBC) and the United Kingdom (Warwick, Cambridge and London Business School, or LBS).

Like Duke, LBS launched its MiM in 2009, and there is a very clear understanding of the product, says Julia Marsh, executive director of the programme.

“The MiM is a very clear proposition from a recruiter’s point of view,” she says. “Recruiters are looking more for analytical skills than the big, strategic skills of an MBA.”

Elsewhere, the MiM is helping to define the business studies market. Turkey is one example: this month, Koç University is launching its 18-month course – a breakthrough for both the university and the country. As in many countries, Turkey’s state universities and private business schools alike have tended to blur the distinction between pre- and post-work-experience degrees, and bundle them all together under the title of MBA.

When Koç announced its new masters degree, it also announced that, in future, its MBA would be a post-experience degree only, enrolling managers with some career history.

“It has worked well for us,” says Baris Tan, dean of the school. Turkish students who would previously have gone overseas to study are now considering staying, he says. He believes that pre-experience masters degrees will prove particularly attractive in Turkey, where most higher education is family funded.

For Luca Decour, among the first to enrol on the course at Koç, the decision to take such a new degree was relatively easy. First, because of its location. “Istanbul is really attractive. The MiM degree allows me to stay in an emerging city,” says Decour.

Just as significantly, the programme is part of the Paris-based Cems network, which has pioneered the MiM course since its foundation in 1988 and has strong connections with the corporate world. Ranked second in the world this year, Cems is a conglomeration of 27 global business schools that act as exchange partners – the programme requires students to go overseas as part of the course – and more than 60 corporate partners, ensuring a strong job market for Cems graduates, even those from new programmes.

Cems is now opening its doors to enable the non-profit sector to participate. “We think this is a practical way for them to contribute to the curriculum and to provide internships and projects,” says François Collin, executive director. “For years, the global programme has been the focus. But now that is not enough. Cems is the natural place to experiment with global citizenship. We all take this very seriously.”

But for most students, getting a job will be the top priority this year. It is particularly significant as the fees for these programmes can be more than £20,000 ($30,950) for a one-year degree – particularly pricey for those who have already racked up undergraduate debt.

However, at both Duke and LBS, jobs for their first graduates have not been an issue. At Fuqua, recruitment from its masters in management studies course has been on a par with that from Duke’s traditional MBA programme. At LBS, only a handful of the MiM class of 105 is still looking for jobs upon graduation.

It is a story that echoes across Europe. “We have not seen big issues in employment,” says Patrice Houdayer, dean of the masters in management programme at EM Lyon, one of the 17 French schools that appear in the Financial Times ranking.

In spite of the continued dominance of French business schools in the FT ranking, their success papers over several cracks that need to be resolved as they come under increasing competition from other countries.

The biggest issue is the growing concern in France that the highly selective grandes écoles system discriminates against students from poorer backgrounds, because of its exclusive entry procedures and high fees.

But the business schools speak with one voice when they say that the real problem occurs much earlier in the education system. As François Bonvalet, dean of Reims Management School, puts it: “We cannot be held responsible for something that happens 5-8 years before our selection process begins. We have to address the economic problem: that is the key. If we can’t address this, then all the rest is window dressing.”

But the French schools, and others that are essentially undergraduate business schools, will face a bigger problem as MiMs take root in graduate business schools. At schools such as LBS and Duke (graduate business schools), those who teach the programme are used to teaching executives and MBA participants, not undergraduate students.

“The level of sophistication in the teaching at a graduate business school is way higher,” says Sheppard. A sobering thought for many business schools in this year’s FT ranking.

What is the value of the masters in management degree, both to students and business schools?

Angel Cabrera, president, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Ángel Cabrera
President, Thunderbird School of Global Management, US

“It is clear that there is great demand from companies for entry- and mid-level managers with solid business skills. The Thunderbird masters in management degree provides aspiring young professionals – who may not have significant work experience – the opportunity to launch their careers and to compete successfully in a rapidly changing and competitive marketplace.”

David Saunders, dean of Queen's School of Business, Canada
David Saunders
Dean, Queen’s School of Business, Canada

“The biggest bonus, our graduates tell us, is that the degree opens the doors to international career opportunities. Our degree, the Queen’s Master of Management: Global Management, includes double degree and student exchange options, so that Queen’s students benefit from the combined resources of two institutions – from alumni networks to career services.”

Valery Katkalo, dean of St Petersburg State University, Russia
Valery Katkalo
Dean, St Petersburg State University, Graduate School of Management (GSOM), Russia

“The introduction of the masters in management degree here at GSOM indicates the successful transition of Russian university education to the European Bologna process. For us, this is the key driver of GSOM’s systemic interna-tionalisation in terms of student and faculty exchanges, joint modules and research projects.”

Xiongwen Lu, dean, School of Management, Fudan University, China
Xiongwen Lu
Dean, School of Management, Fudan University, China

“Masters in management degrees are growing in popularity in China. Positioned as top-notch programmes for developing leaders for both the Chinese and the global economy, our masters programmes incubate highly selected under-graduates with cutting-edge knowledge, professional skills and international perspectives, who are capable of serving not only multinationals but also local giants.”

Peter Wolnizer
Dean, faculty of economics and business, University of Sydney

“Our master in management programme not only equips aspiring young managers with advanced knowledge in business-related disciplines, but also exposes them to demanding experiential learning that develops skills that are essential for the next generation of leaders: the ability to apply theory to practice; to think creatively, critically and analytically; to participate constructively in high-performing teams; to communicate effectively at all levels; and to understand the dynamics of global commerce and enterprise.”

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