Irma Pany is not your average masters in management participant. The Cameroon-born student began her business studies at ESCP Europe in 2008, when she had already launched her career as a singer. Now with a top-10 album and number two single to her name in France, plus successful concert tours, and a YouTube video with of the Black Eyed Peas, Irma is one of the poster girls of the school.

ESCP Europe is already noted for having graduates in top positions in business, finance and politics, says Pascal Morand, the outgoing dean. “And now we have a rock star.”

ESCP is by no means alone in attracting a diverse range of students, as one of the big advantages of the MiM degree is that it helps focus the careers of graduates from the sciences, arts, engineering and languages alike, says Fiona Sandford, director of career services at London Business School (LBS). “Their [recent graduates’] CVs are not focused enough in this really competitive market.”

With graduate recruiters increasingly looking for “plug-and-play” staff, who can contribute to the company from the outset, Sandford believes there have been real changes in the requirements for graduate trainees and analyst-level recruits. “There’s almost been a new asset class created for analyst-plus or analyst-plus-plus. Students are realising that even a degree with work experience is not enough to hack it.”

As a result, the demand is growing for both specialised masters degrees – in, say, marketing, finance, business analytics or luxury goods management – and the more general MiM degrees, with these pre-experience business masters degrees now one of the fastest growing classes of masters degrees in Europe.

Both the number of programmes on offer and the number of applicants are increasing, says Gianvito Lanzolla, director of the MSc in management programme at Cass Business School in London. This year, Cass has had 10 applicants for each of the 100 places on its one-year MiM. “They [MiM degrees] are mushrooming everywhere. I think the market will be polarised: the top ones will be worthwhile, but there will be a lot of commodity ones,” predicts Prof Lanzolla.

The MiM, arguably the flagship degree of most continental European business schools, is now also well established in the UK, believes Prof Lanzolla. “[In London] we all believe there is space for pre-experience management education.”

In Russia, the degrees are also taking off, says Valery Katkalo, dean of St Petersburg University Graduate School of Management. “This segment of business education in Russia is really moving forward.”

But elsewhere, reception for the degree has been patchy. In North America it has few converts, even though schools such as Thunderbird and the Fuqua school at Duke University in the US and the Ivey school at the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s in Canada have adopted the degree with alacrity.

In India, the PGP (postgraduate programme) offered by all the Indian Institutes of Management mirrors the pre-experience format of the MiMs in Europe. But in the rest of Asia the degree is less well known.

In mainland China, Tsinghua University launched the first MiM in 2011 as part of the Cems network of top-notch MiM programmes. Exchange students will visit Tsinghua from 2012. Renmin University in Beijing also teaches such a programme.

And in March this year, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology announced it would be the fourth Asian member of Cems, joining Tsinghua, Keio University in Japan and the National University of Singapore.

That said, there is still a need for the degree to be promoted internationally, believes Santiago Iñiguez, dean of IE Business School in Spain, who has set up a “Friends of MiM” group with top business schools such as LBS, to market the brand. “The brand awareness of the MiM is really low. We want to make the MiM known in the Americas,” says Prof Iñiguez. “It’s one of the few examples where you see competitors working together,” he adds.

One of the biggest selling points of a top-rated MiM programme is the employment record of graduates, which is several percentage points higher than for MBA degrees. Of the 70 schools ranked by the FT this year, about 60 per cent report that more than 90 per cent of alumni are employed within three months of graduation.

The recession and the eurozone crisis have taken their toll, says Frank Vidal, dean of the French business school Audencia in Nantes, where 89 per cent of graduates are employed after three months. “To be honest, it is less easy than it was three years ago, but the placement is still good.”

In the UK, there is the additional problem of employment visas, says Prof Lanzolla, as companies have to sponsor students for a visa if they wish to recruit them. He cites the example of a Japanese company that wanted to hire a Japanese graduate from the programme and was unable to do so, and also a US bank that wanted to recruit a US graduate, again to work in London. “The visa regulation is hitting, it is clear,” he says.

On top of that, recruiters are becoming more demanding. The Cass school has reorganised its programme to ensure that after two terms of rigorous, analytical teaching, students have time to focus on softer skills, including a consultancy project. “What we understand from employers is that MSc students generally are unable to apply knowledge,” says Prof Lanzolla. “We are making students reflect on the way in which they can manage people.”

At EM Lyon, newly appointed dean Philippe Courtier says there is also demand from recruiters for graduates who have studied or worked overseas – more than 450 EM Lyon students will study for six months at the school’s Shanghai campus in the coming year. “This demand comes from the companies,” says Prof Courtier. “They almost all told me that having some kind of experience abroad gives the young guys and women a capability to adapt to other ways of thinking and behaving.”

At LBS, Sandford also points out that because its MiM students are the youngest at the postgraduate business school, the environment is different from the more undergraduate-based schools. It is the “shorts-to-suits” phenomenon she says. “At LBS they are in a business school,” she says. “They get it instantly.”

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