If you are a late starter in the business of offering MBA programmes, you have to offer something different to succeed. That was clear to Mannheim University’s business school five years ago as it launched its first courses.

“We couldn’t come up with just another MBA programme,” says Christian Homburg, a professor of marketing who takes over on January 1 as chief executive of Mannheim business school.

Its focus has been on running a truly European MBA programme. It has teamed up with partner schools Essec in France, Warwick in the UK, and most recently with the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. Tuition on the full-time and part-time courses is spread among locations. “If you look at MBA programmes at other business schools, sometimes you have external programmes, but the possibility of working in three different countries – that is something unique,” says Mr Homburg.

Mannheim has sought to distinguish itself from the crowd in other ways. One is course elements that fall under the broad description of “cultural diversity”. Taking into account and appreciating differences between countries and regions “is key in a globalised world, and Europe has something to offer here because it is culturally diverse,” says Armin Heinzl, academic director for the European MBA. Mannheim students might find themselves visiting local museums or discussing local historical monuments in the context of more traditional MBA type subjects, such as leaders and leaderships.

Those running the Mannheim courses argue that the European and cultural elements may be one reason why they attract a high proportion of female students, which on average account for 40 per cent of full-time MBA participants.

Another feature Mannheim has developed, which may be attractive to some students, is the use of executive coaches, used to working with high-level management, to provide feedback and help counter some of the stress involved with intensive MBA coursework.

What comes next? “Definitely, one of our strategic goals now is growth,” says Mr Homburg. Mannheim would appear to have a lot to offer as a business education centre. Situated where the Neckar river joins the heavily-shipped Rhine river, the city has long been a German industrial hub. BASF, the world’s largest chemicals company, is among the large companies in the vicinity. The business faculty of the university has a history going back almost a century and has 4,500 students and 24 professors.

But the MBA programme remains small. Currently, it has just 23 full-time MBA students and a further 73 either on its part-time modular or weekend MBA courses. The business school secured AACSB accreditation in 2000 and Equis accreditation followed in 2004.

The MBA programmes continue to operate from a villa directly opposite the baroque Mannheim castle that is the main university building in the southern German city. But last year, the MBA and other executive education programmes were spun out of the state university into a separate company. That has greatly speeded up decision-making and allowed greater flexibility in setting tuition fees and attracting outside teaching staff.

Mr Homburg says the aim is to double the number of Mannheim MBA students in two to three years. The plan is to expand capacity by adding partner schools. After adding the Copenhagen business school, it has agreed a partnership with the Eada school in Barcelona.

Mr Heinzl, academic director, says talks are taking place with possible partners in eastern Europe. An Italian partner would also be attractive, he adds.

Mannheim is also looking outside Europe, and investigating possible links with India and China. Mr Heinzl says the school is pondering a “Eur-Asian” MBA programme, modelled on its European programme, and negotiations have started. “We are just listening to the market.”

Meanwhile, work is in progress to extend the Mannheim business school product range in other directions: the school is drawing up programmes in specialist German auditing and tax courses compiled with the world’s main auditing firms. Such courses would mark a further evolution of Germany’s university system, that has also seen the phased introduction of internationally-recognisable separate bachelors’ and masters’ degrees.

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