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UK schools offer some of the best graduate-level business education in the world but local students seem reluctant to take advantage of it in any significant numbers.

Data gathered from the FT rankings of global business education programmes show that although the UK offers 10 per cent of all places available globally in the top 100 schools – based on their offering of the top four degree programmes – domestic students accounted for only 2 per cent of those taking them.

The FT’s research considered participants on MBA, executive MBA,Masters in Finance and Masters in Management programmes. The US, the most mature market, accounts for 31 per cent of all places available, but US students also account for 21 per cent of all students studying globally. For China and India, provision and participation rates swing the other way. China accounts for 4 per cent of places available but Chinese students make up 10 per cent of the cohort globally. Indian programmes provide 3 per cent of places on programmes, as defined by FT rankings, but Indian students comprise 8 per cent of participants.

What is going on with UK students?

“We have a far lower level of participation in postgraduate business education than our rivals, despite the maturity of the market,” says Angus Laing, chair of the UK’s Association of Business Schools and dean of business and economics at Loughborough University. “I think it’s due to a deep-seated issue of UK students not taking up masters studies. This . . . extends to other discipline areas.”

Why does low UK participation matter?

“There’s an issue with management and leadership in the UK and it’s basically down to the fact that only one in five is trained,” says Ann Francke, who is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute.

In research published in 2012, the CMI, with a human resources consultancy and researchers at Henley Business School, found that 43 per cent of the 4,496 UK managers surveyed rated their own line managers as ineffective or highly ineffective.

Companies that train their managers enjoy enhanced organisational performance and productivity, says Ms Francke. “With British people there’s a prevailing attitude that you learn this stuff on the job,” she says.

Could this reluctance be due to poor GMAT performance?

Data from the Graduate Management Admission Council show that UK students are consistently among the highest achievers in the GMAT. Thus ability is not in question.

Is funding an issue?

Jane Delbene, director of marketing EMEA at GMAC, says research from 2011 to 2012 shows that 22 per cent of UK students surveyed reported using personal savings to fund their business education, 18 per cent parental support and 17 per cent a loan. This compares with 12 per cent of Chinese students who self-funded while 47 per cent had parental support. Only 11 per cent of US students self-funded and 29 per cent had access to a loan.

Is it down to return on investment?

“Most aspiring students evaluate the return on investment of a graduate business degree. This would be a particularly relevant exercise for UK students who self-fund a greater proportion of their graduate management studies than most peers in other countries,” says Ms Delbene.

What needs to be done?

Prof Laing thinks funding should be made available and the government should consider backing student loans for graduate-level business education.

Marketing might also help. Cranfield School of Management has the highest participation rate of domestic students in the UK. This year more than 20 per cent of its MBA students are from the UK. “We do market proactively to British students,” says Anthea Milnes, head of graduate programmes marketing at Cranfield. This involves casting the net wider than most UK business schools she adds.

This text has been amended to reflect the accompanying chart.

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