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Any anxiety that Portugal’s financial crisis would affect its leading business schools has been dispelled by an upsurge in applications, particularly for masters in management courses.

“Applications for our masters in management programme are up 30 per cent on last year and the number of overseas students applying has increased threefold,” says Fátima Barros, dean of the School of Business & Economics at Lisbon’s Universidade Católica.

The two-year, English-language course for students with less than two years’ work experience takes in about 180 students, a quarter of whom are from overseas. Students have to spend a semester abroad and learn a third language apart from English and their mother tongues.

Prof Barros says the Bologna Agreement, which aims to standardise European university education, has made MiM courses particularly important. “The agreement has made students much more mobile. They do a three-year graduate programme in their home countries and then look for an MiM course at the best school they can afford.”

She believes the increasing number of students from other countries reflects the way in which Portugal has improved its international reputation in this regard.

“Although Portugal is often described as peripheral and has been in the headlines recently for the wrong reasons,” she says, “our courses are gaining in international reputation and proving highly successful at a difficult time for business schools.”

The increasing global visibility of the business and economics schools at Cátolica and Universidade Nova stems partly from the fact they are the only faculties in Portugal to have gained the “triple crown” of accreditation by the AACSB, Equis and Amba.

But the schools themselves are also expanding overseas.

In 2010, Nova founded the Angola Business School in Luanda, which already has more than 250 students and six corporate partners.

“The overseas strategy of a public university should be to follow the internationalisation of the economy as a whole,” says José Ferreira Machado, dean of the economics faculty at Nova. “That is why we are focusing on the south Atlantic triangle of Portugal, Africa and Brazil.”

The Lisbon school also has agreements in place with Brazilian universities that enable students to study for dual masters degrees at Nova and one of its Brazilian partners. These involve study trips to Brazil.

It was partly to compete globally that Nova and Católica agreed to come together to create a jointly run programme, the Lisbon MBA, which is thought to be a unique example in Europe of co-operative competition between rivals.

The one-year course is now in its third year and has an intake of about 32 full-time students. The two schools were initially reluctant but were brought together by a government initiative to involve MIT Sloan School of Management in the US. Students spend a month in Boston, Sloan professors visit Portugal, and Lisbon faculty members conduct research in the US.

The MBA is jointly awarded by the two Lisbon faculties with a certificate attesting to the Sloan component.

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