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Business schools in the European MBA market believe the Bologna process offers them a welcome opportunity to clarify the role of the blue riband of business education.

It is a chance to differentiate MBAs in two ways: first, from the pre-experience, generally specialised, masters courses that Bologna is expected to encourage (and which most students will take straight after their bachelor degree); and, second, from the functionally-based or industry-specific masters programmes that, along with the more general MBA, are offered at the post-experience or executive stage.

“Finally with the Bologna accord we are able to make the distinction clear [between courses for pre- and post-experience participants], and recognise there are two populations that are not addressed in the same way,” says Valérie Gauthier, associate dean for the MBA programme at HEC School of Management in Paris.

Along with clarifying the role of the MBA, and its impact and value proposition, Prof Gauthier says the changes ushered in by the Bologna accord will underline the need for a different pedagogical approach at the two levels.

A business case study, for example, would be taught very differently to an MBA class, which could draw on the expertise and experience of participants, than it would to a group of 23- or 24-year-olds.

Recognition of students’ differing needs is impacting both the pre- and post-experience market in a fluid environment where predicting future developments is not easy, and schools are trying to ensure they are present in as many markets as possible.

The Bologna accord is obliging schools to play to their strengths and cater to demand, says Simon Buller, MBA programme head at Imperial College’s Tanaka Business School in London.

The school has just opened a masters programme in management, attended almost exclusively by students straight out of university, all of whom got firsts in their bachelor degrees. “From our research we found that, in addition to the MBA, there are people who want to do early-stage management studies,” he says. Conversely, the importance for a school’s credibility of having an MBA programme – even in a country with no MBA tradition – was underlined by Stockholm School of Economics’ decision to start one last year.

The school’s 96-year-old MSc in economics and business, a four-year course taken generally by school-leavers, will “slowly ride into the sunset”, says pro-rector Karl-Olof Hammarkvist, to be replaced by a three-year BA and a masters programme.

Courses such as the Stockholm MSc offer broad-based alternatives at the pre-experience level to specialised masters courses in individual subjects such as marketing or finance. Similarly, at post-experience stage, MBA providers need to differentiate their programmes from industry-specific and functional executive masters courses.

These programmes have been much in demand recently, says Christer Karlsson, dean of Copenhagen Business School Executive. An example is Copenhagen’s executive MBA for the shipping and logistics industry.

Functional executives masters programmes are showing particularly strong growth, says Prof Karlsson, but he sees room in the marketplace for both these and general MBAs. He notes, however, the increasing demand from sponsoring employers for more concrete content in MBAs, which brings them direct benefits.

One way or another, there look like being more masters programmes and MBAs available, with different aims in terms of the employment market and catering for different target groups, says Schapour Zafarpour, secretary-general of Vienna-based Edamba (network of European Doctoral Programmes in Business Administration).

The extent to which masters programmes and MBAs will be accepted depends on the expectations of the employment market and the quality of the programmes, says Dr Zafarpour.

The good thing for schools is that big employers still see the value of MBAs. Annette Collisy-Lenzen, European recruiting director at Boston Consulting Group, recruits MBAs from schools including Iese Business School in Spain, and expects more people to be taking MBAs as they go straight into work following a three-year BA course.

Another MBA recruiter, Beppe Cangelosi, associate director for compensation and benefits at Amgen (Europe), points out that people doing a pre-experience masters programmes in a single discipline normally have a specific function in mind for a career. The MBAs Amgen recruits, in contrast, are destined for a general management type of career – and potentially to be leaders of the company.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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