Whether you hail from Europe, Asia, or America, if you’re looking to study for an MBA nowadays, you’re spoiled for choice. All six continents have universities offering top-quality MBA programs, but admissions requirements, course fees and course content all vary depending on which region you study in.
If business school rankings are anything to go by, the US sweeps the table, with the top three places in the Financial Times’ Global MBA rankings 2007 occupied by American universities: The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School.
The UK’s highest contender was London Business School in fourth place, while Insead, the venerable French institution, now with a campus in Singapore, ranked seventh.
Nonetheless, Philip Wu, a Wharton alumnus now working in Shanghai, does not think rankings count for much.
“Rankings don’t have that much effect on a student’s decision to choose an MBA program. Obviously a university ranked 50th can’t compete with one with a third-place ranking, but the differences between the top universities are minimal,” he said.
Although ranking may not be the crucial differentiating factor for MBA programs, geography might be. How do MBA programs differ from country to country? Ranjan Pal, who represents the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in China and India, explained that courses in Asia concentrate on the management of rapid growth in the region and its emerging markets.
“Programs in China and India focus on the different business structures, practices and strategies in these two countries. In Europe, these would be different,” he said.
To a significant extent, the home country or target market of an MBA program shapes its course content. Dr Michael Goldberg, chief academic officer at U21Global, a Singapore-headquartered online graduate school, concurred.
“One of the key rules guiding the creation of our courseware is that we must include cases, articles, and issues from the entire global economy – with a special focus on Asia, our primary market,” he said.
East and Southeast Asia have seen exponential growth in the business school industry in the last five years, according to Pal.
“India now has 1,200 accredited business schools and 2,000 business schools in total; the growth is there because the economy is growing, there are huge job and economic opportunities for well-qualified people,” he said.
While Asian business schools are certainly differentiated from their counterparts across the Pacific, that is not to say North American and European schools are identical. Indeed, significant differences exist between the two. One difference is the source of a schools’ revenue. Major North American schools receive money from large annual gifts, substantial alumni endowments and high tuition fees, whereas European institutions are mostly state-supported.
The other difference between European and North American schools is faculty research. North American professors aim to have their papers published in scholarly journals; research in Europe is geared to publications with a wider readership, such as trade and industry journals.
Because the standards of MBA programs worldwide varies, business schools and MBA programs are accredited by independent bodies. While some authorities acknowledge schools only within their region or continent, three bodies tend to be recognized internationally: the British AMBA standard, which accredits specific MBA programs, and AACSB and Equis – American and European respectively – which are able to accredit institutions.
Accrediting agencies outside the US include the Council on Higher Education in South Africa and the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation in Europe. Many countries have also devised their own accreditation standards.
No matter what country you choose to pursue your studies in, the cautionary maxim still holds: An MBA is not a ticket to a successful career.
“An MBA degree may get someone an interview for a job, but it won’t help you keep it, unless you can do the work demanded by your job,” Dr Goldberg, of U21Global, said.
“Hence, the best MBAs will be those that produce graduates who can apply what they have learned immediately to the workplace, to add competitive value to their employer and their colleagues.”
MBAs by continent
Home to the highest-ranking schools. The vast majority of programs require prospective students to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Work experience is recommended or required by schools prior to acceptance. Tuition fees for both public and private schools are high, and courses take two years to complete.
Has an advantage in that MBAs can be completed in a year. Taking the GMAT is recommended, but not required in all cases. Europe also offers more partial scholarships for MBAs than North America or Asia.
GMAT is not required for most schools. Tuition fees at Australian institutions are among the lowest, and many business schools are more well established than Asian ones. Courses generally take two years to complete, although shorter ones are available.
Offers tuition fees lower than the US and Europe. Asia is the current MBA and economic hotspot, with a growing number of quality schools to choose from. Many of these new schools and programs are affiliated or run by top overseas universities.