Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

How do North American B-schools stack up against European ones?

Two stacks of textbooks.

dirk ercken/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Given the global expansion of the MBA brand, many people are asking themselves whether to pursue an MBA at an international business school or to follow the traditional path and attend a well-known North American business school.

Dipak Jain is the current dean of INSEAD and the former dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Dr. Jain has also been a visiting professor of marketing since 1989 at the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Given his recent move in March, 2011, from Kellogg in Chicago to INSEAD, with campuses in France, Asia and Abu Dhabi, Dr. Jain is well positioned to comment on the current state of the MBA brand and his views of its future.

Story continues below advertisement

What are the main differences you see between an MBA program in North America and an MBA program in Europe?

An important aspect can be stated simply: "time and money." In general, European schools are more likely to offer programs whose duration is one year rather than the two-year curriculum typically seen as the "flagship" MBA model in North America.

For students seeking to minimize financial costs and return to their careers sooner, obtaining a top-quality MBA in half the time as many of their U.S. counterparts is very attractive. For some, the return on investment of a one-year MBA is considerably greater than that of a two-year program.

Having been dean at schools in both the U.S. and in Europe, I also find that the level of authentic diversity among the student body and faculty is often greater in Europe. This is a real benefit for those who anticipate working in transcultural, global organizations. With respect to curriculum, it seems that even respected North American schools tend to focus on their own markets – to the exclusion of others, including emerging markets. Europe also presents a somewhat different or diverse business framework than in North America, where even today the "shareholder" model retains its traditional importance compared with the broader "stakeholder" model that is more a part of the culture in Europe.

In terms of structure, U.S. schools tend to be funded through endowments, providing more resources for research. In Europe, schools depend on their own activities for revenue, with some government subsidies for public institutions.

If time and money are not concerns, the longer programs make it somewhat easier for students to pursue internships. There may also be more opportunities for extracurricular activities over the course of two years, rather than one. But a lot depends on the student's talent, ambition, and attitude.

[Writer's note: Canadian schools are a hybrid of the U.S. and Europe, with smaller endowments, for instance, than at U.S. schools but still relying very heavily on their own research, classes and government for funding.]/i>

Story continues below advertisement

What do you think about the "brand" of the MBA, both globally and in North America? Do you have an opinion on its future?

Management education has no shortage of opportunities to make important contributions to society. In fact, the challenges facing humanity now and in coming decades will require even more leadership and better management expertise across all kinds of organizations.

Of course, as always, results matter. I think the MBA can be a key driver for value creation in many ways – whether we consider more traditional business pursuits or the entrepreneurial efforts that are likely to gain increasing prominence as business, government, and society converge.

Ultimately, the MBA's brand is linked to how business-school graduates put their management knowledge to work to create a better world.

Where do you think an MBA graduate can provide the most value (in terms of post-graduate work options)? Do you see any shift toward social business from finance and consulting?

I see the MBA degree as one that delivers broad value across many contexts, so I'm reluctant to choose just one area. In general, I think the MBA will grow more important as a kind of structured knowledge base that can transform organizations of any sort and size. In the coming years, we may see greater attention to the results of management frameworks in emerging markets, since the need – and opportunities – are significant there.

Story continues below advertisement

In recent years, there's been an increase in student interest in social entrepreneurship – and this area seems to hold the promise of real impact. That said, we always will have students with a passion for consulting and finance, too, which is also essential.

What qualities do you think the ideal MBA candidate possesses? Do you think that these desirable qualities change across geographies?

I like to see students with a passion for continuous learning and the ability and discipline to dig deeply into a subject. Obviously, inherent intelligence is very important, but so is the ability to listen well, and to synthesize ideas and insights from various sources. Critical thought is very important. Ethical integrity is very important. Being comfortable with ambiguity is important. The ability to work well with others is very important. A desire to create a positive impact is important. So, too, is a balanced sense of confidence and humility. I think genuine respect and interest in other people, other cultures, is a valuable asset – particularly for those seeking to contribute to global organizations.

While there are some cultural differences across geographies, I think that, increasingly, these kinds of qualities are universally valued.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.