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business education report, fall 2011

Loren Miller, president of the MBA Association, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.Ian Jackson/The Globe and Mail

University of Alberta MBA student Loren Miller aspires to a career in international economic development and trade. What better place to launch himself, he figures, than Canada?

After three years of living and teaching in Japan, Mr. Miller decided to come home, drawn by the stability of the Canadian economy and the solid reputation of its business schools.

"Despite the fact that I have international aspirations, I know that Canada is ... looking to expand its economic operations in other parts of the world as the United States continues to struggle. It's an interesting time to be in Canada with a business degree," says Mr. Miller, who holds dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship and briefly considered the idea of studying south of the border.

"In the next 10 or 15 years, the relationship between Canada and China is going to strengthen; the relationships with India are starting to grow a lot more. In Latin America, Brazil and places like that, there's going to be a lot of opportunity," says Mr. Miller, who is specializing in international business at the University of Alberta School of Business.

Like most Canadian business schools, the University of Alberta has a growing cohort of international scholars and student exchange arrangements with universities around the world for Canadians who want to spend a semester studying abroad, according to Mary Montgomery, director of recruitment and admissions for the business school's MBA program.

"We can give you the international experience in your own back yard," Ms. Montgomery says.

The question of whether Canadians should pursue their MBA studies at home or abroad is one that frequently comes up as students weigh their options, said Mandeep Malik, an assistant professor of marketing at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business and director of the school's international exchange program.

"Everybody is looking to distinguish themselves somehow and this [international experience]adds an element that becomes a little hard to beat because it requires you to put yourself out there [and]invest extra effort, time and money and take some calculated risks," Prof. Malik says. "Global seems to be a good word right now."

There are also ample opportunities for MBA students to distinguish themselves in Canada, through case competitions or DeGroote's co-op program, for instance.

"You could be working in the oil industry out West for one term; you could be working in financial services in Toronto for one term; you could be working in health services out East for another term. It gives you a very diverse set of experiences, spread across Canada, and you can build your profile accordingly," Prof. Malik says.

It was McMaster's MBA co-op program that attracted Tammam Al-Dandachi, who has a civil engineering degree from the American University of Beirut and experience working on infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia.

"It enables us students to get hands-on experience ... I'm planning to stay in Canada after I finish my MBA, and it's the only way I can catch up with those who already have Canadian experience," says Mr. Al-Dandachi, who is specializing in finance and valuation.

Ms. Montgomery says the contacts students make with business leaders during internships, guest lectures, even over coffee at alumni networking events give U of A grads a home advantage over MBA graduates who have pursued their studies elsewhere and didn't get the opportunity to make those Canadian connections.

"A lot of these personal touches along the way can really shape a person's career afterward," Ms. Montgomery says.

The bonds forged between students at culturally diverse institutions such as York University's Schulich Business School can also prove invaluable, says Charmaine Courtis, Schulich's executive director of student services and international relations.

Ms. Courtis related a conversation she had with a Chilean businessman who earned his MBA at Schulich 20 years ago and still has weekly conversations with the tight-knit team he worked with during an intensive eight months in his final year.

"They were now all over the world, these guys; some of them were bankers, some of them were in different industries and when they were making business decisions, they would often talk to each other before they would make the final decision," Ms. Courtis says.

"Schulich is a global business school, we recruit our students from all over the world. When you bring in ... people with very diverse perspectives and you put them together to problem solve, you have one creative group of people. It's a very dynamic environment for the students and for the faculty."

At the University of Alberta, Mr. Miller, who is president of his business school's MBA association, said Canada has a lot to offer the world with its approach to business practices, values and culture.

"I think there are going to be interesting opportunities to export business knowledge [and]business expertise, and provide educational opportunities to people looking to develop their capacity in grow businesses in other places," Mr. Miller says.