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Rotman students hit Europe for a surprise assignment

The Globe's weekly Business School news roundup

Canadian business schools are expanding opportunities to study abroad, a response to student demand for an international experience as part of their academic training.

This week, for example, 15 MBA students from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management are on a two-week trip to England, Switzerland and Germany, with visits to senior executives at top companies including BMW and Nestlé. While in Zurich, students must complete a surprise assignment: to devise a market entry strategy for a Canadian company not currently in Europe and, Dragon's Den-style, pitch the plan to a local jury of Rotman alumni.

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Meanwhile, 15 other Rotman students are on a four-city visit to China. In May, other Rotman students will head off to either Peru and Brazil or India. Selection for the study tours is highly competitive, with twice as many applicants as available spots.

These trips offer a "personal, professional and academic experience," says Laura Wood, Rotman director of international programs and services.

"When [students]come back from these experiences and go to an interview, they can speak knowledgeably and first-hand about an experience in Brazil or Hong Kong," she says. "It is taken seriously by the employer and that has driven a lot of [student]interest in the past couple of years."

Five years ago, Rotman offered only semester-long exchanges with other universities, signing up about 20 students a year. Now the school sends out about 110 to 125 students annually – about half on study tours first introduced in 2007, and the rest on semester-long exchanges or specialty programs of shorter duration.

At Queen's University School of Business, students in the third year of a four-year undergraduate commerce degree can choose to study for a semester at one of 91 partner schools, up from a choice of 29 in 2003. Last year, 85 per cent of students chose to go abroad, up sharply from 43 per cent in 2001. Currently, more than 90 per cent of second-year students have applied for an exchange next year. Students who remain at the Kingston, Ont., campus for their third year rub shoulders with international students arriving from the partner business schools.

"Business is going global and our students really appreciate that," says Angela James, director of the centre for international management at Queen's. "They are thinking ahead about 'What will my life be like 10 years from now?'" she says. "It is their way to compete." Employers, she adds, view the overseas study experience as a way to distinguish among business graduates.

Queen's fourth-year commerce student Jordan Thomson, 21, had not travelled outside North America before selecting a trip to Vienna University of Economics and Business as his third-year elective last year. He recalls the experience as transformational; he gained personal independence as well as an appreciation for other cultures and a new global network of friends.

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"It really opens your mind to what else is out there," he says, recalling his surprise at Europe's slower pace. "It shows you different perspectives, it gives you balance ... it really shows you that the way we do it in Canada and the way we do it at business schools is not the way that everyone else in the world does it."

In 2006, in response to demand from envious MBA students, Queen's introduced study-abroad opportunities that range in duration from two weeks to five months at overseas institutions. Since then, the school has signed agreements with 26 universities offering MBA programs. The most recent arrangement is with IPADE (El Instituto Panamericano de Alta Dirección de Empresa), enabling Queen's students to spend one week at the business school in Mexico City.

Staying home for work

Thanks to a buoyant provincial economy, more business graduates from the University of Saskatchewan are choosing to start their careers at home.

According to a recent employment survey by the university's Edwards School of Business, 84.3 per cent of recent graduates accepted jobs in Saskatchewan, compared with 63 per cent in 2006.

"A consistent trend over the last five years is the number of graduates staying in Saskatchewan," said Brent Wellman, director of career services at the business school, in a press release. "That this talent is staying in Saskatchewan will pay dividends for years to come."

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Laurier professorship

Prescott Ensign, a leading researcher and author on entrepreneurship, has been named to a new professorship at Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business for a five-year term.

He will hold the inaugural professorship in innovation and entrepreneurship, funded in part by the Dobson Foundation, which supports entrepreneurship education and research activities at several Canadian universities, including Laurier.

Steve Farlow, executive director of the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship, describes the Montreal-based foundation, set up by long-time investment firm manager John Dobson, as "the venture capitalists of entrepreneurship education." Mr. Farlow says financial support from the foundation was "very instrumental" in recruiting Prof. Ensign to the Laurier faculty this fall.

Prof. Ensign is the Canadian author of New Venture Creation, with American professors Jeffry Timmons and Stephen Spinelli.

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