Canada's top business schools decided this year that they'll have to work together to attract international candidates rather than compete. They have, quite literally, formed an alliance.
The Canadian MBA Alliance is made up of representatives from six business schools – University of Western Ontario's Ivey, York University's Schulich, University of British Columbia's Sauder, Queen's School of Business, University of Toronto's Rotman and McGill's Desautels.
The group travels the international MBA fair circuit trying to drum up interest for Canadian business schools as a whole in foreign markets.
These schools were already attending events as separate forces on both the international MBA circuit and the QS World MBA tour. Representatives noticed that Canada was not a destination many international students thought of as a first choice. Rather, it was an afterthought.
"We recognized that the voice of Canada wasn't being heard and even being noticed, so we thought we have to be a bit more aggressive," says Praveen Muruganandan, director of admissions and recruitment at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto.
"And between these six schools we thought we needed to work collectively together to bring more of a brand awareness about Canadian business schools as a whole."
These business schools hope that by pooling their resources they will each be able to reach more prospective students and eventually lower their recruitment costs. So far the results seem promising. The Alliance attended two international recruitment fairs in recent months (one in Mexico City last August and the other in London last month) and had a turnout of about 75 and 50, respectively – more potential recruits than they could hope to reach if they were working on their own.
There have been questions from other Canadian business schools about the Alliance's elite status and the potential to monopolize the international market, but members say the point is to draw attention to Canadian business schools in general, which is good news for all the country's MBA programs.
"I think the people that are coming out to a fair and attending these events are basically picking between the six of our schools," Mr. Muruganandan admits. But, "They're also thinking about the brand of Canada and why come to Canada, and studying and working here post-MBA is usually a huge attraction for many of the people I've spoken with."
Teresa Pires, assistant director of recruitment and admissions for the MBA program at Queen's in Kingston, says that at the recent London and Mexico City events, candidates were drawn in by U.S. and European schools. But some stayed to hear what the Alliance had to say about Canada – an option Ms. Pires doesn't think many of these students had previously considered. She explains that potential candidates don't necessarily know about individual programs or schools. They are looking at countries or regions as a whole and this group wants Canada to be a top choice, which it hasn't been in the past.
"Particularly, in a market like South America, when they think about MBA programs, they think about the U.S.," Ms. Pires says. "But Canada is essentially open for business and I think that candidates are looking at it as a more and more attractive location to go to school and stay and work, so if we can get into less popular regions or places the [MBA] fairs don't necessarily hit, I think we have something."
It's also more advantageous for these B-schools to work as a team, not only for the cost and attendance, but for the quality of the applicants they attract as a result, explains Shane Moore, manager of admissions and recruitment at the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver.
"It's going to help us bring in the right kind of applicants. The top MBA candidates want to be given good advice, they want to be given fair advice and that's what's happening through the Alliance right now in my opinion," he says.
Despite being rival business schools, Mr. Moore adds that it's easy for the recruitment officers to keep their competitive instincts at bay because it's not in Canada's best interest. "It's totally counterproductive in that environment to start talking about your own school. I think there are so many opportunities for students to connect with us. … The point of the event is to give some good advice to candidates because if that happens that will generate more applications for all of our schools."
But is it working?
"It's still very early," Mr. Muruganandan says. "You can't really tell in a span of less than a year … but it's an opportunity to stand together and gain a voice and that seems to be working."
The Canadian MBA Alliance will be holding its first solo event in New York on Nov. 14.