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Challenges Face Europe's Top Business Schools

Europe has some of the most dynamic MBA programs in the world, but a changing global environment presents even the top schools with new challenges.

The international business publication Financial Times introduced its European Business Schools Ranking in 2004, and when its European Business Schools 2010 Ranking (The Financial Times, 2010)was released late last year, it listed 75 participating business schools, of which the top five were:

  1. HEC Paris
  2. London Business School
  3. Insead (France)
  4. IMD (Switzerland)
  5. IE Business School (Spain)

The Financial Times describes this list as "a ranking of rankings" based on four other Financial Times rankings: full-time MBA programs; open enrollment and customized non-degree executive education programs; master's in management degree programs; and executive MBA programs.

Salaries and percentage increases in salaries of their graduates are important criteria among the business schools evaluated, according to the Financial Times.

HEC Paris: A 'high quality' business school

In the European Business Schools 2010 Ranking publication, Financial Times reporter Michael Jacobs attributes the ability of HEC Paris to rank first five years in a row to program quality and the professional significance of the school's degree.

"HEC is recognized as a quality brand in the financial world," one HEC graduate tells Jacobs, while another graduate adds: "HEC Paris is the school of reference in France. It opens any door."

HEC Paris also ranks first on the Financial Times lists on executive MBA salaries and customized programs. Founded in 1881, the business school specializes in management education and research. A faculty of 110 professors teaches some 4,000 students and 8,700 executives each year. About 40 percent of HEC Paris students come from other countries.

European MBA programs: future outlook

The Financial Times has taken advantage of the release of the 2010 ranking to update the situation of European business schools. Based on this update, business schools in Europe face five challenges, which in some cases are already being turned to opportunities.

  • Challenge #1: Business school education is now offered globally.

In addition to established U.S. MBA programs, Acting IMD President Dominique Turpin estimates for the Financial Times that China now offers 360 MBA degrees, Russia 350, and India many more.

To counteract global competition, European business schools are already enrolling students in programs worldwide.

Manchester Business School Dean Michael Luger tells the Financial Times that the business school has "easily filled" a new executive MBA program in Miami due to "the school's global perspective." European business schools have also opened programs in India.

  • Challenge #2: For-profit schools have opened their doors in Europe.

Former IMD Professor Peter Lorange has opened the Lorange Institute of Business Zurich, the Financial Times reports, adding that U.S. and Russian companies have invested in business schools in the United Kingdom as well.

In response, the Financial Times reports, traditional business schools are launching specialized business programs, such as Insead's business and law degree with the Sorbonne, and HEC Paris' joint master's in management degree with the renowned Indian Institute of Management, which are harder to replicate.

  • Challenge #3: Since visas are becoming harder to get, the number of international students in European business schools may decrease.

Ashridge Business School Chief executive Kai Peters estimates for the Financial Times that 91 percent of students enrolled in full-time MBA programs in the U.K. are from other countries. The Financial Times also reports that only 9 percent of Graduate Management Admission Test takers in 2010 were Europeans, compared with 48 percent who were Americans and 19 percent who were Asians.

If the number of continental European business school students fails to increase, European business schools may see decreased enrollments.

  • Challenge #4: European business schools often lack the setup for world-renowned research.

"The biggest challenge is building an infrastructure that will foster thought-leadership of European business schools in the global arena," Baris Tan, dean of the College of Administrative Sciences and Economics at Koç University in Turkey, tells the Financial Times.

The French government is already working to invest billions in world-class teaching and research facilities, also backed by corporate funds, according to the Financial Times, while ESADE Business School in Spain is also focusing on research.

  • Challenge #5: Eastern Europe needs to transition to free-market education.

The Financial Times reports that Danica Purg, founder and dean of IEDC Bled School of Management in Slovenia, has set up an academy backed by investor George Soros to train area professors.

"We want to work for the professionalization of management," Purg tells the Financial Times. "We have to sow the seeds of quality."