Although the attraction of brand name business schools such as Harvard, Wharton, and Chicago Booth have long dominated the ambitions of aspiring MBAs, a significant number of potential students have always begun the search for their ideal program with the selection of a target region or country.
And while many factors will influence that selection – the opportunity to learn a new language, to experience a new culture or to understand the local business environment, for example – it seems that a much more prosaic reason is coming to dominate candidate thinking.
According to the latest MBA applicant report from QS, 51% of MBA program applicants now their make choice of business school based on where they would like to work after graduating, up significantly from 41% in 2011.
The reason for this is perhaps obvious. Although the employment market for MBAs has held up reasonably well, certainly in comparison to the early 2000s, it is still not back to the levels seen before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Consequently, while the appetite for business school education is still there, those willing to invest the necessary time, effort and money are looking hard at what return on investment they will experience, not just in the long-term, but as soon as they graduate.
Employment data on top employers and industries at the different business schools is a great place to start that research, but a school’s location is also leading to a welcome, if perhaps unexpected, benefits for schools in countries outside the round of ‘usual suspect’ locations such as the US and UK. Despite being a relatively late-comer to the MBA club, Germany is proving increasingly popular among candidates from both the developed and emerging worlds, thanks to its robust economy. And Switzerland’s boast of having the world’s highest per capita wealth has allowed schools such as St. Gallen near Zurich to grow its MBA class at a time when many others have been static or even shrinking across Europe.
The trend has also helped push more candidates towards those areas of the world that have ridden out the widespread economic downturn and, in particular, to China. The MBA program at CEIBS in Shanghai, for example, now has over 190 students from 21 countries while the BiMBA program at Peking University is also experiencing rising applications beyond the Chinese market.
However the really intriguing insight into the future of MBA employment could come from an assessment of how this trend is affecting the ‘boomerang’ effect reported by many Western schools over the past few years. This is the term commonly used to describe the change in behavior of students from emerging countries, who have been passing up the opportunity to work in the US or Europe on graduation and returning home to where the real action is.
For Derek Walker, Director of Careers at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, the attraction is obvious. “Why wouldn’t they choose to use their MBA in an economy that is growing so much faster than many in the West?” To accompany such mobility, the school ensures that the course content is global in focus, and can take students anywhere in the world. And like other leading business schools, Saïd organises student treks to countries like Brazil, China and South Africa to help build a career network and make introductions to local recruiters.
The number of international students choosing to work in the developing world in the next few years could indicate just how fast and how far economic potential has moved from its traditional centres since 2008. The challenge for business schools, however big their brand name, will be to take them there.