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The best for both sides of the world

The Independent
Everyone benefits when students from emerging economies head overseas to study, writes Helena Pozniak


Zimbabwean entrepreneur Belinda Mkanganwi has no doubt where she is heading after her MBA. It’s not to a lucrative blue-chip career in the West, but a return to Harare and the consulting company she has started up. “There is so much potential in Africa. My ambition is to build an institution that grows far beyond my personal contribution. I want to be the best I can be.”

Mkanganwi had all but written off the possibility of an overseas MBA because of the cost, and focused on building her brand strategy consulting business. But a scholarship from the Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation in the Hague made this possible and this year she began a full-time programme at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in Berlin, leaving her young family for a year in the care of her husband. Like many non-European MBA applicants, Mkanganwi intends to take her expertise home for the benefit of her native economy. “Becoming an entrepreneur in post-hyperinflationary Zimbabwe was character building. Although getting work in a recovering economy was hard, I absolutely love what I do.”

Students from emerging economies make up a large proportion of European MBAs. In the UK, the most recent figures that non-EU students make up 83 per cent of all international students enrolled at business schools, according to the Association of MBAs. Last year more than 2,000 students from Asia came to business schools in Western Europe. But in the UK, many schools fear students such as Mkanganwi will be put off by new Government regulations coming into force next spring. These aim to crack down on rampant abuse by bogus colleges; by capping student visas and enforcing job restrictions.

Anxiety may be reflected in interest from international students, whose applications to UK business schools are down by five to 10 per cent this year. “The Government does not understand that MBA students are high quality and paying a lot of money,” says Professor Patricia Rees, MBA director of Manchester Metropolitan University. “If overseas students have a good experience here, they’ll be ambassadors for the rest of their lives.”

While overseas MBA graduates often consolidate their experience with a couple of years of working in Europe or the United States, they are often keen to return home, says Rachel Killian, MBA marketing and recruitment manager at Warwick Business School. “Candidates from emerging economies often show a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the development of their own nation and so often part of their motivation for studying an MBA is to take back their new learning to invest in their country.”

And it’s exactly this motivation that the Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation seeks to reward. In order to win full fees and living expenses, candidates such as Mkanganwi must prove they will give something back; apply their skills to the developing world and create employment. “If someone wants a lucrative banking career in the West, they won’t get the funding,” says Nick Barniville, director of MBA programmes at ESMT. He hopes these scholarships will soon make up 10 per cent of his cohort. “The major challenge for students from developing countries is funding.”

Fees upwards of €60,000 are beyond the purse of overseas students. Most Western business schools offer some form of financial aid to students from developing countries, but Barniville is keen to expand the relatively young Kofi Annan network. Since offering the scholarships for the first time this year, applicants have all but doubled, he says. And, as business schools point out, a broad geographical mix is in everyone’s interests. Students from developed economies get a much-needed insight into the specific issues facing business in emerging economies, where many job opportunities currently lie.

“If you are aware of differences in countries, your business discourse will differ,” says Mkanganwi. “I, for instance, understand how Zimbabwe works. I can deliver opportunities for both sides to develop.”

Schools such as ESMT are introducing new courses that address needs of developing markets such as operating in markets with reduced consumer spending power or bringing new technology to market.

While in the UK, come next spring, overseas MBA graduates will have to adapt to the new UK visa regulations, the outlook for internationals isn’t as bad as first feared, say some business schools. Existing MBA programmes are popular as they currently allow non-EU nationals to stay for two years after graduation to seek work. New rules will cut this time, limit numbers of non-EU nationals granted working visas and tighten language requirements. But many fears are unfounded says Fiona Sandford, director of careers services at London Business School.

Many graduates find jobs while already at school or shortly after graduation so won’t be affected by the shorter window of opportunity. In turn, it will become easier for UK companies to recruit international students from UK business schools and remain exempt from the immigration cap. In order to clarify the new order, LBS is hosting a conference in June bringing immigration officials and recruiters together to explain the new regulations.

However leaving the more stable European economy does not daunt Mkanganwi, who will soon return home to her family. “Africa needs people who are equipped to do business. We don’t necessarily want to replicate the Western model, but I look around and see opportunities everywhere.

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