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MBA Overview

The Guardian

Picking a business school takes dedicated research and a little subjectivity. Rankings will take you so far but there are subtle differences in feel, “flavour” and teaching styles that deserve a closer look

Do you want a tight-knit cohort? Support for entrepreneurs? Options to study abroad? A university attached? That’s before you’ve even considered location - would you prefer the tranquillity of a rural setting, the buzz of a city or proximity to the beach or ski slopes?

Consistent high performers in the rankings within the UK are the London Business School (LBS), University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Said Business School – University of Oxford, according to MBA50.com’s analysis of the latest rankings published by the Financial Times, Forbes and the Economist. Other top UK performers are Manchester Business School, Cranfield School of Management, Warwick Business School, Cass Business School and the University of Bath School of Management.

But rankings use different criteria – some focus on salaries after graduating, and others on career development and international makeup of the school, and there’s often little difference between the quality of the top institutions, so choice comes down more to personal fit.

French and Spanish schools feature highly in the ratings, with INSEAD in France and Singapore, IESE Business School, IE Business School and ESADE, and HEC Paris performing well. (I’d suggest cutting this rather than spelling out all the schools’ acronyms?)

While the core content of an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is similar across institutions, business schools are making subtle changes to their curricula to match employer needs, says Jane Delbene, director of marketing at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) for Europe Middle East and Africa). GMAC administers GMAT, the test widely used business schools as part of their selection criteria. “There’s an emphasis on analytical skills, critical reasoning, capacity for innovation and soft skills,” she says: global companies and consultancies now want their recruits to be able to unlock trends and interpret huge amounts of data.

As for LBS (London Business School – see second par), renowned for a wide mix of nationalities among students, a global approach is paramount. “It’s something business schools are really thinking about now – how to support global awareness in our make-up, our teaching, how we harness our international perspectives and how we support our alumni,” says Erica Hensens, MBA programme director at LBS.

Wherever prospective candidates choose among the top tier schools in Europe, they’ll be in for a treat – campuses are generally plush and buildings sleek to meet students’ high expectations, from France to Switzerland and the Netherlands. Said Business School in Oxford offers a clean, spacious feel amid one of the oldest university cities in the world, and full time MBA student Chris Raine relishes its “amphitheatre” style classrooms; “you can see everyone and as a result feel very much part of creating the learning experience rather than subjected to it,” he says. And the University of Bath School of Management, which has recently spent £300,000 on refurbishing its MBA lecture hall, also tempts students with historic appeal - in this case a Roman Spa town – and access to a £30 million sports training village.

While they might be more squeezed for space, LBS and other London-based schools such as Cass Business School reap the obvious benefits of location; internships with major companies based in the capital are easier to arrange. Imperial College Business School, noted for its high-tech virtual learning hub, also boasts an imposing modernity – think steel and glass - amid its genteel South Kensington setting.

But if quiet countryside is more conducive for study, there are many business schools amid well-manicured rural settings, or deep in the countryside, such as Cranfield Management School. A leafy campus at Henley business school turned alumnus Helene Speight, global talent director at the Intercontinental Hotel Group PLC into a more considered student, she believes. “The Henley MBA places great emphasis on personal development – the amazing greenlands campus is the ideal environment to facilitate reflective learning.”

And it was the gardens – some 200 acres of them – and a residential mode of study appealed to Janine Chandler, who took an executive MBA at Ashridge Business School, based within a neo gothic country home. “During the intensity of the MBA studies, these amazing surroundings are invaluable in providing scope to reflect and relax.”

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