The Which MBA? blog has moved

September 15, 2010

The Which MBA? WordPress blog is no longer open. Please go to economist.com/whichmba for all the latest business-school news and views from The Economist.

Built on firm foundations

July 15, 2009

A California-based foundation, which aims to strengthen American-Israeli relations, has stumped up $12m to help build a new business school in Haifa. The Andre and Katherine Merage Foundation’s gift to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology should see the new school—to be named the Andre and Katherine Merage-Technion Institute for International Business—open in 2010. It will offer an English-only International Executive MBA focused on the high-tech sector, and three Centres of Excellence aimed at helping Israel’s high-tech companies penetrate markets in the U.S, Europe and Asia.

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Closed for business

July 15, 2009

Angry students are trying to secure a refund from a Singaporean business school which was closed down after it was found to be offering fake degrees. The Brookes Business School, which claimed its qualifications were from well-known academic institutions, including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, had around 400 students enrolled; its programmes cost up to S$12,000 ($8,333). A report on channelnewsasia.com, suggested that all foreign students enrolled at the school—around 200 in total—would automatically be covered by an insurance scheme run by Singapore’s consumer association and should receive refunds. However many local students, for whom the scheme was optional, would have to try their luck in a smalls claims tribunal.

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Ins and outs

July 10, 2009

The student:staff ratio at Harvard Business School will be taking a hit after it laid off staff and then announced a record intake for its MBA programme. Sixteen staff are being made redundant by the school, which has seen its $3bn endowment fund hit by the economic crisis. The total number of jobs lost will be increased once the non-replacement of retiring and temporary employees is taken into consideration. However, no faculty will affected.

The downturn has not been all bad news for HBS, though. On the positive side, the school’s 2011 MBA programme will be the largest ever, with 942 students already enrolled—42 more than the last intake—which it is attributing, at least in part, to uncertain times. A sluggish job market often leads to more people taking MBAs. Indeed a high proportion of enrolees have come from the beleaguered financial services sector.

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A French connection

July 7, 2009

Two French business schools—CERAM, based in the Sophia Antipolis technology park, close to Nice, and ESC Lille—have announced a surprise merger. Once joined, the new school will have 5,600 students and 138 permanent professors—which it claims will make it the largest in France.

In many ways the two schools appear to be a natural fit, bringing together a full range of management programmes, including undergraduate, specialised Masters, MBA, PhD and executive education programmes. Furthermore, closer co-operation between business schools is being encouraged by the French government, which is keen that the country develops more large-scale business schools to compete internationally—currently, outside of the market leaders, INSEAD and HEC Paris, the sector is dominated by small and mid-sized players. Indeed, the new institution is looking to use its increased clout to expand aggressively abroad. It is planning to open an American campus in 2010, the location of which is still to be decided, but like CERAM, is likely to be in a technology park and not in one of the major cities. It then expects to roll out further international campuses in subsequent years.

However, despite the obvious advantages, perhaps the biggest obstacle to a successfully integrated school—which is still to be named—will be geography. The two schools are located at opposing tips of France: CERAM in the south-east; Lille in the north. It will continue to run a campus in each location. Even taking into account France’s fabulous transport network, merging two institutions over 1,000km apart will not be easy, something that Alice Guilhon, its dean, readily accepts. Nevertheless, Dr Guilhon has given herself the ambitious task of successfully integrating the two faculties within a year.

Other recent intra-national mergers of European schools, such as between Henley and the University of Reading in the UK, have not only had the benefit of economies of scale and complimentary areas of strength, but also of proximity. In another recent French example two nearby schools—ESC Rouen and Reims—launched a joint campus in Paris, which itself may evolve into a fully-fledged merger. Expect such unions to be a sign of things to come. François Bonvalet, Reims’ dean, says that in France mid-sized schools will soon find themselves caught between two poles: large international schools and small, often locally-focused niche players. The choice will be to merge and become big enough to compete, or to downsize. Few ambitious schools will seek the latter.

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A rare tweet

June 9, 2009

A recent study from Harvard Business School has dared raise one of the most important unspoken questions since a small boy wondered aloud why that Emperor fellow was naked. Exactly what is the point of Twitter? The technorati—and the media—may be enamoured with the micro social-networking site, where people can keep their “followers” informed of their every move in 140 characters or fewer, but, it turns out, very few others are. The study, conducted by Bill Heil, a Harvard student, found that Twitter’s usage patterns are different from other on-line social networks. “A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely,” says the report. “Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.” The study, which examined the activity of over 300,000 people who had signed up to the site, also found that the top 10% of users accounted for over 90% of tweets.

So, to return to the original question: given those figures, what exactly is the point of Twitter? Despite describing itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected,” Mr Heil believes that, in reality, it has become little more than a marketing tool for companies and celebrities. Quoted on the BBC, he said: “Twitter is a broadcast medium rather than an intimate conversation with friends…The Twitter management need to decide if this is a problem, and if they decide it is, how they will tweak Twitter to become more acceptable to the average user?” Answers in 140 characters or fewer please.

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Flying the nest

June 2, 2009

The University of Maryland’s Robert H Smith School of Business is on the move. It has announced plans to relocate to a bio-medical research park in the Westside district of Baltimore, putting it “at the nexus of great research and innovation,” according to G. Anand Anandalingam, the school’s dean. It is currently situated in the university’s School of Nursing. The move will give the school more than four times the amount space of its current home. It expects to begin offering its part time MBA in the new facility in 2010.

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Eight year itch

June 2, 2009

Dipak Jain, the long-standing and popular dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is standing down from his post. The school has announced that Professor Jain is to take a year’s leave of absence, starting in September, before returning to Kellogg’s ranks as a faculty member. Professor Jain joined Kellogg as an assistant professor in 1986 and has been at the school’s helm for eight years, during which time it headed the Economist Intelligence Unit’s ranking of MBA programmes for three consecutive years between 2002 and 2004. Northwestern University said it would shortly be appointing an interim dean while a search for a full-time successor was undertaken.

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No interest

May 26, 2009

Reims Management School, in France, has announced that it is to offer an Islamic Banking and Finance course to students enrolled on its Masters in Management programme. The school reckons that the value of assets in Islamic banks now stands at close to $1 trillion, meaning that it is an area of growing importance for business schools. “Growth in the sector of Islamic finance is advancing at 15 to 20 percent per year throughout the world,” according to Professor Ghassen Bouslama, who coordinates the programme. “At a time when the conventional financial model is discredited by the crisis, the model of finance called ‘Islamic’ is emerging and gaining strong interest.”

Islamic finance is based on a set of principles derived from sharia law, including a prohibition on charging interest or investing in morally dubious areas. France, which is home to Europe’s highest number of Muslims, is well placed to tap into increasing interest in the sector. However, it is in Britain—one of the most important Islamic finance hubs outside of the Middle East—where the sector garners most interest among business schools. City University’s Cass Business School and Lancaster University Business School, for example, have been running similar programmes since 2008.

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Final frontier

May 22, 2009

Treading a path walked by many a Chinese enterprise before them, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), is heading into Africa. On May 19th, in Accra, Ghana, the school kicked off its two-year executive MBA, the first stage of its “Africa Programme”, announced in early 2008. The first intake has 42 students—30 Ghanaian and 12 from neighbouring Nigeria. Nine of the students are women. The programme is headed by Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, a native Ghanaian who has been a professor of marketing at CEIBS for several years. Classes will be based on CEIBS’ Chinese programmes, but with African-specific case studies also featuring.

The inspiration for the programme comes from Pedro Nueno, CEIBS’ executive president, who has been involved in similar projects in Latin America. He believes the CEIBS model, which has proved pioneering in the tough Chinese environment, will prove effective in Africa, which he describes as “the last big opportunity left on the planet” for business schools, even in the context of the global recession. CEIBS is frank about the brand-extension qualities of the programme, if not the money-making ones.

China’s inclinations towards Africa are well-known—and with Ghana on the cusp of exploiting its oil and gas wealth, as well as offering a relatively stable model of governance by African standards, it is easy to see why a government-backed Chinese business school may want to go into Africa. Ghana’s government is also supportive—the country has a decent educational tradition, but is strapped in resource terms. And it is possible that the programme’s professed aim—to become a pan-African model for African business education and African business in general—is achievable, bearing in mind CEIBS’ success in China. Best of all, African business talents will have educational possibilities that do not require them to become expatriates—a journey which, too often, has been one-way.

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