Ask the expert: is internationalism always good?

Dear George,

I understand why it is important for an MBA programme to have international students, but I am worried: can a school be too international?

Dear Prospective MBA,

I doubt that many leading business schools would share your concerns about being “too international”. An international approach has become almost a badge of honour among them and virtually all schools claim to be international in their outlook, student body, faculty and teaching materials. Some have gone further, such as INSEAD, which has two campuses, one in France and one in Singapore. Chicago also has satellite campuses in London and Singapore. Others have wide-ranging contacts and alliances that allow joint international programmes and student and faculty exchanges.

The rationale behind this internationalism is that in a globalised world business itself is international and so business and management students must be exposed to it—not least because MBA recruiters expect it. Even if a company is not itself international in scope it will have customers, suppliers and partners who are.

Apart from offering overseas visits and exchange trips one of the best ways of exposing students to different cultures is to bring foreign students into the classroom. As the first part of your question suggests, international students do have an important contribution to make in terms of adding their own cultural “take” on issues raised.

But this may be where your worries arise from. It is not uncommon for (indigenous) MBA students to grumble about “international” students. Most complaints are about an aversion to boisterous class participation, particularly among Asian students. Or that nationalities tend to seek each other out—Brits congregating with Brits, Italians with Italians and so on. (Though many business schools deliberately organise “national” days, where a particular country’s culture is fêted.)

But surely such grumbles miss the point. If international students are brought into a classroom to teach the rest of us (and them) how to cope in a cross-cultural environment then it seems perverse to complain about their cultural traits.

Although national and regional issues will always be powerful it seems likely that the world will become more international and integrated—more “global”—in the future than it is even now.

It may sound a trite, liberal cliché, but the best way to cope with internationalism or “diversity” is probably to embrace and celebrate it.

George Bickerstaffe.

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4 Responses to “Ask the expert: is internationalism always good?”

  1. Nikolco Says:

    I would like to emphasize and bring attention to Hult International Business School. They have campuses in Boston, Shanghai, Dubai and from the next year in London. The student body in Boston is 95% international. Without doubt there is no other MBA on this level as far as internationalism is concern.



  2. Kishor Singh Says:

    I think all the MBA courses are international because nowadays all the university which provides MBA courses gives a international sphere for a student. Even a distance MBA university gives their courses for an abroad students. So, now a school of MBA international as well as a student of MBA.


  3. Pam Says:

    I just read this post and comment from Nikolco.
    Internationalism even with a 95% number doesn’t necessarily mean much.
    What if 95% of the people in a US school is internationnal, but among those 90% are from UK ?

    The key here is to have an environment that is as diverse as possible.

    For instance, INSEAD, which is probably the school that boasts the most about its internationalism has 52% of its graduates from North America or Western Europe. IMD has 42%.
    Of course, one can say that there are differences between the countries and that a US guy won’t think the same way as a German, but these countries evolve roughly based on similar values and studying with them will not be as culturally challenging as studying with others from Asia.

    Looking further into the numbers, the next big chunk of people at INSEAD comes from Asia, 29%, which is not that surprising considering their campus in Singapore. This is great, and already a lot more than many schools can offer, but with 81% of its class either from Western Europe & North America or Asia, the cultural learning might be good but not great.
    Taking IMD again, I find that 22% are from Asia, 13% Latin America (vs INSEAD 4%), 13% Eastern Europe (vs INSEAD 6%). Obviously, I’d say that the international experience will be better at IMD thanks to its better diversity.
    In this respect, I’d say that, although INSEAD boasts big numbers and another campus, IMD better prepares to an international world where the growth will be coming from not only Asia (with China and India) but also from Latin America (Brazil) and Eastern Europe (Russia).

  4. Helen Warwick Says:

    Managing international teams dotted across the globe, sealing a lucrative deal halfway round the world, or starting a project in one country and completing it on a different continent – just a handful of a top professionals’ duties. Managers are doomed today without some level of cultural sensitivity. And this should be one of the first things taught at business schools where tomorrow’s leading managers and directors spawn from – the world is getting smaller and the scope to expand business internationally is getting bigger and bigger. Priding itself on its practical education, Hult International Business School does not only have a very international student body – 60 different nationalities – as Nikolco correctly pointed out, but has campuses in four of the top business hubs in the world – Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai. It really is the quintessential platform to profit from and learn cultural sensitivity, something which is becoming increasingly important in today’s business market.
    Helping the students delve even further into the realities of working internationally, Hult gives them the chance to complete the program in each of its four campus locations. So not only will you mingle with students and professors from around the world, you can also voyage to dynamic and enterprising cities.

    About Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School (formerly known as the Arthur D. Little School of Management) is the first global business school with operations in Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai. The School offers a range of business-focused programs including a one-year MBA, Master’s and Undergraduate degrees. Hult is ranked 31st in the world and 16th in the US by the Economist Intelligence Unit and 6th for International Mobility by the Financial Times. The School is a fully accredited member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

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