The German dilemma

Some soul-searching in Germany this week as influential deans and professors met at the Frankfurt School of Management and Finance to discuss the way forward for that country’s business education.

Germany has been slow to embrace the North American model now prevalent in much of the world—in particular offering flagship, full-time MBA courses. However, there now appears a groundswell of opinion that believes an overhaul is due.

It is not a universal view, though. With Germany still Europe’s pre-eminent economy—indeed this week Volkswagen briefly became the world’s most valuable company—there was some debate as to whether Germany needed to fall into step with the rest of the world. Furthermore, in many ways, the country, it could be argued, is a special case.

With many diploma students not graduating until their mid-20s—typically when an MBA will just be entering a programme—there is a questionable appetite among its target market to return to university at that age. In any case, with employees often loyal to a particular company (or more realistically, perhaps, with generous employment practices a disincentive to chop and change jobs) one of the main reasons for taking an MBA—to change career—is less relevant.

The final argument against a need for change is that, with Germany’s strong heritage in engineering, it has historically been the best engineers—not necessarily the best managers—that have gone on to be the country’s business leaders.

But these arguments were forcefully rebutted by Professor Rolf Cremer, currently dean of CEIBS, but someone who gained his PhD from one of Germany’s technical universities.

Germany needs to be in a position to mould and lead management thinking around the globe, he argued. And that can only be done by fully embracing business education. There is no point in holding out against the norms in the rest of the world and then complaining that you are not a major player.

“Germany does not need to be involved in every industry,” he went on. “Growing bananas, for example. Germany does not need to be involved in the banana-growing industry. But educating managers is not one of those opt-out industries.”

And, for Professor Cramer, that means institutions offering a single flagship, full-time MBA programme. The model may have originated in North America, but it is now the accepted global standard.

But while there is a definite sense of now-or-never among German business academics, according to Frankfurt’s dean, Udo Steffens, there is still a long way to go. Professor Steffens argued that Germany is still to see a truly global player in the business education market. Meanwhile, those talented Germans intent on taking an MBA inevitably look outside the country for their education. Even for Europe’s economic powerhouse, that must surely be an unsustainable position.

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5 Responses to “The German dilemma”

  1. Jan Says:

    Thanks for this article about the German MBA market. I would like to add that Germany is now adapting to the international Bachelor-Master-system. That means, that the demand for MBA programs will increase in the future.

    Unfortunately, the German MBA market is still very confusing. 95 % of the business schools do not fulfill international standards (even schools that appear on international fairs like ESMT at Berlin or EBS at Oestrich-Winkel, which failed to reach EQUIS accreditation twice).

    However, there are a handful schools which have shown that they have the potential to reach international top positions. Above all, this is Mannheim with an excellent faculty, triple accreditation and very good, innovative programmes. The WHU-Kellogg EMBA is antoher well-established programme that can claim to be world-class. HHL and Goethe Frankfurt are AACSB accredited and offer a solid quality.

  2. Detlev Kran Says:

    Do you really mean, that US-AACSB is an international standards ????. In my view the only “international” accreditation is equis. But – after 40 years developing MBA-Programmes in UK only 18 from 120 -140 UK Business Schools reached this European standard. 85 % of the UK business schools and UK-MBA market do not fulfil international standards.

    The MBA market in Germany includes both national players, and also a number of overseas schools which have entered the market. There are currently more than two hundred fifty full-time, distance and part-time MBA programmes offered on the German market. In general, German managers prefer part-time or executive MBA programmes than full-time MBA programmes. Many are unwilling to relinquish their current employment in order to study for a management qualification. The MBA in Germany is still very much aimed at senior-level managers rather than those looking to transform and/or broaden a more specific managerial experience. Only half of the MBA programmes run are taught in the German language, and another half of the programmes are taught in the English language with this percentage increasing over the past couple of years.

    The future of the MBA in Germany will not only depend on its ability to continuously prove itself compared with the traditionally UK Master in business administration, It will also depend on its ability to interest and provide value to professional groups beyond graduates in business administration. In Germany, these are typically engineers and IT specialists for whom additional leadership capabilities and intercultural competence are more important than ever to succeed in international competition.

    In addition to the legal requirement for national-level accreditation, most quality MBA programmes are in the process of applying for, or have applied for, accreditation from agencies that accredit management programmes. Currently the EQUIS and EQUA Member, the Swiss-Austrian-German-Netherlands accreditation agency FIBAA (the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation) has the highest market share in Germany.

    US, EU ore UK accreditations are one stage in helping German MBA programmes to compete over their domestic rivals in terms of quality perception in an increasingly competitive market.

  3. Nuria S Says:

    I agree with any word Jan wrote. Germany may be a late-starter on the international MBA market, but a few schools (Mannheim, WHU) offer a pretty good quality. On the other hand, the German market is full of show-offs like ESMT, EBS or some Universities of Applied Science (Fachhochschulen), to name but a few.

  4. Uwe Says:

    In Germany any “Master” programs were allowed by the government only from 2000. That’s why even decent German business schools are rated in the bottom of prestigious lists – they still don’t have enough alumnies to proove their quality. My personal short-list includes HHL, Mannheim, WHU and may be Goethe school in Frankfurt.

    These schools have managed to get into any international rankings:
    – Mannheim
    – WHU
    – HHL
    – Goethe
    – GISMA
    – EBS
    – ESMT
    – Münster
    – Köln

    These managed to get international accreditations (AACSB, EFMD or AMBA):
    – HHL
    – Mannheim
    – WHU
    – Goethe
    – ESMT

  5. Nuria S Says:

    Thanks for the lists, Uwe. It has to be added that Münster and Köln do not offer an MBA.

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