Economy Slows Applications to Europe's Business Schools [Wall Street Journal]

Posted Feb 02, 2012 by Media Relations

The European currency crisis is claiming another victim: the M.B.A student.

Having spent decades building up globally competitive business schools, the Continent is finding that tough economic times are cutting into their yields.

Applications at two-thirds of Europe's business schools fell last year after rising steadily for years, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the common entrance exam for business schools.

At some schools, the number of applicants fell by more than 10%—and that was before the latest round of euro-zone woes picked up last summer. Schools in Switzerland and the U.K., which are more economically stable but pricier, have also been affected.

For European students who can afford them, schools overseas are seen as a ticket to countries where post-graduate jobs may be more plentiful. Others hope to land spots at the overseas campuses of European schools.

Spain's 22.9% unemployment rate has dissuaded some locals from applying to the prestigious University of Navarra's IESE Business School in Barcelona. The school's application volume is down 5% to date, though M.B.A. Admissions Director Itziar de Ros notes that decline is from multiyear highs.

At IESE, where nearly a third of the students generally remain in Spain after graduation, applicants have expressed concerns about their job prospects during interviews and information sessions, Ms. de Ros says.

One applicant who was deterred is Barcelona native Marcel Aldoma Gelonch. He chose not to apply to local schools, seeking admission instead at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Now a second-year student at Fuqua, Mr. Gelonch worried that a slow European economic recovery would stunt his professional development if he took a job in Spain. And even if he could find one, he says, heavy taxes instituted by the new Spanish government would deplete his paycheck significantly. Though he's keeping his options open and would take the "perfect job" in Spain, Mr. Gelonch is also pursuing consulting and general management positions in the U.S., London and Switzerland.

The Milan-based SDA Bocconi School of Management hopes to ease the financial constraints that are deterring some European applicants. In line with its offers to students from other regions, the school now provides two merit-based tuition waivers, at 50% and 70% of costs, to students from countries other than Italy in Western Europe.

To be sure, Europe isn't the only region seeing shifts in demand for business education. Applications in the U.S. spiked early in the recession, but that trend is now reversing itself as the economy remains fragile. Still, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, U.S. applications fell 5.7% on average for the class that started last fall, compared with a 10.5% decline on average for European applications.

Some European schools are suffering precisely because the economies of their home countries aren't.

IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland, is hoping to persuade potential students that its pricey program—121,000 Swiss francs ($110,727) in tuition, fees and living expenses—is worth the investment. That has become particularly difficult to do as the euro's value has sunk in relation to the Swiss franc.

About 20% of IMD's 90-person M.B.A. class comes from Western Europe, and applications from that region fell more than 10% for the class that starts school this month.

To keep applicants interested, IMD has increased its financial aid by a third this year. And when the Swiss franc's value spiked nearly 20% against the euro last summer, the school offered to delay payment deadlines by two months and encouraged students to apply for additional loans.

Still, those concessions weren't enough to secure Vincent Ho-Tin-Noé as a student. Mr. Ho-Tin-Noé, originally from Paris, had looked almost exclusively at one-year or executive M.B.A. programs to minimize costs.

But he accepted admission to Harvard Business School—despite having put down a 15,000 Swiss franc ($16,00) nonrefundable deposit for IMD—because he believed Harvard's international name recognition would provide some insurance against a weak job market.

Other European students are still looking to local schools but setting their sights on overseas campuses in hopes of gaining an edge in the broader job market.

The Singapore campus of France's Grenoble Graduate School of Business has had an influx of Europeans in the past two years, says Judith Bouvard, dean and director at the school. Europeans now account for 35% of that location's class, compared with 11% for the group that started in 2009.

Telio Gourdon, who is seeking a master's degree in international business at the Singapore campus, says he wanted to leave his native France—and Europe in general—to gain more international exposure. Overseas job prospects didn't hurt, either. "Singapore is a good place to be for a businessman," he says.

Similarly, Europeans applying to Hult International Business School are favoring its Shanghai, San Francisco and Boston campuses over the London location. E.U.-student applications have doubled for the Shanghai campus, and are up 83% for Boston. "We're seeing the start of far more European students applying abroad," says Stephen Hodges, Hult's president.

Read the full Wall Street Journal article.

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