Demand for global business courses has fallen, but many individuals still value the experience. David Jobbins reports
On the face of it, international MBA programmes are in trouble. Applications are falling as global economies falter and uncertainty makes career planning near impossible.
Surveys of the US market suggest that applications may have fallen 20 per cent - enough to stem the growth in MBA programmes and divide the high-quality schools from their undistinguished competitors.
Last year, numbers of students taking the Graduate Management Admission Tests (Gmat) fell by 25 per cent compared with 2002. And a Graduate Management Admission Council (Gmac) survey found 41 per cent of programme administrators who responded suffered a more than 20 per cent decline in numbers of applications between 2002-03 and 2003-04.
Traditional full-time two-year programmes have been hardest hit - a decline of 78 per cent.
But even if numbers were down, the calibre of applicants was not - on 90 per cent of full-time programmes, the undergraduate performance and Gmat scores were the same or better than in the previous year.
Business schools outside the US suffered the most abrupt downturn - with those reporting an increase in numbers of applications dwindling from 71 per cent in 2002-03 to 21 per cent in 2003-04. Three-quarters of non-US programmes reported a decline.
This gloomy picture coincides with predictions that the dominant US and European business schools will face competition from China - where homegrown institutions are on the point of a global breakthrough.
Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of France's Hec, said that in five years there would be a polarisation in the MBA market, between high-cost schools with strong reputations and those catering to a less-demanding clientele.
Valerie Gauthier, professor of intercultural management at HEC, said Europe could offer MBA students a real alternative to the US.
She said that students wanted more than a technical grounding in management and were eager to develop interpersonal skills to equip them for a global business environment.
Both look to the Bologna Process to prepare Europe for competition from the US and elsewhere.
Across the Atlantic, Tuck School of Business in New Hampshire, the world's first graduate management school, attracts an annual intake of 240 students, from more than 20 nations, to its MBA programme. Tuck, which is part of the Ivy League Dartmouth College, at Hanover, has established a strong reputation in the US, with long-term links to Wall Street consultancies and industry.
Its reputation attracts 3,000 applications a year to the MBA programme.
Fees of $50,000 (£26,450) a year are in some part offset by graduate starting salaries, which average $92,000, with 87 per cent receiving signing-on bonuses of about $17,000.
An international MBA is a huge investment for the individual - few are sponsored by an employer. Potential students already have experience in business and will be familiar with a global economy. No surprises, then, that they are prepared to travel in search of the school and programme that matches their career aims.
A top school in the US or Europe - the London Business School came fourth in the 2004 Financial Times global top 12 - is an obvious choice for a high-flyer looking for global experience. The Times Higher talked to MBA students and looked at two European schools seeking to add an international dimension.