Skip to Main Content
by Beth Gardiner | March 10, 2009


Global economic woes that have tightened credit and spurred market jitters are making themselves felt on business school campuses, too.

Across Europe, B-schools that have seen applications jump in recent years expect the numbers to surge even further if there's a repeat of the usual pattern of would-be analysts and managers riding out hard times by improving their risumis with an advanced degree.

Schools that rely on executive education, though, worry that demand may dry up as companies once happy to spend big on training look to trim budgets.

The woes afflicting the global economy are the talk of campuses, from the classroom to the cafeteria. Students trade information about job prospects as they and their professors look for business and economics lessons in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis, the credit crunch, the sliding housing and stock markets and the looming prospect of recession.

"It's very much the hot topic at the moment in business schools," said Jeanette Purcell, chief executive of London-based Association of MBAs, whose members include 145 business schools around the world.

Many say recruitment of newly minted MBAs looking for jobs in finance already has slowed, and both students and administrators fear hiring in other areas may drop off, too, if the economic picture worsens. More and more students graduating from European programs are looking for jobs in Asia, where economies are still strong, administrators say.

Students reading the business news every day bring questions about unexpected phenomena like European banks' holdings of American mortgages to their classrooms, where professors help them unravel the international movement of bad debt. Headlines hitting not just the financial press but the mainstream press are "helpful from the teaching point of view," said Simon Taylor, a finance lecturer at Cambridge University's Judge Business School.

At HEC School of Management in Paris, there has been lively classroom debate about the unauthorized trading of Jirtme Kerviel, blamed for billions in losses at French bank Sociiti Ginirale, where many HEC graduates hold jobs.

"The most striking discussion" has been about how so much money "can be in the hands of one person," said Valirie Gauthier, associate dean of the MBA program. "You can trust" that a business school case study will be written on the events.

Faculty and administrators report that banking is the only sector where job recruiting has slowed, but they fear that if economic troubles become entrenched, other areas will be affected soon, too.

"Everybody is talking about the current economy and what's going on," said Fred Abrard, 31 years old, a French entrepreneur expecting to get his MBA next month from Manchester Business School in England. "At the moment, our class is quite successful in securing jobs, but clearly people are a bit worried" the market may get tighter.

"The current year, the 2008 grads, will certainly feel some pain," said Frank Brown, dean of Insead, which has campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore.

Some students who began their studies intending to look for work in finance are shifting to areas like small business or industry, though administrators say this shift was under way before the latest troubles began. In a new trend, other students - particularly the growing number from India and China - are considering heading to Asia after graduation.

Cathy Butler, career director at the Judge School, recently returned from a visit to meet potential employers in Hong Kong, the first time Cambridge has sent a person in her position on such a trip to Asia. She said companies in Asia were clearly hiring in larger numbers than those in Europe and she plans a similar visit to Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore later this year.

Administrators at some of the top European schools said it is too soon to tell whether the credit crunch-related woes, which began roiling markets last summer, will prompt a spike in MBA applications. Many European schools have seen numbers rise for several years.

Some schools already are taking steps to guard against potential downturns in enrollment in executive-education courses paid for by employers. Manchester Business School is thinking about offering new courses focused on managing risk and uncertainty and dealing with regulations, said Michael Luger, its dean.

At Spain's ESADE business school, Dean Alfons Sauquet said companies were thinking much harder before committing employees to executive-education classes and many employers wanted training that would provide direct results quickly.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School