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Home or away: Should you consider an MBA overseas?
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February 05, 2008

India is now established as one of the leaders in business education in the developing world, with renowned local schools like the Indian School of Business and the Indian Institute of Management, so why are so many Indians still going abroad to study for their MBA? Are there actually any real benefits of studying abroad?

In a word, yes.

Location, location
As the world shrinks with every passing day, labour markets no longer end at national borders, but are becoming truly global. And nowhere is the fluidity of the workforce more apparent than at the executive and managerial levels.

Ambitious professionals are routinely taking up foreign postings to further their careers and, as competition for the best roles intensifies, they are increasingly looking for a 'short-cut' that will give them accelerated entry into the local business culture. For those willing to combine intensive study with challenging work experience, the most effective short-cut may lie in an MBA or Master of Business Administration programme at a major business school in the target location.

Sachin Tipnis had gained extensive experience of advertising and marketing communications at home in Mumbai, but was keen to take advantage of the huge potential offered by the explosion of the Chinese economy in recent years. He saw an MBA in Hong Kong as an ideal introduction to a career in the area.

"I was looking for a business school, which would give me the knowledge and networking base for the greater China region," he says, "and the University of Hong Kong provided me all that I was looking for to make an entry into this market. The way I look at it, it makes total sense to learn how to conduct business where the business is happening."

Sachin's view of the value of a 'local' MBA is largely shared by Sumith John, currently studying at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia. "Before embarking on the MBA I'd worked as an accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Hewlett Packard in India," he says. "I'd undertaken some assignments outside the country in places such as the Philippines, but nothing as far a field as Australia.

"Unless you have unique or very directly relevant skills, it can be hard to break into the Australian market, but choosing an MBA programme 'down under', particularly one like Macquarie's that's so well regarded in local industry circles, gives you the opportunity to develop your career here after graduation."

In order to maximise the return on investment of time, effort and money in an MBA, the key for any potential seems to lie in good forward planning. "You need to be very clear from the start about where you want to work once you have qualified," says Sachin Tipnis.

"If you think that Asia is where the action is, then that's where you need to do your MBA. The MBA experience goes much further than the boundaries of the physical classroom and by being 'on the ground' you get to understand local culture, business practices and market trends and you also start to build up a network of like-minded professionals which will give you a massive advantage over any outsider.

"I truly believe that, when it comes to business and economic growth, the next decade belongs to Asia and studying and working here is absolutely the right decision for any ambitious executive."

Others look to more tangible reasons for pursuing a degree overseas. "I participated in a degree overseas primarily to enhance my career and future opportunities," says Tommy So, a personal portfolio consultant at the Credit Suisse Group.  His experience working in another language, he believes, has certainly enabled him to progress in his chosen career path.

"For me, the benefits of studying abroad are not only about the gaining of an international exchange experience but the improvement of my spoken and written English. Because of this I think studying abroad helped me gain opportunities at some large international companies." Kenneth Lai, assistant to the general manager for a Japan [Images] joint venture manufacturing firm invested in China, completed a degree in the UK in 1994. He concurs with this view: "Studying in English was important -- in fact, grasping English in the UK was even more important in helping me develop an international career."

Tommy and Kenneth's experiences touch on a centrally important reason for the enormous interest in study abroad.  The growth in qualifications taught exclusively in the English language, at all levels, reflects the continuing importance of the language in every contemporary international sphere. 

Those universities that wish to become active in the lucrative international student recruitment market increasingly have to adapt their existing academic offerings into a completely new medium -- a task not to be taken lightly. Developments in such diverse countries as Finland, the Netherlands and South Korea, where degrees of all kinds are now being taught in English, underline the importance of language to international study. 

That said, where students have particular and non-English language ambitions, the international choice is still extremely diverse and as relevant to specific careers in certain country situations.

The opportunity to study abroad is certainly something that all students should consider. The benefits are both significant and tangible and have an impact on many aspects of your life after graduation. Whether it's to gain entry into a specific market or learn a new language, studying abroad should be undertaken for the purpose of enhancing your career and professional future.

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