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World's best business schools

August 25, 2007 16:49 IST

The Indian School of Business in Hyderabad opened its doors in 2001 with a class of 128 students. Six years later it has 423 students in its full-time, one-year postgraduate business program. It's quite a draw for B-school applicants in Asia, attracting more of them (as measured by the number that have sent in their admission test scores) than any other school on the planet outside Harvard.

This year the Hyderabad school's graduating class attracted job offers from McKinsey & Co, Infosys Technologies and Deutsche Bank.

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Like so many things American-made, the hallowed M.B.A. is now facing stiff competition overseas in the form of cheaper and shorter business school degrees. Tuition at the one-year Indian School of Business is $40,000 versus $79,000 for Harvard's two-year program.

But the opportunity cost, in lost wages, of the 12-month Indian program is materially less than that of a two-year US program. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT, 81 per cent of the 3,710 new graduate management programs introduced worldwide in the last ten years showed up outside North America.

The global challenge especially confronts the nation's oldest B-school, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, ranked number five on our list of US business schools. In overseas presence Wharton is noticeably lagging behind its US competitors. Many either have partnerships with foreign schools or operate their own campuses abroad.

So it was no surprise that when he was appointed Wharton dean in July, Thomas S. Robertson, 64, stated that "creating a larger global footprint" for the school is a priority. An expert in marketing strategy and competitive behavior with a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Robertson was a professor and head of the marketing department at Wharton from 1971 to 1994 before developing international programs at Emory University (where he was also dean of its Goizueta Business School) and at the London Business School. A Scottish native, Robertson came to the U.S. at the age of 12 and holds both US and European Union passports.

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Wharton, which received 6,200 applications last year (second to Harvard's 6,700), is no stranger to globalism. Its classes typically draw 40 per cent of students from outside the U.S.; the class of 2008 hails from 70 nations. Additionally it helped establish business schools in Singapore, India and Thailand and also runs student exchange programs with Insead (ranked number two in one-year foreign programs).

Insead is the only MBA program to have full-fledged campuses on two continents--one in Fontainebleau, France and the other in Singapore.

But highly sought-after foreign students have other choices these days. Look at Bilal Khan, 26, who this May began a two-year program that will give him a Wharton MBA along with an MA from Penn's School of Arts & Sciences.

Khan was born in Pakistan and divided his grammar and high school years among Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Florida. He speaks Urdu, Arabic, French and English. As part of the school's summer program, Khan spent a month in Egypt and two weeks in Dubai, where he attended meetings with corporate and government officials, including Farouk al-Okdah, a Wharton alumnus and governor of the Central Bank of Egypt.

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Khan was offered a summer internship on the spot in a private equity firm in Dubai. He considered staying in the region and leaving Wharton. "It is very easy to get isolated here in the US," he says. "Even with my family connections, I did not know the extent to which development was happening over there."

Khan decided to stay in Wharton's class of 2009. But if the next cosmopolitan candidate like him looks abroad for a school, that could be because the fastest economic growth is not happening anywhere near Wharton's Philadelphia campus.

It's happening in Brazil, Russia, India, China and nations in the Middle East. The multinational companies rushing into those hot spots are quite happy to hire an MBA graduating from a program of 12 to 18 months, as opposed to the two years for a full-time MBA from a US school.

This September the London Business School will bring its first class of 75 or so students into its own branded Dubai-London executive MBA program. The class draws from 27 nations. Tuition for the 16 months of study is $80,000. "Dubai currently lacks a world-class business degree qualification. So we have first-mover advantage," says the deputy dean of programs, Zeger Degraeve.

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The University of Chicago's B-school operates campuses in London and Singapore, where 180 students are admitted each year. The international curriculums run for 21 months, for which tuition is up to $120,000. Chicago is now contemplating offering its full-time MBA students the opportunity to pursue coursework in London and Singapore. "We think that this need to develop leaders who can operate in lots of different settings is growing," says Dean Edward Snyder.

A joint venture is the other way to go global. Columbia Business School and London Business School offer a 20 month executive program (price: $126,000) aimed at midlevel to senior executives whose education is being paid for by an employer. Students alternate monthly between New York and London classrooms.

"Your executive MBAs become your cheerleaders," says Dipak Jain, dean of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, which has four joint executive MBA programs with international universities. "If they like our program, they will send people to it and hire people from it."

Robertson's strategy is to start with what he calls "points of presence" to reach international markets. "This is where you say we're not quite ready to go in and build a campus and offer degrees, but we're going to go to Mumbai, Dubai or Shanghai, as an example, and go in and hang the Wharton banner," said Robertson. That means fishing for students, talking to alumni and raising money. If interest develops, Wharton might run some courses there.

But Robertson is cautious about going further--say, with partnerships. He worries about finding enough faculty members willing to travel frequently. Plus there's the possible loss of stature and control in joining with another institution. "I think the faculty wants to fly under the Wharton banner, not a dual one," he says.

Still, change is afoot. Robertson's first order of business was appointing David C. Schmittlein, a faculty member at Wharton since 1980, as the school's first vice dean of global initiatives and branding. If Wharton eventually sets up overseas, Robertson underscores that it will be "predominantly a US education--because that is what people are looking for."

Christina Settimi, Forbes