Swiss obsessed with MBAs

Lausanne's IMD is considered to offer one of the best MBA courses in Europe Keystone

More and more Swiss business schools are offering Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) to feed the growing demand for the qualification.

This content was published on October 24, 2003 - 11:54

Some 75 educational institutions, including six Swiss, attended the World MBA Tour in Zurich this week.

The MBA Tour sets up shop every year in 40 cities around the world, creating a meeting place for prospective students and schools.

Demand for MBAs has shot up recently in Switzerland.

“There are a lot of potential students here,” Matt Symonds, director of the World Tour, told swissinfo. “Many Swiss are doing the courses to complete their studies or to boost their careers.”

In Switzerland, Lausanne’s prestigious International Institute for Management Development is widely seen as the leader of the pack in terms of the quality of its courses.

It came first in a ranking of non-US schools by the Wall Street Journal in 2002, and third in similar surveys by Business Week and the Financial Times.

Investing in education

The Swiss aren’t the only ones clamouring for MBAs. During the past few years, the global demand for MBAs has reached unprecedented levels.

This is partly due to the sluggish economy, which has convinced many redundant managers to invest in further education, according to Symonds.

MBAs first became popular over 20 years ago. Today, competition is fierce among many business schools eager to attract students willing to pay high fees.

But experts say employers have learned to recognise the difference between a premium MBA - awarded to an elite few - and diplomas handed out with little regard for academic standards.

“Everybody is giving out MBAs, they’re very fashionable,” said Jean-Claude Falciola, a headhunter for Egon Zehnder International.

MBA flavours

MBAs were originally designed for graduates who had not studied economics to complement their earlier degrees. But today, this type of diploma covers a wide variety of courses.

Swiss universities and private institutes offered 30 different types of MBA last year, twice as many as in 2001. Courses range from on-the-job MBAs to executive MBAs.

Next spring, Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology is launching a specialised course aimed at managers who want to master production organisation, processes and techniques.

“There are many more specialised MBAs around nowadays,” said Thierry de Preux, a headhunter for Korn/Ferry International.

“This trend is also being reinforced by the upcoming [Bologna] university reforms, which will lead to more students applying for a Master’s degree.”

MBA jungle

Switzerland has made a name for itself in the MBA jungle. Lausanne’s IMD is among Europe’s top three schools, alongside France’s INSEAD and the London Business School.

“We’re up there with the top American schools,” boasts Janet Shaner, IMD’s head of marketing.

IMD’s selection process shows just how difficult it can be to get into a highly-ranked school.

Out of 900 candidates, only 300 with high qualifications are selected for an admissions interview. And of those 300, just 100 will be admitted.

IMD is seen as setting the standard for Swiss business schools, closely followed by St Gallen University, Geneva University, the Swiss Banking School or Zurich’s GSBA.

Many other universities and private business schools also offer MBAs which vary in terms of quality.

Some observers have likened the vast choice to an MBA industry, adding that the market will eventually sort out the winners.

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson (translation: Scott Capper)

In brief

The Master of Business Administration is awarded for business and management studies.

There are over 2,000 MBA courses around the world, including 400 in Europe.

MBAs attract people starting out in professional life and managers between the ages of 35-40 who want to improve their career prospects.

In Switzerland, an MBA costs between SFr9,750 at Geneva University and SFr115,000 at IMD.

IMD was came first in a ranking of non-US schools by the Wall Street Journal in 2002.

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