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New York Times: Allure of Europe Is Drawing Students

Viv Blog

Source: The New York Times

by Tony Smith
Jul 18, 2003

When Newton Campos returned home to Brazil in March with a new job, to recruit M.B.A. applicants for his alma mater, the Spanish business school Instituto de Empresa, his bosses were not expecting him to enroll any students in his first year.

”They warned me that the first and even the second year can be tough for new representative offices,” said Mr. Campos, 27, the business school’s first recruiter in Brazil.

But after he spent four months visiting the top 100 companies in Brazil and promoting the school, nearly 500 would-be applicants had contacted the school’s office here, five people had applied to and had been accepted, and Mr. Campos’s bosses in Madrid were so happy, he said, ”they were dancing the samba.”

Though Mr. Campos undoubtedly deserves the kudos his bosses showered on him, the Brazilian interest in the school also underscores a trend that, if it continues, could prove worrisome for all but the most elite business schools in the United States.

Over the past two years, more and more Brazilians — and other Latin Americans, I.E. representatives say — have been choosing to pursue their master’s degrees in business administration in Europe rather than in the United States, attracted by shorter programs, lower costs and the greater cultural diversity they say they think the Old World offers.

Many also fear that they could face difficulties in a country that seems to have become more closed and mistrustful of foreigners since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some Brazilians are now choosing newly created M.B.A. programs at local universities, but many aspiring global executives who can afford it still prefer to study abroad.

Fábio Armani, senior associate at MBA Empresarial, a São Paulo M.B.A. consulting firm that helps people choose and apply to schools, said that of his 100 clients last year, 60 applied only to American schools, 30 to European and American schools and 10 only to European schools. Two years earlier, 80 percent of a similar number of applicants wanted to study in the United States, 15 percent applied on both sides of the Atlantic, and 5 percent applied only in Europe.

Claudia Gonçalves, director of English Consulting, another M.B.A. specialist, said that 61 percent of her firm’s clients applied to American schools last year, compared with 92 percent in 1999.

Both cite the mostly one-year M.B.A. programs offered in Europe, which cost students about two-thirds of the approximately $100,000 in tuition for a two-year master’s degree at Harvard, Stanford or the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. They also say students are eager to live in Europe, where several capital cities and their different cultures are often just a few hours’ drive apart.

”Here we already live the American way of life quite a lot,” Mr. Armani said. ”We already eat a lot of burgers. European culture and living over there can be very attractive for some Brazilians.”

At the most international of American business schools, like the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, typically about 35 percent of the students are foreign, while the average in most European business schools is about 70 percent, Ms. Gonçalves said. At Insead, the elite business school near Paris, only 8 percent of students are French.

Demand for top American schools is still solid, Mr. Armani said, but an increasing number of applicants are attracted by the more global approach many European schools offer.

For Instituto de Empresa, that means a big opportunity in places like Brazil and the rest of Latin America.

After decades of economic isolation, Brazil is opening up to the world and especially to its Spanish-speaking neighbors. The bilingual courses in English and Spanish at Instituto de Empresa are a big plus for Brazilians, who are increasingly eager to learn the language of those neighboring countries. Mr. Campos expects to be recruiting 20 to 30 compatriots a year within two years.

So far, top schools in the United States say they are not hurting. And Brazil is still one of the most important sources of foreign students, along with China, India, Mexico and South Korea. But Rod Garcia, director of admissions for the master’s program in business at M.I.T., acknowledged the stiffer European competition.

”Spain still looks toward Latin America as family,” he said. ”It’s much easier for them to convince a Chilean or an Argentine to go to Spain rather than to Harvard or Wharton.”

Rather than Latin America looking more toward Europe, Mr. Garcia said, ”I think it’s more of a case of European business schools being much more aggressive in Latin America than in the past.”

That may be, but there are many Latin Americans — even among the staunchest believers in free-market economics — who think the United States has become a less open, less friendly place.

”U.S. business philosophy seems to be closing in on itself — it always has to be their model, their way of doing things,” said a 28-year-old consultant with a top American auditor in São Paulo, who has applied for an M.B.A. at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon, but has not yet told her employers. ”I think the people I meet in Europe will be more cosmopolitan,” she said, ”and I think that will reflect in the course.”

Some applicants also say that with Brazil and Argentina now both under left-leaning governments that want to bolster industry, European courses that traditionally have closer links with industry rather than with finance might be more useful.

That, said Filipe Salgado, 25, who has worked at Citibank in São Paulo for six years, is why he is applying to three European business schools. ”If I want to get into industry afterward,” he said, ”I think maybe I will fit in better with a European M.B.A.”

Others say American schools, perhaps because they invented the M.B.A., are simply too important to pass up.

”Harvard is a brilliant brand name whether you’re in Alaska or China,” said Emiliano Machado, 27, who is applying to Harvard and Insead, and plans to return to Brazil after he gets his degree to take over his family’s construction firm.

Nicolas Scafuro, 28, the owner of an online entertainment and advertising agency, applied to M.I.T. because it ”is top in technology and for training leaders of new ventures, and my market, the Internet, is much more linked to the U.S. than to Europe.”

But even Mr. Scafuro, who plans to attend the institute in the fall, acknowledges that ”it is perhaps not the most favorable moment to go study in the United States.”

Among other things, the economic downturn has left many non-American M.B.A. students out in the cold when it comes to securing a summer job.

”We are not treated the same when recruitment time comes around,” said Marcos García March, a Spanish M.B.A. student between years at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, who applied from Brazil, where he had been working. ”To hire a foreigner costs more in terms of paperwork, and companies don’t hire on an emotional basis.”

Mr. García March, speaking by phone from New York, also complained of tightened residence regulations in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks and of increasingly touchy immigration officials.

”I have the impression of not being very welcome here,” he said. ”You get the feeling that you can always lose your privilege of studying in the United States and be deported even if you make just the slightest step out of line.’