While the MBA is still the best-recognized business education brand in the United States, in continental Europe the Master in Management, or MiM, is the number-one business program. So — what is it? And why is it so popular?
The MiM can have various names, such as a Master’s in Strategy and International Management or a Master’s in International Management, but all fulfill the same purpose. They are pre-experience master’s programs aimed at students who have just completed a bachelor’s degree. The MiM is a generalist business qualification with core courses in economics, marketing, strategy and so on, and while the content varies across business schools — with some offering more electives and other add-ons — the aim is the same: to give someone’s career a jump-start.
Research into European MiMs by the Graduate Management Admission Council has found that the average age of a MiM student is 22.7 years, and that 78% of MiM students have some kind of business bachelor’s degree. However, much depends on the business school. At Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management in Holland, for instance, very few students have a business background. At London Business School, around 40% do. At HEC Paris, only 30% do. When GMAC asked students what they hoped to get from their MiM, the top three answers were “general business knowledge,” “leadership skills,” and “management skills.”
WHY IS THE MiM SO POPULAR IN EUROPE? IT’S CULTURAL
Many MiMs, especially at public universities, are taught in the language of the country they are in. These are, plainly, aimed at locals. Some of the top-tier private schools, however, run English-language MiMs that attract a global class with as many nationalities as an MBA. Most MiMs are two years long, though some are shorter. Some schools offer double degrees with their MiMs.
Why is the MiM so popular? It’s cultural. MiMs slot nicely into the traditional shape of European education. Continental students generally stay in university education after their undergraduate degree, taking a diploma, before entering the workforce in their mid-20s. “I think to some extent there is a legacy of how master’s education has been in Europe that has led to the popularity of the degree,” says Kiron Ravindran, associate dean of the Master in Management programs at Madrid’s IE Business School, who is also the school’s representative to the International MiM Association for schools across Europe. “Over time that model builds in, and in France especially they have the Grande Ecoles system which facilitates your choice to do a master’s even better. I think that’s really the trigger.”
This is very different from tradition in Anglo-Saxon countries, where people tend to graduate and get a job straightaway, then think about business education later. “I think historically in Europe, the idea of doing a master’s has been part of the education model,” Ravindran says. “You see that in the way a MiM is usually funded. In our case, 80% of it is funded by parents. In the U.S., a master’s degree is something that you fund on your own, and as a result you probably built up some capital over time, having worked.” This economic fact means that Europeans tend to favor taking a master’s before they begin their career, rather than once they have had a few years’ experience — and some savings — under their belts.
BOLOGNA AND THE MiM MARKET
Steffen Loev, program director of the MiM at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany, says the career-oriented nature of European education plays a part, too. “In the United States, the system is that undergraduate students have very general courses of study. In Europe they decide completely after leaving school which kind of professional career they want to develop later on,” Loev says. “They mostly have to choose directly from the beginning when they’ve started their university career in which academic field they want to go to — be it business studies, be it medicine or something else. This has been happening for some decades.”
While the five-year university tradition is old, it was a declaration by 29 countries’ education ministers in 1999 that kick-started something called the Bologna Declaration, which shook up higher education in Europe and specifically created the market for the MiM. Previously, European tertiary education was split into two parts: a five-year degree, followed by a Ph.D. The Bologna declaration created a three-tier system, splitting the five-year first degree into three-year undergraduate and two-year post-graduate degrees. By the time this came into force in 2010, 48 countries across Europe were signed up to a unified system. One effect of the Bologna Declaration was to open up a pan-European market in higher education, so that students could take a three-year degree in one university then move to another anywhere in Europe for their master’s. Business schools could now compete for talent from across the continent, and courses like the MiM sprang up to take advantage.
Who takes a MiM? That varies hugely between schools. At some, the majority is from the home country. WHU says only around 2% are from North America. The current ESSEC course has three Americans. At the other end of the spectrum is the hugely international CEMS course, a collaboration between 31 schools globally with around 70 nationalities. In the middle are schools like Madrid’s IE, where about a quarter of MiM students are Spanish, another quarter from other European countries and the other half from the rest of the world. In recent years more Asian students have started to take MiMs; some students see the degree as a “passport to Europe,” says Irma Bogenrieder, academic director of the Master in Management at RSM in the Netherlands. “Many of them want to stay at least temporarily. Many of them are here just to gain experience and don’t know whether they will stay,” she says. Others, she says, realise that their bachelor’s degree won’t get them the sort of job they want, or have been working for a year or two and decide that they need an extra boost.
Another group are people such as scientists of engineers who do not want to get stuck in labs or R&D departments, and see a MiM an an escape route to general management roles. There is a trend for students from India who have taken a business degree there — perhaps even a master’s — to then come to Europe to join a MiM program that they feel will give them more prestige.