3 U.S. Regions Rank Among The World’s Top 5 For Talent Attraction: Report

Barcelona may be a wonderful place to live and work, but Esade Business School isn’t showing favoritism to its home city.

The third edition of Esade’s MBA City Monitor report, which analyzes the ability of different cities and regions in the world to attract and retain high-skilled global talent based on how popular cities or regions are to MBA students, ranked the Barcelona-to-Madrid corridor in Spain fourth, behind London, Boston, and New York and just ahead of Silicon Valley.

However, the report — Esade’s first since 2017 — details how, despite half of the top 147 international business schools being located in the United States, a shift of talent from the U.S. to Europe has occurred in recent years.


Iván Bofarull

The report’s methodology has changed from its 2015 and 2017 iterations, “adapted to reflect the new trends dominating the business world,” according to a statement accompanying its release. In addition to looking into the preferences of MBA students and graduates, Esade’s study also analyzes venture capital investments and the number of prestigious engineering and technology universities.

Developed by Iván Bofarull, chief innovation officer at Esade, and Natalia Olson-Urtecho, Palo Alto-based adviser and mentor, the study provides information about the geographical areas which will house future businesses. The basis of the report is that MBA international students are a good indicator of a city’s attractiveness: “The search for an MBA program,” it reads, “means taking very expensive decisions so the choice of a specific destination is a good barometer for measuring a city’s ability to attract global talent in general.”

The decision to enroll in a full-time MBA program involves investment in at least four areas: Cost of tuition; opportunity cost (loss of salary whilst taking an MBA program); cost of research and preparation beforehand; and emotional and monetary cost of moving to and living in another country. Because of this, the authors write, the report may be a “useful guide for people intending to study an MBA program outside their own country in the future.”

“MBA students make significant research and resource allocation before choosing a program: they make a substantial financial investment,” Bofarull says, “dedication and time to research the program and the city, they face an opportunity cost of giving up a job for two years and are confronted with the emotional costs of moving to a new city.”


The report’s main finding, based on the number of foreign students registered in the 120 best MBA programs in The Financial Times ranking in the last three years: Boston attracts the most international students, with 1,708 MBA students registered there in the same period, followed by London with 1,501 students, New York with 1,204, Paris with 1,113, Barcelona with 1,022, and Chicago with 889. Of the 147 international business schools offering MBA programs, more than 50% are in the United States and Canada, 24.5% are in Europe and 11.5% are in Asia.

However, as Bofarull says, “there has been a shift of talent from the United States, especially in the East Coast, to Europe in recent years. This could be explained by recent events such as the Trump administration and its position on immigration policies, anti-globalization movements or the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The U.S. has lost 10% of its ability to attract international MBA students, particularly schools on the East Coast; meanwhile Europe — particularly the London-Paris-Barcelona-Madrid hub — has attracted 13% more, the study finds. East Asia has remained the same. Notably, more than 80% of leading MBA programs are taught in the West, and “despite China’s growth in the last 20 years, the ranking reveals that no Chinese city is a global magnet for international MBA talent. Singapore is the only Asian city that is a global hub, coming 8th in the ranking.”


According to the authors, the results also reflect an increasing trend toward offshoring talent, which presents an opportunity for smaller cities that can accommodate remote workers.

“While there are visible signs of “deglobalization” in diverse areas at the geopolitical level — nationalistic/protectionist leaders, Brexit, supply-chain disruptions, etc. — talented professionals have the unprecedented opportunity to establish themselves anywhere in the world and potentially even in various locations,” Olson-Urtecho says, “in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to more remote work and greater digitalization.”

The ranking measures the number of students enrolled in MBA programs because, according to the authors, they are an excellent indicator of which cities are talent magnets.


Cities such as Seoul, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Miami, and Munich have a great capacity to attract talent, the study finds, but they do not appear in the top 25 of the ranking because they do not have an MBA program in top global rankings. The authors stress the importance of having a quality academic offering of sufficient size to attract the best MBA students.

“If cities such as Seoul or Munich were to reach a similar number of international students as Los Angeles or Sydney, they would rank among the top 25 in the world,” Bofarull says.

According to the authors, the study is a practical tool to predict which cities and regions will remain influential in the future. “If MBA students are given the opportunity to connect with a critical mass of tech-savvy talent,” Bofarull says, “as well as venture capital, the chances of building the businesses and companies of the future will be much greater.”

Read Esade’s full MBA City Monitor report here.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.