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April 2, 2010
Long after Columbus discovered the New World and Spain’s rise as a global empire, there’s a new conquest underway. Playing host to three of the world’s top-ranked business schools, the country has now laid its claim to the world of management education. The four main reasons for this are its economy, language, internationality and rankings. 

Before the financial crisis, Spain was one of Europe’s leading economies. Even now, its companies are some of the strongest firms at an international level. Banks like Banco Santander and BBVA are seen as the largest in Europe while companies like Inditex, which owns brands such as Zara and Massimo Dutti, have redefined the processes and requirements for success in their industries. Add to this economic environment, the three B-schools — IE, ESADE and IESE. 

In recent years, these schools have dominated the top positions in international rankings; in some cases, this ‘Spanish League’ occupied the top 10 positions. Also, applicants to these schools, especially those coming from English-speaking countries, feel challenged (in a good way) by the possibility of doing an MBA while learning Spanish, one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. And to top it all, these schools are high on diversity. Unlike their counterparts in the US, nearly 70-80% of the classes here are made up of international students. 

Since ESADE’s beginnings 50-oddyears ago, it has seen a steady increase in the number of applicants from outside of Spain, and in recent years particularly from India. Similarly, IE and IESE have recorded a year on year increase of 25% since 2006 and 2008, respectively. According to Santiago Iñiguez, dean, IE, “Spain has an exciting, creative business environment, a fascinating live case study of innovation, adaptation and change which is ongoing. The emergence and success of leading Spanish multinationals in the post-Franco period can be linked to a strong focus on innovation and creativity.” 

This situation has significantly impacted the teaching at Madridbased IE where the number of Indians on campus has grown from 10 in 2006 to 33 in 2008. Iñiguez adds, “One of the critical elements of managing change is the need to promote and manage innovation. We address this through our markedly entrepreneurial approach, which is a key component of all of our programmes.” IE was, in fact, founded by entrepreneurs. 

On the other hand, Barcelona-based ESADE has found its niche in a general management MBA that can be completed in either 12, 15 or 18 months. According to the school’s dean, Alfons Sauquet, “Management education, the MBA in particular, has been an incredible success. However, B-schools are becoming too similar in their approach and outlook and are, today, more concerned about failure than doing things differently. So, at ESADE, the MBA is more flexible and more adaptive to individual interests.” 

As Javier Muñoz, director of MBA admissions at IESE, elaborates, “Areas such as ethics, entrepreneurship and general management will take the lead in business education. And fortunately, these are also IESE’s areas of specialisation. However, I also believe that globalisation will continue to be an important angle for business education while more specific subjects, such as finance, will probably take a backseat.” 

Most importantly, these markedly different approaches highlight how three B-schools in close proximity to each have had to constantly compete to attract the best students (and faculty). This has in turn ensured that each works very hard to stay ahead of the game in terms of curriculum, research, etc. 

But, studying at these schools is still an expensive proposition with tuition varying from 49,000 to nearly 68,000 euros. In addition, one has to factor in the European cost of living. To this, Sauquet says, “It should be noted that the price of doing an MBA at a top school is more or less the same and is compensated by greater opportunities post-MBA.” Similarly, Iñiguez believes that factors such as language and cost can also be viewed in a positive light. “Spain, in general, tends to offer a decent standard of living at reasonable costs, especially when compared with costs in the US and UK,” he adds. 

So, with comparatively favourable costs and (now) a preferred economic environment, could the Spanish League overthrow its American counterparts? “The value proposition of the top US and European Bschools remains distinct enough that I expect both to remain highly valued by participants depending on what they are looking to get from their MBA e x p e r i e n c e, ” opines Iñiguez. But, students looking for a more diverse and m u l t i c u l t u r a l experience, he says, may choose Spain over the US.

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