Bologna Accord Expected to Boost MBAs in Europe

Despite having some of the world’s top business schools, Europe’s MBA programs just haven’t had the same level of penetration as their U.S. counterparts.  That will likely change when the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) comes into existence in 2010, making higher education degrees much more compatible, comparable and portable among the 46 countries signed up to it.

Known informally as the Bologna Process after the city in which the original declaration of intent was signed in 1999, the EHEA has adopted a single three-cycle structure that is based on the Anglo-Saxon model of bachelor, master’s and doctoral degrees. For the first time, European students will have the choice to leave higher education after a three- or four-year bachelor degree, stay on for a master’s, or work for a few years and return to do a post-experience qualification such as the MBA.

According to Nunzio Quacquarelli, director of QS World MBA Tour and editor of, the effect on the European MBA market could be profound. “In terms of the penetration of the MBA the disparity between Europe and North America is staggering, suggesting there is still significant room for growth in MBA numbers in Europe.”

At a recent leadership conference hosted by IESE business school in Barcelona, IESE dean Jordi Canals agreed.  “The MBA in Europe is still at an early stage of development and Bologna can be the stimulus for a rapid expansion in take up.”

So what can we expect to see when the Bologna Accord takes effect?

A surge in demand for English-language master’s, pre-experience master’s in management and in MBAs.

Tens of thousands of graduates across Europe are going to be looking for new options once they complete their three of four-year bachelor degree. This Bologna generation will look for opportunities to improve their language skills, gain some international experience and improve their awareness of the global economy.

The average age of European MBAs is going to drop while the number of people taking the qualification is going to rise.

Undergraduate degrees in Europe have traditionally lasted much longer, often six or seven years, which discouraged people from going to the workplace and then returning to education to do an MBA. In the US, the average age of MBA participants is 26.5, and in Europe it’s 29.5.

Quacquarelli believes that Europe may not go as far down the MBA path as the United States, and no one can predict whether European companies are going to embrace it to the same extent. However he believes that a balance will be reached at some point.

“Once a certain volume of people is taking an MBA, it feeds into HR processes as an easy way to screen and select people. As soon as it gets embedded in HR processes you will start to see the large-volume MBA recruitment schemes beginning to appear. When this happens, the momentum for more people to take an MBA becomes very strong. This hasn’t happened in Europe yet, but with the Bologna generation about to come through, I believe it will.”

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