MBA Programs Daring to Be Different

The pummeled economy has spurred a so-called “flight to quality,” with many students opting for major brand names like Wharton, HBS, Stanford and Chicago Booth in the U.S., and LBS and INSEAD abroad, in order to have some measure of control over such pesky details as, say,  a job after graduation.

Schools outside the global elite have to offer something different if they hope to compete in the face of this student conservatism, Matt Symonds wrote last week on Forbes.com. Here are the unconventional programs he highlights:

Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business is luring in students through new curriculum offerings that work ethical, social and environmental issues into traditional business courses. Many schools have upped their ethics component in the wake of the financial crisis, but Mendoza acknowledges that its approach is based firmly on principles of Catholicism.

Mendoza professor Lee Tavis tells Symonds, “Catholic social thought provides a base of principles to be applied, and the Catholic university environment provides the freedom, for people of any faith, to start shaping a principles-based business career.”

Melbourne Business School attributes its recent MBA class increase to having a unique structural model. “We have the luxury of being what I’d term ‘quasi-independent,'” says dean Jenny George.

“That means we have the credibility to attract really good faculty but can hire people who don’t always fit the traditional, conventional picture of an academic. And that in turn means we can put together a learning experience that pulls in the very best students.”

Financing and employability have helped two European schools–the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School and Germany’s ESMT–weather the B-school storm. Vlerick put together a loan scheme in 2008 that focuses on an individual’s future potential rather than his or her credit history.

“With so many other sources of finance drying up, it has been a definite draw,” says Peter Rafferty, the school’s international business director.

ESMT, meanwhile, was founded in 2002 by 25 of Germany’s top companies, including household names such as Deutsche Bank, Lufthansa and Siemens. “These companies act as partners in the M.B.A. program and guarantee high relevance to business practice,” says Zoltán Antal-Mokos, an associate dean.

About half of ESMT’s graduates join the school’s founding companies upon graduation. “Such strong corporate support shows that a business school founded by business is a successful model in management education,” Antal-Mokos says.

Already, the panorama for B-schools in 2010 looks rosier than last year, which begs the question: Will the need to innovate stick, or will programs return to business as usual? Please share your opinion in our comment section below.

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