Business-School Boom

By Anastasia Moloney and Adam Jacobson

MBA programs in Colombia are seeing an uptick in enrollment as demand in the Andean nation for better-trained professionals grows and as curricula are retooled to compete with world-class universities.

Record levels of foreign investment and stable economic growth in Colombia have fueled the growth of MBA programs on offer across the Andean nation and brought a steady rise in enrollment at business schools in recent years. Spurred on by improved security around the nation, increasing numbers of multinationals from the banking sectors like Citibank and Spain’s Santander, along with international mining and oil giants from Canada, India and Australia, are doing business in Colombia. This in turn has led to demand for a local workforce with well-honed management and administration skills.

Among the institutions reaping the rewards is EAFIT University in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. EAFIT says it was the first private institution in the country to offer MBA programs, starting back in 1973.
“The number of MBA students continues to grow, for example from 305 students in 2006 to 400 this year. We expect a five to 10 percent growth in student enrollment over the next several years,” said Angela Maria Montoya, coordinator of EAFIT’s business school MBA program.
The majority of EAFIT’s MBA students are engineers, lawyers and middle managers already employed by Colombia’s leading firms, who are looking to improve their management and decision-making skills and gain a competitive edge in a tough job market, Montoya said.
Colombia’s biggest and most prominent companies also have higher expectations for potential employees. Bancolombia, the country’s largest bank, and the state-owned oil company, Ecopetrol, are known to seek potential hires that already have MBA educations.
“Colombian employers are increasingly looking for executives who are better trained and prepared. Also, having an MBA is becoming more of a requisite to secure senior-management posts and promotions,” Montoya said.
Another segment of the MBA population at EAFIT: doctors and dentists. Some of the medical professionals are seeking managerial positions in big hospitals; others plan to open private clinics and are keen to learn how to make management decisions and have a better understanding of finance in general.
The MBA program at EAFIT is tailored to senior managers who are combining their studies with full-time employment. “The two-year program is part-time involving eight hours of study a week, with a flexible timetable offering classes in the evenings and on Saturday,” Montoya said.
Universidad de los Andes, in Bogota — Colombia’s leading private university — launched an executive MBA program, specifically designed for the executive who already has years of on-the-job and other practical experience, in 2000.
The number of applicants in the most recent academic year was up by about 60 percent compared with the 2003-2004 academic year. As a result, Uniandes has become more selective, choosing the strongest students from a pool that is not limited to Colombian nationals but that attracts business people from around the region.
“We are an academically strong university that has built its reputation over many years,” said Luisa Fernanda Elsin, director of Uniandes’ Executive MBA program. “We now have Triple Crown accreditation and earned AACSB status last year. This continues to add to our prestige.”
Uniandes has revamped its curriculum over the past few years, implementing changes designed to put the school on par with the world’s leading universities and in response to student demand.
“We now offer the eight basic core courses all of the major universities in the world have,” Elsin said. A popular recent addition is a workshop on environmental policy and understanding bioecology and its ties to economics, one that also piques the interest of prospective executive MBA students as Colombia has emerged as a hub of environmentally targeted global economic development.
At least one course in each module is taught in English, an essential part of the Uniandes program, given the high interest in perfecting the language. “This will allow our students to compete in the global environment,” Elsin said.

Furthering the international marketability of the programs are international partnerships.
Over the past decade, EAFIT has partnered with such foreign institutions as the Leipzig Graduate School of Management in Germany and France’s Université de Strasbourg to offer joint MBA degrees, an initiative that has become a key selling point for executives looking to acquire much sought-after experience abroad.
Uniandes offers a Global MBA and Master’s of Global Management in cooperation with IESA in Caracas, ITAM in Mexico City and Tulane University in New Orleans in the United States. Participating students travel with an international group and study together in Colombia, the United States and Mexico, in addition to France and China.
The courses emphasize international leadership and business strategies.
Even though more local Colombian universities have MBA programs, few are accredited by leading international bodies. And for many Colombian executives, completing an MBA degree in the United States, and to a lesser extent Europe, is considered more prestigious and valuable than enrolling in homegrown programs.
To bridge that gap, experts say, Colombia will need to significantly boost the numbers of its internationally accredited MBA programs, focus on promoting good quality research and foster more partnerships with foreign universities.
However, for many students, the cost of going abroad is prohibitive.
Although most students are self-financed, Montoya says that up to 25 percent of MBA students at EAFIT have received some form of financial support or assistance from employers in the private and, in some cases, public sector.
“As part of their growing commitment to social responsibility, there’s been more interest from big Colombian private companies and even several medium-sized companies to support their employees not only in economic terms but also to allow them time off and flexible working hours to research and study for their MBA,” Montoya said.
Uniandes’ Elsin maintains that her program offers excellent value compared to other top business schools worldwide.
“We stand at the top of our competition in Latin America when it comes to student cost, but London School of Economics is more than twice as much as our program,” Elsin noted.
The executive MBA program has attracted students from such global giants as phone company Nokia and Brazilian state oil company Petrobras.
Its faculty has welcomed visiting professors from institutions like Georgia Tech, McGill University and Harvard Business School, who bring expertise— and prestige — to the Bogota program.
And the university has established a “business executive in residence” program, which brings seasoned executives and industry experts into the business school. Among the executives in residence is Jaime Bueno Miranda, a former president of KPMG Colombia who headed the company from 1984 to 2007.
Elsin says Uniandes will continue to innovate and develop its curriculum.
“We’re working toward having our students acquire more strategical viewpoints. Good decision-making will make our students stand apart,” Elsin said.

Moloney reported from Bogota; Jacobson from Miami.


MBA programs adapt to a globalized future

What is the overall outlook for your program in 2011 and beyond?

We … have more students starting in Mexico every year than from any other country — 80 students at one of our three campuses with the Tec de Monterrey. We also have campuses [all in partnership with the Tec de Monterrey] in Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia and in Panama. We will be opening up in Argentina this year.
Jay Bryant, Director of Admissions and Recruitment, Thunderbird School of Global Management (Glendale, Arizona)

Peru, Colombia and Chile continue to be strong markets for Kellogg from an application standpoint. In addition, professionals in Europe are increasingly applying to our program, and several current students are commuting from London. Another positive trend is related to growth in the number of female applicants. The 2011 Executive MBA January cohort has the highest percentage of female students in the Miami Campus to date.
Carolina Piña, MBA Associate Director – Miami Campus, Kellogg School of Management

The University of Miami Spanish-language Global Executive MBA program continues to [draw] strong interest from applicants who reside in Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. However, we definitely market in pan-regional and other markets, as it is extremely important to have a significant cross-section of all of Latin America in the classroom in order to offer a dynamic and diverse student experience. The English Executive MBA program attracts participants who are now living in the United States.
Anuj Mehrotra, Vice Dean of Faculty Affairs and Graduate Business Programs, University of Miami School of Business Administration

We expect a 10 percent growth in our executive education activity. Custom programs are growing because companies are allocating their development budgets in highly customized programs, which tackle their strategic company needs. We expect to maintain steady growth, especially in our short, specialized courses.
Joaquín Uríbarri, Director of Marketing & International Development, Executive Education, IE Business School (Madrid)

Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in students from Asia and Europe. Our program is held almost every Saturday, so the majority of our students live and work in South Florida. They do come from all over the world, many from Latin America.
Sarah Perez, Executive Director, MBAs for Executives and Professionals, Florida International University (Miami, Florida)

Where do you see the most or growing interest on the part of students?

Short workshops focused on hot topics for companies in today’s situation, such as developing strategic vision for uncertain times, building customer-centric organizations, reinforcing leadership skills for the key talent, etcetera.
IE’s Uríbarri

We are seeing more applicants from the healthcare sector — primarily medical doctors eager to obtain a stronger foundation in business practices.
Kellogg’s Piña

Our EMBA students will now have the opportunity to participate in an international consortium of EMBA programs where they can choose from three different locations—in Brazil, Moscow or Bologna — to attend a one-week executive-education-style seminar. Topics will depend on the host school; however, the theme is business innovation in a global context.
FIU’s Perez

Students are increasingly interested in focusing more heavily on particular business areas, such as marketing, finance and international business. For this reason, the University of Miami recently added electives to the Executive MBA program. Prior to the elective terms, all students vote from among more than 40 electives and those that are in most demand — up to 16 — will be offered. From those, each student will select six electives to be taken over the two elective terms. We are also seeing increased interest in our Executive MBA in Health Sector Management and Policy Program. In 2009, applications to this program increased over 60 percent and class enrollment in the past two years has remained strong.
University of Miami’s Mehrotra

Interviews were conducted by Adam Jacobson and Mary Sutter and were edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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