Latin America Holds its Own as an MBA Study Destination

Overseas students want to gain a deeper understanding of the local business climate and customs, but the economic and political environments are challenging

Latin America is holding its own as a business education destination. The education is high quality: AMBA has accredited 35 MBAs and other programs in the region, and EFMD’s EQUIS has certified 13 business schools. 

Accordingly, demand for MBAs is steady among Latin Americans, says Michael Wiemer, chief officer for the Americas at AACSB, another accreditation body. This is fueled, in part, by the globalization of Latin American business, which has “driven demand for increasingly global and specialized knowledge and skills”, he says. 

However, globalization has yet to come to Latin American business schools; most struggle to enroll international students, says Carlos Ramos, international advisor at AMBA. Between 5 percent and 15 percent of MBA students are from overseas, typically. A diversity of perspectives enriches everybody’s learning experience through group discussion. 

Latin American schools are not well-known outside the region, says Ramos, and Spanish and Portuguese are the most widely spoken languages. 

Most schools only offer part-time MBAs, according to Irineu Gianesi, dean of academic affairs at São Paulo’s Insper business school, limiting options. Latin Americans don’t see much value in pausing their careers to study full-time, except for a global experience in the US or Europe, he says. 

That said, Brazil’s FIA Business School, Argentina’s IAE Business School, Mexico’s IPADE Business School, and others offer variations of the English-language, full-time MBA. 

Studying an MBA in Latin America can come with other challenges

Gianesi adds, however, that in Brazil, the challenging economic and political environment has reduced the country’s attractiveness as a study destination, following a harsh recession and string of corruption scandals. “Similar environments are common in several countries in the region, with few exceptions.” 

Usually, overseas students come to Latin American because they have a family, cultural or business connection to the region. The main attraction is gaining a deeper understanding of the local business climate and customs, and to learn Spanish or Portuguese. 

Business schools across the region tend to have high levels of engagement with industry — Insper was has ties to André Esteves, the billionaire founder of BTG PActual, the country’s largest independent investment bank. 

“For students that do business in Latin America, it makes sense to pursue an MBA there,” says Friedemann Schulze-Fielitz, director of the Americas office of EFMD Global, which accredits schools. 

But he adds that experience of doing business in volatile environments is something that you cannot find everywhere, though it requires some flexibility. 

“Latin America is very important right now in the context of the global business model,” says Miguel Arteaga, director of corporate relations at IDE Business School in Ecudaor. “An MBA here will give you a different perspective on the world because of the economic challenges. You have to have better commercial strategies.”

Post-MBA careers in Latin America: diverse opportunities

Sergio Olavareta, former associate dean at Universidad de Chile, says some overseas students flock to Latin America because they think they will be more competitive there than in their home markets where MBA degrees are more common. 

The job opportunities are highly diverse, spanning the consulting, technology and financial services sectors. Also, agribusiness, mining and family business play a more significant role in Latin America than in other parts of the world. 

Part-time overseas students who want to stay in Latin America are not eligible for visas in some nations. But Olavareta notes that many countries are trying to attract foreigners to start businesses. “If you get a degree from an accredited school, it won’t be a problem [to work here].” 

Luiz Brito, dean of FGV EAESP in Brazil, agrees, saying that “if you are talented and get a degree from a good school, you will find a good job in Brazil with no difficulty”.  

Chile recently rolled out a new visa allowing foreign students to seek a job in the country for between 12 and 24 months after graduating. But overseas students will need to research visa options on a country by country basis. 

For schools, the challenge is to support all of their students throughout their entire career, says Brito. There is a growing need for lifelong learning, but Latin American schools have been slow to develop online courses. “An MBA is not the end of the journey,” he says, “it is just a milestone.

“A good manager today has a lot of responsibilities and travel in their job. So, we need to build flexible and adaptable learning systems.” 

Digitalization will play a significant role in transforming business education in Latin America, because it facilitates cross-cultural communication, which is more important for local firms as they globalize. “We need to have more connectivity and more opportunities for the participants to come and share insight with other people around the world,” says Arteaga at IDE in Ecuador. 

Ramos at AMBA says: “Given the size of the countries, the traffic congestion in big cities and the limitations of the physical infrastructure, the potential of blended and distance learning is huge.” 

Schools like Mexico’s EGADE Business School have begun to launch Online MBAs, signaling a shift. 

Online learning may help schools to become more interconnected locally and abroad, which Olavareta says is a priority: “We should offer programs, like they have in Europe with Erasmus, where people can exchange credits and go from one country to another without real complication. That would add value for students.” 

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