MBA Programs in Canada: Maple Trees, Bacon, and Business Schools?

Affordable and respected, Canadian business schools are luring international students north.

Value, reputation, and opportunity– three reasons why Canadian business schools are becoming harder-to-ignore destinations for MBA seekers from around the world. Even a decade ago, all but a few Canadian schools were just an afterthought for students bound for business school in North America.

Now there are over a dozen legitimate contenders for the best and brightest students from abroad.

Take Biswajit Das. After declining offers from some of the best business schools in his native India, Das enrolled at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, graduating in 2007. “I wanted to be a global manager in the 'flat world,' someone who has the ability to accept and deal with diversity in the world,” says Das.

“Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world and became my obvious choice.”

After graduating from Queen’s, Das landed a job with a top international consulting company, and has since worked all over the world.

The Human Development Index, with indexes factors like life expectancy, overall GDP and well being, consistently puts Canada near or at the top in terms of quality of life, perhaps causing waves of jealousy in their larger, lower-ranked neighbor to the south.

Indeed, for American students, Canadian MBA programs can be seen as affordable alternatives to pricey US business schools. According to Marie-Claude Lyster, the associate director of recruitment at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business lower tuitions are “definitely a good incentive to come up north and study.”

“But, of course, we hope that it's not only based on the cost,” she adds, “but that they're still looking for quality.”

Indeed, quality is becoming easier to find north of the border. Canadian business schools have been getting international exposure and acclaim. Concordia and 16 other Canadian MBA programs are AACSB-accredited. Meanwhile, three programs (Queen’s, HEC Montreal, and the Telfer School of Management in Ottawa) have the highly coveted “triple accreditation,” that is, they’re accredited by the three most important accreditation associations: AACSB, the Association of MBAs (AMBA), and the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS).

Many Canadian programs also regularly show up in global rankings. York Schulich, for example, was ranked first in this year’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes’ “Global 100” ranking of innovative programs integrating aspects of social and environmental stewardship. In Business Week’s non-U.S. ranking this year, Queen’s is the number-one program, with University of Western Ontario Ivey and the University of Toronto Rotman close behind at number four and eight, respectively.

But Canada is a big place, and many international students may be wondering about where in this huge expanse all these first-rate universities are. In fact, most of the business schools are in Canada’s two largest cities, Montreal and Toronto. Both cities have their appeal and attractions.

Montreal is smaller than Toronto, but there are quite a few business headquarters based in Montreal, and it hasn't suffered as much from unemployment compared to other Canadian cities. Additionally, it is a bilingual city, and in this sense, universities there can appeal to both English speakers and Francophones. Concordia, for example, allows students to submit assignments in French, though courses are taught in English. Additionally, students coming from France and other French-speaking countries pay local Quebec fees rather than international rates.

Toronto, on the other hand, is like Montreal’s bigger cousin – larger in almost every aspect. It's the financial center of the country, centrally located, and just a short flight away from other North American economic hubs, like New York and Chicago.

For international students looking to settle in Canada after graduation, the country offers some very unique advantages.

“The Canadian government allows students in a two-year program like this one to stay in Canada on a work visa for three years after they graduate,” notes Charmaine Courtis, executive director of student services and international relations at York Schulich.

“A lot of our students will probably consider permanent residency after graduation so they can consider working,” says Marie-Claude Lyster at Concordia in Montreal. “Or they'll get a work permit for one year after graduation, to gain some experience in Canada and go back to their country.”

[Read more: Working in Canada After an MBA]

Although Biswajit Das graduated from Queen’s in 2007, he did not stay in Canada. Nonetheless, he does not hesitate to recommend the experience of doing an MBA there, if only for the international experience.

“The world is getting flatter and one has to work with folks from other parts of the world and identify patterns and accept different points of view,” says Das. “A country such as Canada and a program like Queen's certainly gets you ready for that. I share my experiences with folks who have done their MBA in India, and I know what they have missed!”

Some programs have tapped into this concept and are adapting to it. Starting in January 2010, Schulich is offering a “MBA in India” program where students do the first year of a two-year program in India, after which they take a short class to help them integrate in Canada, and complete the program at Schulich’s Toronto campus.

“We have always had an interest in being a global school, and so this just increases our globalization,” says Charmaine Courtis at Schulich.

So while students from around the world are coming to Canada for international exposure, it seems Canadian business schools – like leading business schools everywhere - are seeing their growing success as a two-way street: Canadian business schools are now coming to them.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Creative Commons (cropped)


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