Since the fall of Berlin Wall (twenty years ago this month), eastern Europe has represented a kind of frontier for entrepreneurs and multinational corporations. In the once Soviet-dominated bloc, the last two decades have brought sweeping political and economic change to countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, some local business schools have emerged as enticing options for international MBA students seeking a quality education at a good value, as well as a potential foothold in the region.
Many of these schools are highly regarded internationally: 14 schools across eastern Europe and Russia are accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA), one of the main international accreditation organizations. Better still for students from abroad, a number of these institutions have started to offer MBA programs entirely in English.
International students can usually expect to pay substantially less for a business education in eastern Europe than in the United States, Britain, or western Europe. In Poland, for example, two of the country's most sought-after business schools - the Warsaw University of Technology Business School (WUT) and the Pozna, University of Economics – offer MBA programs in the range of USD 11,000-14,000.
“The good MBA programs match those ones in western Europe as far as the quality is concerned,” says WUT Professor Witold Orłowski, “while remaining much less expensive for students.”
But cost isn’t the only motivating factor. Tadeusz Kowalski, who teaches at Poznań University, says that students are coming to eastern Europe for the international atmosphere. An MBA here, he says, “enables a foreigner not only to expand her or his knowledge and skills, but also to make friends and learn more about a specific business environment.”
Armen Avakian, an Armenian raised in the United States, would agree. After looking at MBA options in the US, he finally settled on the MBA program at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary.
“I just kind of fit in,” says Avakian. “It fit perfectly into what I was thinking at the moment, that business isn't just business anymore, especially in Europe, eastern Europe, and emerging regions. Business is more global.”
If Avakian was looking for a global experience, that is exactly what he found in Budapest. In a group of only 25 students in his MBA class at CEU, 19 different nationalities were represented.
“It was amazing,” he says. “When an issue came up while we were talking about a subject or a case, you would get at least 19 different perspectives on the same exact problem.”
This globalized nature of business and business education has produced a vitality in the region that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the schools there.
According to Zbigniew Turowski, director of the WUT in Warsaw, ambitious international students will fit in well in Poland, where the business atmosphere drips with opportunity. A student coming to study in Poland, says Turowski, “immediately recognizes that he or she is in this young, very dedicated community which is interested in growing industries like information communication technology and bio-technology.”
Depending on their geographical and academic interests, there are MBA programs all over the region that appeal to international students. In Germany, there’s the Central European MBA, or CeMBA at ESCP in Berlin and the part-time MBA for Central and eastern Europe at European University Viadrina, right on the Polish-German border.
In Slovenia, check out IEDC Bled’s well-known EMBA program. The Ukrainian school IIB, located in Kiev, offers an international MBA in partnership with the University of New Brunswick. And Vlerick Leuven, in St. Petersburg, offers a very highly regarded EMBA program.
All of these programs offer valuable insight into an economically vigorous region of the world. Indeed, the relative youth of the regional MBA scene coupled with an energetic economy has created opportunities for business schools to implement new and unique curricula. Julia Davis, an American, became interested in the SKOLKOVO program in Moscow after hearing about it from a friend.
“Everything I read about this school was very attractive to me,” she says. “I liked the fact that they were looking at new ways of teaching.”
The SKOLKOVO program is a 16-month program, of which only 5 months are spent in classrooms. The rest of the time includes an internship in a Russian public-private partnership, three months working in either China or India, and then three more months in a business in the United States.
After finishing her MBA, Davis is unsure whether she’ll stay in Russia. “I didn't come here with that decided,” she says, “so it will depend on the opportunities that I'll have after that's completed.”
According to Zbigeniew Turowski at WUT in Warsaw, many students come to study in the region to try and get traction in the emerging market. He says that Poland offers many growing industries that appeal to international students.
“Any sector they are interested in,” he says, “they can find a place to learn more about this sector.” He points to aerospace and ecological products as examples of strong industries that international students are attracted to.
Armen Avakian originally wanted to go to Armenia after his MBA at CEU to work in a family business, but those plans changed once he was offered a job in Budapest even before he graduated.
Now, when asked for his impressions of the program and of Budapest, Avakian says it’s the place for those looking for challenges, experiences, and opportunities. It some senses, Hungary – like the rest of the region – is still a frontier.
“You have to be a bit more of the adventurous type,” he says. “If you just want to go to a Wall Street firm and make 500,000 dollars a year and sit in your office, then this is not your place.”