MBA Programs in Scandinavia: Northern Highlights

Nordic countries have plenty of draw, just not many full-time MBA programs. Will this change?

If you're a young professional, there's plenty to like about Scandinavia. Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway are picturesque, innovative countries with dynamic economies and companies with global reach.

But it's not exactly easy to find an English-language, full-time MBA program there. And with some of the region's schools (Stockholm University School of Economics and BI Norwegian, for example) cutting their full-time MBA programs in recent years, it has gotten even trickier for international students.

Shall we call it the curious case of the disappearing full-time MBA program?

Last year, BI Norwegian put their full-time MBA program on hold, deciding instead to develop their Executive MBA programs. Two of these programs - an Energy EMBA program and a Shipping, Offshore and Finance EMBA program - tap into these two particular strengths of the Norwegian economy, thus creating a unique draw for international students to Oslo.

"We saw that when we were growing so strongly in the Executive MBA area, and that it would be a good idea to focus our resources on that segment," says Glenn Ruud, director of Executive MBA programs at BI Norwegian, adding that the full-time MBA might be resumed sometime in the future.

Still, it is hard to understand why there are so few full-time, international programs in the region compared to, say, Germany and The Netherlands. At the moment, there are only a handful in Scandinavia, including those at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and the University of Oulu in northern Finland, as well as a new "Sustainable MBA" at Denmark's Aarhus University.

Michael Wrzosek enrolled in the full-time MBA at CBS because of its reputation in Europe and its focus on Scandinavian practices and leadership perspectives. Working for years in Germany, Wrzosek had heard about Scandinavian management styles as something that European companies aspired to.

"During these years in Germany I repeatedly noticed how people, be it in companies or elsewhere, kept benchmarking themselves against Scandinavian practice," says Wrzosek. "Scandinavian management style, Scandinavian education, Scandinavian, you name it..."

Through the program in Copenhagen, Wrzosek has gotten a closer look at management styles that stress leading by consensus and motivation, promoting a healthy life-work balance, and just "letting people do what they're best at" rather than sustaining rigid hierarchies.

Although Wrzosek doesn't intend to stay in Copenhagen after he graduates, many in his class will likely land jobs with local Danish companies like Maersk, Novo Nordisk, Nordea, and Alfa Laval. The Danish green card system allows MBA grads stay and work in Denmark for three years.

"Each year about 50 or 60 percent find employment here," says Lee Milligan, MBA admissions manager at CBS. "It shows that companies here are open to employing international students."

But wouldn't the same be true in Sweden, Finland, and Norway, where international giants like IKEA, Nokia, and Ericsson are based?

Ironically, full-time Swedish MBA programs - though none are currently offered in English - are often sought after by bargain-hunting international students because university tuition in Sweden is covered by the government. This, however, will change beginning in the autumn of 2011 as the Swedish government introduces tuition fees for students from outside of the European Economic Area.

Last year, Swedish Education Minister Tobias Kranz said Swedish universities ought to compete globally based on their quality, and "not by offering a free education."

Will tuition fees make it more attractive for Swedish institutions to offer international MBAs? Perhaps. But tuition aside, there's also the issue of living costs, which might deter some students. Scandinavia's cities are some of the world's most livable, but they are also some of the world's most expensive for expats, according to the Economist magazine: Oslo (#1), Copenhagen (#3), and Helsinki (#9, tied with Frankfurt).

So far, the preferred MBA delivery model in the Nordic countries seems to be Executive MBA programs or part-time MBA programs, both of which appeal to older and employed students. If you happen to belong to this target group, there are a number of quality, accredited programs offered in English, including those at BI Norwegian, Stockholm School of Economics, University of Gothenberg, Aalto University School of Economics (formerly the Helsinki School of Economics), and the Hanken School of Economics.

Pertti Salo worked for over a decade as an executive in the Finnish wine and spirits industry before choosing the Hanken MBA, a part-time program taught once a month in Helsinki.

Salo picked Hanken because of its international student makeup (about 30 percent) and its strong reputation in Finland (he recalls hiring Hanken MBA grads as a manager). Salo also praises his fellow students, who with an average age of 37, come into the program with years of experience already under their belts.

"It is a difficult thing to do - to bring in a diverse set of students, and that they add value to each other," says Salo.

For Scandinavian students who can (or prefer to) study in their native language, there are more MBA and EMBA options, such as Sweden's Uppsala University and Finland's University of Jyväskylä.

So, while there are several MBA options for native students or professionals settled in the area, the full-time MBA is still a potential gateway to Scandinavia for only a limited number of international students in Copenhagen and the few other full-time programs offered in the region. These are worth a look. And in the constantly changing global MBA market, new (or revived) programs could sprout up and put the Nordic countries back on the European MBA map.

For more information about the Scandinavian MBA programs mentioned in this article and others, please follow the links below.

Photo: Jim Nix / Flickr

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