Part-Time MBA Programs in Europe: Continental Attractions

Modular programs are the only way that some can pursue an MBA. But flexibility is not their only advantage over full-time programs

Last year, Paris-based engineer Nick Hwang faced a typical dilemma for many young working professionals – to do an MBA or not.

And like many who face this question, Hwang decided he couldn't afford to take two years off to pursue full-time program. Instead, Hwang enrolled in the part-time MBA program at HEC Paris in January 2012.

“I wanted to do a part-time program because I didn't see the benefit of taking two years off to go back to school,” he says.

Luckily for professionals in Hwang's situation, Europe hosts a number of high-quality part-time and blended MBA programs. These programs offer working professionals the chance to develop their business skills while maintaining professional and personal obligations.

For example, Hwang has been able to fit classes into his busy work schedule because his MBA program meets in Paris for just one week a month.

Many part-time MBA programs in Europe are designed in this type of modular format, and cater specifically to working professionals. For example, students in Mannheim Business School's new part-time MBA program (which launches in September 2013) will meet for five to seven days once every eight weeks. The program has already attracted inquiries from all across Europe, and academic director Sabine Kuester says that she expects “a rather international class.”

Likewise, students in the Professional MBA program at WU Executive Academy in Vienna meet Thursday through Sunday once every six to eight weeks. Between in-class sessions, students do online exercises and readings, and are also able to directly apply what they've learned in the workplace.

The program's format means that students do not necessarily have to live and work in Vienna, and in fact, many international students in come just for classes. Even though many of the participants come from Central Europe, “we have had participants from the US, who fly in for every module,” says Barbara Stöttinger, the program's academic director.

Stuart Dixon, program manager for the EuroMBA consortium, says that students from the US and other places are attracted to part-time MBA programs in Europe because they provide specific values that are harder to find elsewhere.

For example, potential students might “look for a European program, because they get to meet different cultures,” he says, “which can be more difficult if you're living in the US or somewhere else.”

And perhaps more importantly, Dixon says, “they find that a European adventure feeds their creativity and ideas.”

Over the course of the two years of the EuroMBA program, students meet for week-long residential modules at six business schools across Europe (including Germany's HHL Leipzig, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and EADA in Spain.) In between the residential weeks, students participate in online course modules, where they examine the “functional parts of management,” like finance, accounting, strategy, and human resource management.

One of the main benefits of part-time MBA programs is that they allow working students to immediately leverage their learning in the workplace.

“It's an ongoing development of your own professional performance,” says WU Executive Academy's Barbara Stöttinger. “You get new ideas, and you can introduce them the next day.”

Diego Santos-Burgoa, a current student in the EuroMBA program, agrees. He saw a lot of overlap between his studies and his business development role in an auto parts supplier.

“I was studying marketing,” says Santos-Burgoa, “and at the same time I also had to implement a marketing plan while I was working. And I could understand it much easier.”

Santos-Burgoa says that his MBA program is valuable in that it allows him to examine business concepts from an external perspective.

“The program brings you outside of your everyday working and personal experiences,” he says, “and brings you to a new dimension in your thinking.”

The immediate application of practical business knowledge is extremely beneficial in terms of career growth, as well.

“This is a springboard where students can shine in their companies,” says Bernard Garrette, associate dean for the HEC Paris MBA. One of the requirements of that program is a hands-on field project, which most students do with their current employer. So, the company also benefits immediately from having their employee in a part-time MBA program.

Indeed, many students use part-time MBA programs to move up the ladder in their own companies. But others find that once they start an MBA program, they are exposed to new ideas that can inspire them to make more substantial career shifts.

According to WU Executive Academy's Barbara Stöttinger, “They might say, 'I had this feeling that I wasn't in the right place anymore, and the MBA experience, talking to colleagues, getting new knowledge and insights – all of this had increased my willingness to change.'”

HEC Paris student Nick Hwang agrees.

“My first idea was to grow within my company,” he says, “but after I joined the MBA, I saw that there were a lot of things out there, so I'm considering maybe switching careers, or even industries afterwards.”

Diego Santos-Burgoa says that the EuroMBA has helped him clarify his long-term career goals, so that eventually, he could start his own business. He says that the program has “given me a better structure in terms of what I want to do, how I could do it, what are the tools that I need, the team I have to build up, all these kinds of things.”

But Santos-Burgoa also acknowledges that it has been challenging to fit an MBA program into his busy life.

“I changed jobs, I changed location, and I also had a son during this process,” he says, “so I've really had to plan.”

“You have to organize yourself quite well in order to find a good balance.”

Photo: M. Filtz

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