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Trump election blamed as foreign MBA students shun US schools

Jonathan Moules
Commencement ceremonies at the Harvard Business School campus in front of Baker Library, in Boston, MA.
Rick Friedman | Corbis | Getty Images

Donald Trump's election to the White House is to blame for the growing number of US business schools seeing a drop in MBA applications from overseas students, the head of the elite qualification's global examining board says.

Only 32 per cent of US business schools reported an increase in international candidates for their masters programmes this year, down from 49 per cent in 2016, with most seeing a fall, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the US based non-profit body that administers the GMAT entrance exam worldwide.

Fewer than half of US schools achieved an overall increase in applications. But the GMAC blamed this on the strengthening of the US economy, which reduced the incentive to spend money on a qualification to improve job prospects.

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In contrast, most of the MBA programmes surveyed in Europe, east and Southeast Asia and India reported growth both in total applications and those from overseas students.

Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and chief executive, blamed the "disruptive" political climate in the US for contributing to the downward trend in overseas applications.

Challenges in the US market were in stark contrast to growth elsewhere, where MBA programmes were "thriving", Mr Chowfla added.

About two-thirds of MBA programmes in the UK saw an increase in international applications, suggesting the country's planned exit from the EU had not had the same negative impact as the election of Mr Trump, he said.

"Demand for graduate business education remains strong, especially among the largest programmes, which also tend to be the most well known programmes with brand recognition," he added.

The decline in demand in the US was focused on smaller schools, which account for 56 per cent of its MBA programmes but only 11 per cent of enrolments.

The largest MBA courses in the US were more likely to report increased application numbers.

The pressure for students to complete courses quickly to minimise the cost and time out of employment is also driving MBA applicants to pick shorter courses as well as those with the strongest brands.

Most courses in the US take two years, whereas in Europe, where 67 per cent of schools reported an increase in overseas applications last year, most last for one.

Nottingham Trent University, which saw a 25 per cent increase in MBA applications from overseas students, is among the UK schools enjoying an uptick.

Application numbers may dip when Brexit becomes a reality. However Phil Considine, principal lecturer at the university, said demand for British business schools would continue to benefit from the international reputation of the UK business environment.

"Clearly Brexit is going to give us challenges," said Mr Considine. "But I genuinely believe at the end of the process overseas students will still want to come and study here because the fairness of the business environment, which is held in high regard."

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