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International MBA students look for alternatives to US

  • Top American business schools report fewer foreign students amid Covid-19 travel restrictions and shifting immigration policies

With fewer international students entering many of the top M.B.A. programs in the U.S. this fall, some of their overseas competitors are getting a boost.

International M.B.A. programs, especially those in Europe and Canada, are seeing an increase in interest from prospective students who want to stay closer to home and from students in Asia and Latin America increasingly turned off to studying in the U.S. The Imperial College Business School in London, for instance, said international applications for its September class jumped 55%, partly driven by an increase in applicants from Asia. Business-school consulting firm CarringtonCrisp, meanwhile, found that nearly half of the prospective students it surveyed considered Canada for their degree this year—up from 38% a year ago.

Fueling the increase are Covid-19 travel restrictions, higher tuition costs in the U.S. and an American political climate marked by increased U.S.-China tensions and shifting immigration policies, say schools and admissions coaches. M.B.A. programs in the U.S. already were struggling to lure foreign students in recent years, including a 14% drop a year ago. Overseas students are critical to the bottom line of the U.S. programs: They accounted for roughly 40% of all applicants to U.S. business schools in 2019, and they often pay full tuition and fees.

“We are seeing candidates who would have traditionally looked at Ivy League schools in the U.S. in the past," said Teresa Pires, associate director of recruitment and admissions for the M.B.A. program of Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. “Because it may be harder to stay in the U.S., securing permanent residency, job security, they just feel like it’s a safer bet here."

Even as applications surged at many top business schools this year, many of them reported sharp declines in the numbers of students from overseas. The international student population at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School two-year M.B.A program declined from 30% for the 2021 class to 19% for the 2022 class, and from 27% to 18% at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

The schools say some of the students decided to defer their admission a year or two rather than attend online or partially online classes—as dictated by pandemic policies—and yet pay full freight. In addition, an array of travel restrictions from the pandemic and visa restrictions on countries such as China and Brazil have made it harder for students to make it to the U.S., said Peter Johnson, an assistant dean at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s a key differentiation from Western Europe and Canada, who don’t share that same challenge," he said.

While interest in online U.S. M.B.A. programs has grown this year, a recent survey of prospective students from the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council said international candidates are still more likely to consider pursuing an in-person M.B.A. closer to their home compared with online learning.

Joseph Milner, vice dean of M.B.A. programs at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said its domestic applications increased this year, partly because of Canadian students’ willingness to stay closer to home. He also said overseas applications for its 2021 admissions cycle were surging as many prospective students favor the country’s guaranteed work permit compared with the U.S. student visa system. The permit allows international graduates to work for any Canadian employer without the requirement of a job offer at the time of applying.

“Over the last three to four years, U.S. immigration policy has made Canada a place people want to come," Mr. Milner said.

India native Akanksha Agrawal, 28 years old, said she decided to get a one-year M.B.A. in Canada at the Smith School of Business because of the country’s more lenient visa policies. Ms. Agrawal, who has a job lined up at Deloitte, said she had looked at some American programs but saw her husband go through the H-1B visa lottery system in the U.S. and didn’t want to go through the same process. “With the initial cost of an M.B.A. and the financial burden, you have to be certain that you will get the return after spending so much money," she said.

To be sure, the U.S. consistently remains one of the most popular destinations for international students. Roughly two-thirds of prospective students surveyed during the summer by the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council survey said their plans to study in the U.S. remained unchanged by the pandemic.

Brandon Kirby, director of M.B.A. recruitment and admissions at Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, said the school had seen an increase in M.B.A. applications over the past several years from the Middle East, Thailand, the Philippines and parts of Latin America. He said the students are attracted to the country’s visa system and its shorter, less expensive one-year M.B.A.

He also said more domestic students in the Netherlands are applying to stay closer to home and are interested in the program’s part-time or executive programs that allow them to keep their jobs in their home country rather than depart for the U.S. “The U.S. remains a top destination for a lot of students but it won’t be at the level it was," Mr. Kirby said.

At the IE Business School in Madrid, school dean Martin Boehm said more students were applying from Latin America and from across Europe who want to stay closer to home. “They are probably more comfortable staying in Europe and being just a two or three-hour flight away," he said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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