One of the professed advantages of LBS is the international student body. Schools shout from the rooftops about the number of nationalities represented
But does this really matter? Is a school with 60 different nationalities better for you than one with 30?
I think diversity matters and that it makes the student experience better. But it matters in ways that aren’t easily nailed down, tangible and predictable in advance.
Some of the most important things we want to get out of school, such as a job and business knowledge, aren’t necessarily impacted by being in a school with higher than average levels of diversity. As such, it’s understandable if other factors play a larger role when deciding where to study.
So onto the practicalities of life at school:
Verdict – In general, the lessons learned from cases will be the same, irrespective of whether the class is particularly internationally diverse
Wherever you choose to study, the majority of cases are US-focused. Whether its marketing or operations, whether you’re in London or Singapore, odds are you’ll spend your time reading about American protagonists in American companies. This isn’t a big issue in that we want to learn fundamental principles; principles that are substantially true whether you’re working at headquarters in Texas, or a subsidiary in Italy.
If the class is made up of many nationalities then general discussion should bring forth any region specific nuances where they are relevant. Our first year Ethics class comes to mind – debates about issues like bribery were definitely made livelier by the range of first-hand experiences in the class. In a more homogenous group, this class would have been missed something important.
Rather than relying on class composition to highlight cultural differences, they might be teased out more forcefully by basing cases outside America and Europe in the first place. But the market for business school cases doesn’t really allow for this. Most schools use the same old material. So the ideal of an international school that addresses issues from an Asian, African, European and American perspective just doesn’t exist.
But for the modules we cover on this course, how many cultural differences are there to elicit? A regression is a regression. Porter’s 5 forces don’t get whittled down to 2 forces when you cross a border. And are any differences significant enough, and relevant to enough people to warrant significant extra attention?
For the core modules a typical course focuses on, I suspect not.
Verdict – Lectures aside, being in an international group can make life more interesting. There’s no structure to what you’ll learn, but you’ll learn something; provided you actually want to.
Perhaps the benefits of an international class are principally to do with new perspectives on non-academic matters. I couldn’t give you a clear syllabus-like record of things I’ve learned about other cultures. But there have been innumerable lunches / dinners / drinks sessions etc. spent talking with people about their time spent outside the UK – discussions about work life, leisure, traditions, all sorts of things. The diversity of the student body may impact the range of overseas treks that get organised, and perhaps make those trips a little more fun.
But these are differences at the margins.
If you’re interested in new travel, learning about new cultures etc. then you’ll seek out relevant experiences independent of what school you attend. Indeed, taking 6-12 months out to travel is would be a quicker and significantly cheaper way to get exposure to new environments and people. Conversely, if travel etc. isn’t your priority, then even the most diverse school in the world is unlikely to change your decisions and attitudes much.
Verdict – The number of passports and visa stamps in the class probably won’t affect your job prospects either way. The student body’s skills and professional experiences are what will drive companies to come knocking on the school’s door.
The primary promise of the course is to help you professionally; to spur progress in your existing company, to help you get a better job, etc. What matter most here, is the relationship careers services teams have key employers. Employers (particularly t hose recruiting for multiple geographies care about diversity, but first and foremost, they want a pool of capable people. The latter is determined by the school’s selection criteria. You could create that pool of capable people using only people from the UK, or only people from Asia, etc. Or as in the real world, you can use a mix of people from everywhere. But beyond a certain point, the decision about whether or not a school is worth visiting, is likely to be determined by perceived capabilities; by matters independent of where someone’s passport is from.
In writing the above, I’m comparing a school of average levels of diversity to one with significantly higher levels. There’s a bar that should be met to deliver a good experience, and I think most schools do that just fine; both US and Europe. Speaking as an LBS student, I’m happy that brits comprise just 10% of the student body and wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people with exactly the same background as me.
So in each of these areas – academic life, social like, and work life – there is something to be gained from having an international student body. But in my view, the benefits are primarily non-academic. They’re important but can’t really be quantified. But in certain important areas, more diversity is probably not going to help you. As such, diversity is just one of many criteria to be considered when making a decision.