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Barcelona: a top city to take an MBA

The Financial Times recently ranked the top twenty business schools for undertaking an MBA (Master of Business Administration) programme. Two of these schools are in Barcelona: IESE and ESADE, 7th and 19th in the world ranking respectively. Both have around a 90% international student intake for these courses. In recent years, Barcelona has become a global educational destination for MBA students that come to the city attracted by the quality of the schools but also by the city brand and the lifestyle. However, Barcelona is not only a player in business but also in the field of economic research and investigation. 

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11 May 2015 07:36 PM

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Marta Castillo / Georgina Garriga

Barcelona (CNA).- According to the latest Financial Times Business School rankings, three of the twenty best MBA (Master of Business Administration) programmes are in Spain and two of them are located in Barcelona. Over recent years, Barcelona has become a global educational destination for MBA students that come specifically to study at these schools from all over the world as the city brand has become an attraction in itself. For this reason, the internationalisation of these centres and the Barcelona brand has become one of their most important investments as most of the MBA courses are composed of approximately 90% international students. IESE and ESADE are the top business schools in Barcelona according to the Financial Times Ranking occupying 7th and 19th position respectively. However, Barcelona has also become an educational point of reference in economic  research and investigation.


According to Ivan Bofarull, Director of the Global Intelligence Office at ESADE, MBA programmes have become a global educational standard in the business sphere. For this reason, “there is such international competition to capture talent interested in business schools and management positions”, Bofarull says. Each school uses their own techniques to reach the international target. According to Eric Weber, Associated General Director at IESE, the promotion of bilingual educational programmes taught in English and Spanish, the creation of formational courses adapted to companies’ needs and international collaborations with other business centres are some of the initiatives these schools do to position themselves worldwide. In this sense, both the spokesmen for ESADE and the IESE agree that the image the world has of Barcelona can help to attract potential students although, most of them, go back to their home countries once the course has finished.

Business Schools vs. Schools of Economics

Nevertheless, business schools are not the only economics-related education option internationally known. According to the Professional Association of Economists in Barcelona (Col·legi d’Economistes), the quality of the research in Catalonia has made Barcelona become a worldwide point of reference in this regard. Regarding research, the Col·legi d’Economistes refers either to public universities working in economics projects such as the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), as well as to specific centres focused on research, such as the Centre de Recerca en Economia Internacional (CREI).

Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) offers a global ranking for this kind of education, according to which the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (GSE) is the top-ranked school among the best research institutions in Spain, the 5th in Europe and 15th in the world. In this sense, Clara Kirchner, the spokeswoman for GSE, explains the difference between themselves and business schools is that their formation is focused on a scientific and more academic perspective rather than business schools which are more concentrated on management skills. Because of this, Clara Kirchner admits other Barcelona business schools are not considered their main competition as they have different approaches. Their direct competitors are other powerful economic schools such as the London School of Economics (LSE), for example. However, as with business schools, international students also take the leading role, with 84% of students from more than fifty different countries choosing Barcelona as the destination for their education. In this regard, Clara Kirchner highlights the importance of the internationalisation of these centres as, according to her, “we impact on the city by importing talent to Barcelona but also when exporting it abroad with the brand of the city”.

The Barcelona brand

The city has good schools according to the rankings but this is not the only reason for students to choose the Catalan capital. For an international student that can decide between studying in different places of the world with an equal level of education, the city is an important factor. “Barcelona was a very big aspect in choosing the school. I think it is one of the best cities in Europe to live in, especially as a student” explains Antoni Schilling, student of the GSE. Maybe when you say Barcelona, people don’t associate it at first with good education but with an attractive lifestyle. However, it is a major player in some fields and the lifestyle is a plus for the quality of the institutions. In the same vein, Eric Weber from IESE highlights the “cosmopolitan nature of the city, its good weather and balanced lifestyle” as positive incentives that make Barcelona a more attractive place for international students to come to.

However, the city cannot absorb all the talent that these schools attract. Around 60% of the international students go back to their home countries. Only some of them stay in Barcelona because they decide to be entrepreneurs or because some of the multinational companies in the city hire them. The problem is that the labour market is much more attractive in other countries. “But the important thing is that if these students that do not stay in Barcelona, they have the city in their minds for future projects” Ivan Bofarull from ESADE says.

According to Clara Kirchner from GSE, “Barcelona and the business schools have the challenge to keep all this talent in the city” so the investment made in education finds its results. However, Ivan Bofarull from ESADE concludes that it is necessary to fix long-term goals in the sense that the most important thing is students leave the city with a good experience so, eventually, they may find a way to come back through international projects or other kinds of investments that will be positive for Barcelona. “The social impact business schools generate in Barcelona has to be analysed long-term”, Bofarull says.

Eric Weber from IESE also confirms the clear relation between the development of the Barcelona brand and the expansion of business schools through the creation of “clusters of excellence in Barcelona”. In that regard, Weber emphasises that “there is no other European country with so many business schools in the worldwide rankings, having two of them located in the same city”. “It would be a mistake to say that people come first to Barcelona and then look for the appropriate business school but, anyway, the brand of the city is becoming a huge influence”, Weber concludes.

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  • The first operational day of ESADE's Creapolis campus in Sant Cugat del Vallès (Greater Barcelona), in 2009 (by ACN)

  • The first operational day of ESADE's Creapolis campus in Sant Cugat del Vallès (Greater Barcelona), in 2009 (by ACN)