Business Amidst Oxford's Dreaming Spires

The Saïd Business School's Stephan Chambers discusses the high-powered and academic MBA program and its focus on social entrepreneurship

Stephan Chambers is a fellow of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford (second tier of BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top international MBA programs) in Britain. He runs the school's MBA programs, teaches New Business Development and Entrepreneurship, and works with the university's technology transfer company, Isis Innovation.

Chambers joined Oxford three years ago after a 17-year career at Blackwell Publishers. "Oxford is a fantastic place to go to business school if you care about a wider intellectual, social, and sporting community," he says. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Have the number of applications increased recently?


We have four admissions stages spaced evenly between October and June. Last year, we enrolled about 180 students, and the year before about 160. Next year, we would like to take about 195 students, just for the full-time MBA. But we don't really want to become a big business school.

Q: Why is your program considered an up-and-coming one?


We have had a lot of press, first, because we're a department of Oxford University. And Oxford established a business school late by international standards [in 1996], nearly 100 years after the founding of many schools in the U.S. Second, we have been successful in a short time by attracting some of the best students and faculty in the world. Third, we have launched a number of initiatives, such as 2004's Social Entrepreneurship Center, a research center that was partially funded by an eBay (EBAY ) co-founder [Jeff Skoll] and allows us to offer a series of social entrepreneurship classes [using entrepreneurial approaches to address social problems] to MBA students.

We also provide five annual scholarships to people who are committed to social enterprise and wouldn't normally go to business school. That's changing the balance of the school -- both intellectually and socially.

Q: Who is a good fit for Oxford?


They must have the intellectual wherewithal to pass the course, obviously. We like our students to have at least six years of work experience. They tend to be slightly older than in the U.S. Our average age is about 29 or 30 years old. They also tend to have a high GMAT score, around 690, though that's not as heavily weighted as interviews and essays.

They must be explicitly interested in a course that is intentionally high-powered and academic. They also have to believe in the inherent value of diversity. If you want to sit next to someone who is just like you, then Oxford might not be the place for you.

Q: What's the percentage of international students?


Our class is about 30% American, 30% European, 30% Asian and Australasian, and the remaining 10% African, predominantly from the southern part of the continent. That's a huge difference between our programs and those in the U.S., which are overwhelmingly American. The surprising thing is how many North Americans we have coming to our program.

Q: Why do you think European and British schools are attracting more Indian and Chinese students than American schools?


It probably has a lot to do with the ease with which European countries issue student visas. Now, the British government allows graduates of the top 20 programs in the world to work in the U.K. for a year with a special kind of visa. After one year, it's up to the individual to either reapply or return to their home country.

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