A Bulgarian professor speaking to an audience of some 70 nationalities on the operations of a company in Argentina may sound like an international summit meeting at Davos, but it is in fact a window into one of the many lively class discussions for MBA students at Insead Business School. 'Insead is like the UN of business schools. Diversity has been important to us. The school was founded with this in mind and it continues to live this spirit well,' said Jake Cohen, Insead's dean of MBA. Diversity may have been long coveted by business schools, but efforts to drive international recruitment have intensified in recent years as school administrators and prospective candidates increasingly understand the crucial role that diversity plays in an ever-complex, interdependent and fast-moving world. 'Driven by globalisation and economic integration, executives are no longer just solving problems in their own backyards, but are managing across borders,' said Edward Buckingham, associate director of Insead executive MBA programmes. The financial crisis is a case in point of how this interdependency is playing out. 'What, for example, does the credit crunch mean for someone sitting in Thailand versus Britain? A diverse classroom helps people get a cross-cultural perspective and understand different viewpoints,' said Neil Logan, director of international business at University of Reading's Henley Business School. By galvanising the force of the alumni network, participating in MBA fairs worldwide, and implementing an effective communications strategy, business schools are aggressively recruiting beyond their shores, with candidates spanning China, South America, South Africa and Russia. The location of the campus could also make a difference to international recruitment, noted professor Steven Dekrey, senior associate dean at University of Science and Technology's Business School. 'We have certainly benefited from being in Hong Kong, an international global centre, which is something prospective candidates find attractive.' The University of Science and Technology is one school where international recruitment has yielded dividends. About 80 per cent of students on its MBA and EMBA are from outside of Hong Kong, a striking comparison to the early 1990s when the proportion of overseas students was only 20 per cent. Other business schools have made similar leaps in international recruitment. In 2007, Henley Business School made a concerted effort to recruit more foreign students, particularly from India, China and Europe, for its MBA programme in Britain. 'These countries were especially important to us. We felt students from these places could enrich the classroom experience,' said Mr Logan, noting that 60per cent of students on the full-time MBA were from overseas in contrast to 25 per cent five years ago. London Business School, meanwhile, has increased its diverse student population to some 35 nationalities on its EMBA from 20 nationalities several years earlier. To further leverage on the benefits of diversity, Insead has implemented a policy that ensures no more than 10 per cent of its intake comes from any one single nationality. Though diversity, at its most obvious level, typically concerns race and ethnicity, professors say its significance runs far deeper, encompassing gender and industry backgrounds too. Chris Chan, assistant dean at University of Hong Kong's MBA programme, said efforts to maintain an equitable male-female mix had been successful, with the female student ratio reaching 40 per cent for the first time this year. 'The dynamics and perspectives of team discussions are very different with the presence of women. Add to that the different background of these people - from surgeons to lawyers, photographers to designers - and that's where the richness of the discussion really emerges,' he said. In the competitive world of business education where prospective candidates all sport top GMAT scores and the right corporate experience, diversity is one of the few elements that can cultivate an engaging learning environment. 'The diversity in industry backgrounds, race and gender creates that magic degree of instability in the classroom that allows for a diverse group to test theories, and incite arguments and debates. It helps students get to the heart of the issue and significantly enhances the teaching and learning experience,' Mr Buckingham said. Such a mix of people opened up a powerful business network to students, one that they would have access to for life, said Lyn Hoffman, associate dean of executive MBA and global partners at the London Business School. 'After studying in such a diverse culture, students are comfortable going to work in whatever country their company sends them to, or taking up opportunities that arise,' Professor Cohen added. 'Diversity is an absolute need in business education. Executives need to be able to understand how other people think,' Mr Logan said. 'A modern leader cannot survive without understanding the business culture of India, China and Africa.'