AT A time when the pace of life seems to be growing ever more hectic, more and more business schools are offering busy managers the chance to study for an MBA by distance or open learning.
As Richard Wheatcroft, director of MBA programmes at the Open University - the biggest distance learning MBA provider in the UK, if not the world - points out, the number of people who can afford to take one or two years out of their working career to do a full-time MBA is relatively small.
"They are either whizz kids in their twenties who have not got family responsibilities or mortgages," he says, "or they come to do the executive MBA, where the company chooses to send a senior manager off for nine months or whatever." Distance learning programmes are, however, often the only option for middle managers trying to deepen their understanding of the theoretical framework of the way they conduct business. "Distance learning, and to a lesser extent part-time programmes, has opened up the MBA to a clientele that were frankly not able to access it at all before," says Wheatcroft. The MBA programme at the OU is now the largest programme of its kind accredited by the Association of MBAs in the UK. The OU's programme represents 20 per cent of all MBAs studied in the UK and 40 per cent of all distance learning MBA enrolments. In 1997, more than 27 per cent of MBA graduates surveyed by the association came through the distance learning route. Today there are some 25,000 people enrolled on the OU's certificate, diploma and MBA courses - of which 18,000 are in the UK, 6,500 in Eastern Europe and 500 elsewhere. Of these some 8,600 are enrolled on the MBA course. The number of students enrolling for the MBA, which offers open access via its diploma foundation programme, has grown steadily since its inception in 1989. Henley Management College's distance learning MBA is the next largest programme with some 6,500 MBA distance learning students in the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malta, Cyprus and elsewhere in the world. Other schools whose distance learning programmes have been accredited by the Association are Aston, Warwick, Strathclyde (which pioneered the first distance learning MBA in the UK in 1983), Durham, Kingston and Leicester. Henley's distance learning MBA students are encouraged to attend residential courses at the UK college or associate educational institutions abroad at the start of their studies, and regular subject and exam revision workshops thereafter. Henley pioneered the use of Lotus Notes, a form of information- sharing computer software that enables students and tutors to keep in touch with one another. Peter Race, Henley's Director of distance learning programmes, says that distance learning is an increasingly popular mode of study because it offers students the flexibility to study when they want to without giving up core parts of their working weeks. …