MBA Courses: Learning from a Distance

By Schofield, Philip | The Independent (London, England), May 5, 1996 | Go to article overview
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MBA Courses: Learning from a Distance


Schofield, Philip, The Independent (London, England)


Only one in five of those who graduated with an MBA last year did a full-time course. The majority studied either part-time or by distance learning.

The growth in popularity of part-time and distance MBAs in the past decade stems from a realisation that an MBA is valuable only if it is taken after a few years' management experience. The days when a graduate went straight on to an MBA course and came out with lots of theory, no experience and inflated expectations are over. An MBA is as much a post-experience as a post-graduate qualification.

This means that it needs to be taken mid-career. According to a survey carried out by Hay Management Consultants for the Association of MBAs (Amba) the average MBA student has eight years' relevant experience. Most managers are unable or unwilling to interrupt their careers by taking a year out to do a full-time course.

Employers recognise MBAs as a valuable part of the career development of potential high flyers, but they also find it impractical to release managers for a year to study full-time. The development of part-time and distance learning courses meets the needs of managers and employers.

Because employers see MBA courses as a good investment,most are willing to support students on part-time and distance learning courses. According to Amba, more than half of MBA students who were employed had their fees paid by their employer. Many had other forms of support, including contributions towards costs and time off. Support is particularly strong for courses with a high reputation among employers. For example, 90 per cent of those on the evening MBA at Warwick Business School are sponsored by employers.

Business schools have responded to employer needs by providing a huge variety of courses. Some are tailored to the needs of particular industries, employers or organisations. Some focus on specific areas such as accounting and finance, engineering, marketing or project management. Indeed, it is becoming unrealistic to talk of an MBA as a single entity. Some programmes, which one institution might offer as an MBA, might be offered as an MA in management at another. Manchester University Business School's international master's programme in management is one example.

Teaching methods also vary. Some schools use a primarily academic approach based on case studies, others use problems in their students' organisations as the basis for project work. The lattergives employers some useful free consultancy. There is also a lot of variation in the way courses are structured and timetabled.

Part-time courses usually vary from two to three-and-a-half years. Some, however, like the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University, give the option of two, three or four-year courses. Modular programmes (block release courses for managers) last from two to five years. Distance learning programmes vary from a fixed two years at Kingston Business School to an optional seven years at Heriot-Watt.

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