Revolutionizing how the MBA is delivered
Advances in technology have boosted distance learning MBAs. While these courses were traditionally taught purely by post, online technology is improving students’ learning experience, and revolutionising the way UK business schools offer the qualification.
UK MBA courses vary in the amount students study online. Some are completely online (though all MBA courses accredited by the Association of MBAs require some direct contact time) while most distance learning MBAs now have at least some online components.
The future is exciting
Warwick Business School has seen its annual intake grow a third since 2008, according to Rachel Killian, MBA marketing and recruitment manager. Partly because of rising interest from developing countries, such as Nigeria, which value British education, but also a growing recognition, for instance from India, that quality MBAs are available from world-ranked schools that are delivered in part-time, distance learning format.
UK institutions have a good reputation, Killian says. Of the 40 top online MBA providers listed by the Financial Times in March 2010, nearly half were UK-based. But quality can vary. Warwick’s programme is not only rigorous but interactive, recognising that the value of an MBA in particular is in learning and working together with your peer students, she says. “The advantage of an online programme is the international mix of students; we have over 100 different countries represented on our programme, so students can learn from other managers who have very different experiences and cultures to their own.”
For Killian, the future is exciting. “The development of new technologies and the rise of social media mean that it is a rapidly changing environment for both teaching and learning. Students will find a better and wider range of programmes from which to choose, each using these technologies in a different way.”
Laureate Online Education, the University of Liverpool’s online MBA eLearning partner, are also positive about the online MBA’s future. Vice President of Marketing, Leon James, says it is down to the reputation and quality of UK education, coupled with the benefits online learning offers working professionals. “The quality of a UK university education is undisputed, and this is one of the reasons why many of our international students choose to study with the University of Liverpool. We anticipate the continued growth of the online MBA, and online education in general, with such an interactive, flexible approach for working professionals to access higher education wherever they are in the world.”
The classroom isn’t dead but in 10 years we’ll see a very different world
Kevin Hinde, Durham Business School’s Deputy Director of Global Learning Programmes, agrees that online technology is playing a bigger part in courses. He suspects the online MBA will grow in popularity. “MBA provision will change dramatically over the next few years. As technology improves and broadband capability gets better, opportunities will increase. The classroom isn’t dead but in 10 years we’ll see a very different world.”
Going to the next level
Ashley Arnold, director of MBA/DBA recruitment at Henley Business School, has also seen “big demand” because of the uncertain economy. “People are starting to understand distance learning and courses are no longer frowned upon. For some people it’s about self-esteem and a good CV. Here, it’s all about building confidence and having the skill set and capability to go on to the next level.”
Arnold points to a global shift to more applicants but fewer enrolments (a graduation survey by the Association of MBAs showed 13,000 applications and 9,000 enrolments in 2007, compared with 18,000 and 8,000 respectively in 2009), with more private providers coming into the market.
Increase earnings, promotion prospects and confidence
Resource Development International (RDI) is one such provider, offering MBAs from three British universities. Graduates receive the same certificate at the end of their studies as a full-time campus-based student but they have constant access to online learning materials, tutors, colleagues and support staff.
Dr Benjamin Culling, RDI’s strategic marketing manager, says interest in online MBAs is increasing because of better technology and the rise in graduate numbers. “Many students with RDI study an MBA because it is a great way to stand from the crowd and it has all the benefits of modern online study, including complete flexibility,” he explains.
According to Dr Culling, an online MBA increases earnings and promotion prospects but also boosts confidence. “Students have told us that they feel a much bigger part of the organisations they work in, with others seeking out their advice and becoming involved in larger projects.”
Students fit the learning around their lives
Edinburgh Business School is one of the largest providers globally, with 9,300 active students – half of whom are independent online learners. Students can study entirely online and end up with the same qualification as their full-time, campus-based peers. But EBS’ business director, Alick Kitchin, says the ability to mix modes of study is what makes the course unique. “A student can take one subject on campus, another at an international centre, another through 100% self study and can also mix languages – we offer the MBA in English, Arabic, Spanish, Russian and Chinese,” he explains.
Students’ average age is 34 – people who need to know how to manage people, finances and strategic planning – and a third of students come from the Americas, quarter from Europe – a growing market because of the recession – 20% from Africa, 15% from the Middle East and 10% from Asia. “We’ve taken a lot of care to make it as flexible as possible so people can do it in any order and they like it because they can fit it around their life,” Kitchin says.
“When there’s an economic downturn people worry about their future career and turn to self-improvement, so we’ve had strong growth over the last four years.”
Advice from a graduating Warwick MBA student
Mariela Tiscornia, a 33-year-old lawyer with a logistics firm in Germany, is coming to the end of an MBA with Warwick Business School. She wanted better understanding of business, finance and management but couldn’t take time off work and didn’t rate the courses available in Germany. Her advice? Check schools’ rankings and be clear about what you want from an MBA before diving in.
Students should also consider their preferred learning style and how a course might fit with the rest of their commitments, and talk with existing students and alumni.
“You pay for networking, the name of the university and for administrative support,” she explains. “If you’re going to make an investment you want to have something in all those areas. Being educated in English was added value for me too. Intellectually it’s always positive and if you’re using it as a way to get promoted or another type of job that demands management skills then it’s worthwhile. But it demands a lot of energy and time and personal sacrifice. I haven’t had a holiday in four years!”
Article by Anthea Lipsett, freelance journalist and education specialist.
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