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MBA: At last, a course that's designed just for you

The `new' university business schools offer low-cost, innovative teaching and flexible study hours.
Of the six "new" universities whose MBA courses have been given the much-coveted seal of approval by the Association of MBAs - De Montfort, Kingston, Manchester Metropolitan, Middlesex, West of England and Westminster - two offer weekend courses. Weekends tend to suit men and women who can't afford to quit their jobs and find working in the evenings too much to take.

The strengths of business schools in the new universities is accessibility and cost: they bring management training to people where they live and work - and they do so without charging exorbitant fees. They are also flexible, enabling busy adults to fit an MBA qualification around busy working and family lives.

At Kingston University, you may take a two-year, part-time MBA divided into eight weekends in the first year and six in the second. It means having to work for five hours on a Friday evening and all day Saturday - a total of 15 hours. But it entails less than one weekend a month. However, both years kick off with a full-time five-day introductory week. It is tough but rewarding work.

The Bristol Business School, part of UWE - the University of the West of England - received AMBA accreditation ten years ago, when it was still a polytechnic. It also offers a weekend MBA. That way students disrupt their permanent jobs as little as possible. What is more, all assignments, as well as the project which forms the major ingredient during the second year of the course, are put into the context of the student's own workplace. Good for the student and certainly good for his or her employer.

"Where it proves impossible to put a project into the workplace context because a student has left the job, then we will of course do our very best to provide alternatives," says David Browne, principal lecturer in business information technology and quantitative methods.

Small groups of students often meet between weekends for brainstorming sessions or to discuss what they have learned on the course. "This ensures not only that they have peer support but that they also share experiences," says Browne. "This enhances learning no end. It's hardly surprising that some of our students become life-long friends."

Bristol also offers a full-time European MBA in partnership with the Graduate School of Business at the University of Nancy, France, and the Georg-Simon Ohm Fachhochschule in Nuremberg, Germany. Students will be able to complete the MBA programme either in equal portions in the UK, France and Germany, or follow it entirely in the UK.

Those taking the Kingston MBA may also move around and follow the course at Napier Business School, Edinburgh; Haarlem Business School in the Netherlands; and the ICBS at Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece.

The international dimension is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly necessary. The University of Westminster Business School, whose main home is in central London opposite Madame Tussaud's, has developed close links not only with universities and business schools within the European Union, but also with those in Eastern and Central Europe, including Russia. It offers what it calls a generic management programme. Modules include a wealth of subjects - ethics, computer modelling, operations, entrepreneurship and women in management.

Courses are virtually tailored to the student's needs. You can start in September and choose from a one-year full-time MBA course, or take one or two modules for two years part-time; there are afternoon and evening courses or evening-only courses. A February start provides an evenings- only course in the West End or a full-time course at Westminster's Harrow campus.

The International MBA at Manchester Metropolitan University helps to develop the ambitious manager's ability to "learn to learn" and is taught in blocks of 11 weeks at three major European business schools - the Groupe Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP), the University of Economics (UEP) in Prague (the first school in the Czech Republic to offer an MBA programme) and at MMU itself. The full-time programme is conducted in English and all applicants have to produce evidence of a university Bachelor- level degree and of being able to work satisfactorily in the English language.

The programme kicks off in Manchester in the autumn term, moves on to Paris in the spring and to Prague in the summer. It concludes with a group project or in-company assignment taken in any of the three managing centres. The final MBA is truly international and, depending on students passing all assessments and examinations satisfactorily, will be awarded by Manchester Metropolitan University and endorsed by the Paris and Prague establishments.

Manchester also offers a two-and-a-half year part-time MBA programme, which involves weekly afternoon or evening attendance from 4pm until 8.30pm during the first two years, taken in six ten-week blocks. There are also two-day workshops on Fridays and Saturdays and a weekend residential course.

Management techniques, organisation and team building - "forming, storming, norming, performing" - are among the core modules, along with international environment issues, accounting and decision-making, marketing, finance and strategy.

Middlesex University introduced its MBA more than 20 years ago when it, too, was still a poly. Although the programme was modified several times, it was not until two years ago that an in-depth examination was conducted into what changes were considered essential. To discover what managers in industry and commerce truly needed, Abby Ghobadian, head of the Business School, decided to analyse more than 100 leading MBA course brochures in many parts of the world. He also visited leading international schools and conducted a survey among a wide range of organisations and MBA alumni. The result was a re-vamped, re-invigorated MBA consisting of five integrated learning weeks and four six-week chapters. Together they attempt to provide students with the key knowledge required by public and private organisations and the ability to grasp global management issues.

"The traditional MBA trained managers; we aim to train leaders," says Professor Ghobadian. "As far as we are concerned, managers are people who do things right. Leaders are the people who do the right things."