CHRIS BLUNDELL, a physics graduate from University College, London, joined Rolls Royce 20 years ago as a heat transfer specialist. He was promoted, eventually being given special responsibility for the production of military engines. In 1995 he was asked whether he would like to apply for a Rolls Royce-sponsored MBA programme.

"I readily agreed. Rolls Royce pays for employees to undertake MBAs at selected business schools. This means having to undergo rigorous selection. Rolls Royce has arrangements with three business schools - Bristol, Derby and Warwick. At that time, I had to travel to and from the United States a lot and the flexibility of Bristol Business School's MBA gave it the edge. I have spent my working life with Rolls Royce, and the MBA gave me an insight into how other companies do things and helped me expand my range of business skills. I also enhanced my knowledge of other areas about which I had known very little, such as marketing and human resources.

"Although the programme can be stressful - it's very hard work and absorbs available headspace! - it has been worth it and certainly paid off. While I was on the programme, I was promoted to the post of Project Executive for New Business. The skills given me by the MBA have been essential in this new role."

Chris won the Bristol Business School's MBA Student of the Year award in 1998.

ABBY HOBDEN was sponsored through her MBA at Kingston Business School by her employers, the Waddies Print Group of Edinburgh. She had completed the Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma in 1995, but was frustrated at work. She was meeting her sales targets but her employers gave no sign of considering her for anything other than what she had been doing for four years.

"They agreed to sponsor me through an MBA with no strings attached - other than that if I learned new skills, they would find a way of using them. I joined the Kingston University MBA in 1996 because the course seemed grounded in the real world. It had a good reputation and was close enough for me to attend in the evenings. I thoroughly enjoyed learning, even while writing up assignments. I was used to working on my own and found team work very difficult at first, but very supportive in the end.

"I'd recommend Kingston Business School to anyone - and not only because it forced me kicking and screaming into a distinction. My supervisor said the MBA gave you skills but not the drive to change your working life. He also said it wouldn't mean having to enter a rat race. Well, I got my new challenges and Waddies kept their side of the bargain, as I knew they would - but it is sometimes hard to stay out of the rat race!"

Abby, now 32, is a project manager for the Waddies Group.