The winners of the student of the year award are a far cry from the MBA stereotype. By Lucy Hodges

LONDON AND SOUTH EAST: Angela Jenkinson, Kingston Business School


Eve Poole, University of Edinburgh Management School


Charlotte Rendle-Short, Durham University Business School


Sara Hadlow, Aston Business School


Rick Chaplin, University of Bath School of Management


Alice Owen, Manchester Business School

Sue Shipley, Ashridge

WINNERS OF The Independent's first Student of the Year Award, launched this year with the Association of MBAs, impressed the judges with their intellectual ability as well as with their maturity and their commitment to helping others.

"They were not your image of the stereotypical sharp-suited MBAs clutching a mobile phone," according to Mike Jones, director general of the Association of MBAs. "In fact they show the extent to which MBA programmes are attracting all sorts of people from different walks of life."

Of the five winners and two highly commended candidates, four came from non-business backgrounds. One was an independent school headmistress, one worked for the Church Commissioners (though she has now moved to Deloitte Consulting), one was in the voluntary sector working with disabled people and the fourth is now employed by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

They reflected the breadth in age and interests of people who choose to study for an MBA.

The award attracted interest from business schools around the nation. Altogether 19 of the 31 accredited business schools put candidates in for the competition which was aimed at finding the best all-round MBA student from different regions of the country. There were five winners and two highly commended candidates - each of whom received a handshake from Sir John Harvey Jones at the Association of MBAs' annual dinner last Wednesday night.

"We are hoping this will be the premier MBA award in a few years time," says Mike Jones. "This year's launch has shown it to be a worthwhile exercise. It augurs well for British management that this sort of talent is coming forward."

Jo Redfern, The Independent's education advertising manager, agrees. "We are delighted to be involved with the launch of the competition," she says.

"We would like to congratulate all 1998 contestants and winners who will be worthy ambassadors for the schools and the MBA itself."

Business schools were asked to nominate their best all rounders, taking into account nine criteria, which are listed in the box on page 4. The winners were those considered to have best contributed to the development of the MBA.

They had to be good team players but also good at their studies and committed to the future development of the business school. They had to show they were concerned for the welfare of others by being good school representatives and by helping overseas students. They also had to show that they could overcome challenges, that they benefited from the MBA and, finally, that they had helped to maintain student morale.

Such criteria meant there was a good range of students. "It wasn't just the clever-clogs who were nominated and who won," says Anthony Birts, director of Bath's MBA programme. "Candidates really did need to be making some sort of input into the course itself."

That was certainly true of Bath's nominee, Rick Chaplin, who works for his family's firm in Ontario and who helped to sort out some problems on the course, and the headmistress, Charlotte Rendle-Short who studied on one of Durham's MBAs. Dr Sue Miller, director of the part-time MBA at Durham University business school, said of Miss Short:

"She didn't see the course as a meal ticket or as something to help her climb the ladder faster. She saw it as an educational process. We had one or two problems and her mature, reflective attitude helped us through them."

Some institutions nominated the best student in the year; others were elected by their peers. All but one of the winners and runners-up were women; the only man was the Canadian student at Bath, Rick Chaplin.

Given that men are in a majority on MBA programmes, and that it is thought to be harder for women to persuade companies to sponsor them on MBAs, why did women sweep the board?

One reason may be that it is only exceptional women who tend to make it on to MBA programmes. For men in some circles an MBA is becoming almost a requirement but for women it is a very positive choice, a way to give a lift to their careers or to dent the glass ceiling.

"The better women, those who are organised and pushing themselves, those are the ones who are doing it," says David Browne, the MBA course director at Kingston.

"We may be finding that the women who are coming through are better time managers."

It is only in the last five to six years that women have been showing up on MBA programmes in greater numbers, according to Mr Browne.

Figures from the Association of MBAs, however, show that the proportion of women is still low, around 23 per cent.

Mark Oakley, director of MBA programmes at Aston, tends to agree that the women on MBA programmes may be unusually good: "As in so many other fields, women take a challenge terribly seriously." he says. "They put a great deal of energy into what they decide to do."

But a more humdrum reason for the success of women in the competition may be that the selection criteria favoured women. Women are often better at being ambassadors for a school or programme - in other words, at serving the common good - rather than at promoting themselves. "I suspect women are less ego driven, less competitive and take more account of the people around them," says Richard Kerley, director of the full-time MBA at the University of Edinburgh management school.

If so, that could explain the superior performance of women. Different criteria, emphasising success at climbing greasy poles and earning big salary increases, could put men on top.