Battle of nerves over MBAs: Business schools are past the slump but now face a crisis in confidence and credibility

BUSINESS SCHOOLS did not start to feel the recession until the last few years and are only now starting to emerge from it. This is because the MBA market is late into a recession and late out of it, said Roger McCormick, director of the Association of MBAs. To do a full- time MBA, the most expensive kind, 'it takes two to three years to raise the money and square the family,' he said.

The 1980s saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of the MBA, especially in Britain, which for most of the decade produced as many MBAs as the rest of Europe put together. Fewer than 1,000 students enrolled for an MBA in the 1970s, but by 1992 there were 92 UK business schools awarding 5,792 MBAs annually, with an annual 18 per cent growth.

Then, suddenly, there was a 10 per cent dip in 1992. 'The growth rate was unsustainable,' said Mr McCormick, although he expects 1994-95 to show a 'resumed modest growth'.

There is still a wide variety on offer, including full-time, part-time, distance learning and modular programmes. Business schools report a drop in full-time applicants, and a significant increase in part-time or distance-learning programmes. This reflects the high cost of study and the reduced employment prospects of MBAs. Fewer people are prepared to risk leaving their jobs to take a full- time MBA.

The rest of Europe was rather more circumspect in the 1980s and suffered rather less of a shock at the start of the 1990s. But the cold wind has been felt throughout Europe - both by business schools which are finding it harder to attract well qualified candidates, and by MBAs themselves in search of their first job afterward.

The rapid expansion of courses led to criticism that some MBAs were not well regarded in industry and sparked debate about what exactly made up an MBA. Even after a century of MBA teaching in the US, there is no worldwide or even Europe-wide agreement about what an MBA is, and what a person with an MBA ought to know. The European Federation for Management Development, which brings together companies and training providers, has tried without success to establish common quality standards in Europe. In the US, affiliation to the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is seen as a guarantee that a school's business qualifications are worth having, but there at least six other US associations for schools that are not AACSB members. Some European schools use the AACSB as an accreditation by allying themselves with an American university. The Madrid Business School, for example, is a member of AACSB; its MBA is validated by Houston University.

In Britain, the Association of MBAs accredits courses, but only 28 of 92 schools that award MBAs have the AMBA mark.

Some French MBAs have been accused of being too theoretical, without enough practical content. In France, management training is not done in the universities but in Grands Ecoles, which are harder to get into - and they deny the charge. Their academic standards are certainly high. Grands Ecoles are ranked, in strict order, by two publications, Expansion and L'Etudiant. The top school is Hautes Etudes Commercial.

HEC is acutely aware that in these hard times, it has to justify the expense and disruption of asking someone to abandon a career and spend a large sum studying full time to gain the qualification. Professor Eric Briys, principal of the ISA (Institut Superieur des Affaires), the MBA-awarding arm of HEC, said: 'If a full- time MBA were just a collection of disciplines - economics, finance, and so on - it is dead, because a part-time course or distance learning can easily duplicate all that.'

A full-time MBA has to offer something more, and at ISA they reckon on sending out a very different person from the one they took in.

ISA sends its full-time MBA students to stay with Benedictine monks from the monastery of Ganagobie in the French Alps. They debate ethical issues, general and business, not only with monks but also with business practitioners. When they come back: 'They know much more about themselves than when they left.'

The view that the MBA, wherever it is awarded, is too general and is taught by people with insufficient direct knowledge of business or commerce, has begun to take hold in some companies, and they are now looking to take greater control over their training, investing in courses specifically designed for them. These are either being provided by the traditional business schools or by in-house training facilities.

But these customised courses have drawbacks. Because they are insular, they can perpetuate company weaknesses. A recent study by the Wall Street Journal showed that more than three in four of the dollars spent on executive education goes on such courses rather than open enrolment business school courses.

Sometimes customised courses are also MBA courses - 'company-specific MBAs'. These are attractive to companies because they are not portable. The company can be sure it is not training people to be poached by the competition.

Customised courses can be of any duration and for specific purposes. London Business School has been developing customised programmes for several years, and Harvard and Stanford have recently entered the field. In Europe, Insead, an international business school which, while based in France, is not part of the Grands Ecoles system, offers a one week programme for Western managers who want to do business in eastern Europe and Russia.

But business schools may sometimes feel they cannot win. They expend effort to meet the demand for more business specific, less academic courses - only to encounter criticism of the academic quality of some management research. In Britain a report commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council has recommended that a Management Research Forum be created to deal with the problem.

(Photograph omitted)

peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction
Today's Liverpool Echo back page
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?