MBA Courses: Learning from a distance

The new generation of MBAs offers students a flexible approach. Philip Schofield reports

Only one in five of those who graduated with an MBA last year did a full-time course. The majority studied either part-time or by distance learning.

The growth in popularity of part-time and distance MBAs in the past decade stems from a realisation that an MBA is valuable only if it is taken after a few years' management experience. The days when a graduate went straight on to an MBA course and came out with lots of theory, no experience and inflated expectations are over. An MBA is as much a post-experience as a post-graduate qualification.

This means that it needs to be taken mid-career. According to a survey carried out by Hay Management Consultants for the Association of MBAs (Amba) the average MBA student has eight years' relevant experience. Most managers are unable or unwilling to interrupt their careers by taking a year out to do a full-time course.

Employers recognise MBAs as a valuable part of the career development of potential high flyers, but they also find it impractical to release managers for a year to study full-time. The development of part-time and distance learning courses meets the needs of managers and employers.

Because employers see MBA courses as a good investment,most are willing to support students on part-time and distance learning courses. According to Amba, more than half of MBA students who were employed had their fees paid by their employer. Many had other forms of support, including contributions towards costs and time off. Support is particularly strong for courses with a high reputation among employers. For example, 90 per cent of those on the evening MBA at Warwick Business School are sponsored by employers.

Business schools have responded to employer needs by providing a huge variety of courses. Some are tailored to the needs of particular industries, employers or organisations. Some focus on specific areas such as accounting and finance, engineering, marketing or project management. Indeed, it is becoming unrealistic to talk of an MBA as a single entity. Some programmes, which one institution might offer as an MBA, might be offered as an MA in management at another. Manchester University Business School's international master's programme in management is one example.

Teaching methods also vary. Some schools use a primarily academic approach based on case studies, others use problems in their students' organisations as the basis for project work. The lattergives employers some useful free consultancy. There is also a lot of variation in the way courses are structured and timetabled.

Part-time courses usually vary from two to three-and-a-half years. Some, however, like the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University, give the option of two, three or four-year courses. Modular programmes (block release courses for managers) last from two to five years. Distance learning programmes vary from a fixed two years at Kingston Business School to an optional seven years at Heriot-Watt.

Part-time courses can involve varying patterns of day-release, weekend and evening on-campus attendance combined with periods of home study. Modular courses involve attending full-time blocks of a week or more for several blocks.

For example, in the first 24 months of the London Business School's 30- month executive MBA course, students attend for a full-week block at the start of each term, plus alternate Fridays. Henley's two-year part-time MBA involves four one-week residential sessions and several three-day workshops, while the one-year modular MBA involves four four-week residential modules. The part-time evening MBA at Warwick involves two three-hour evening classes a week during term-time over three years. Its modular MBA involves 13 one-week residential modules, spread over three years. Although part-time courses allow managers to combine study and work, there is inevitably some interference with the job. Managers need the support of their immediate superior and peers.

Even distance learning courses can require some employer support because most involvecompulsory attendances on campus. For example, the Open Business School has compulsory residential schools from two days to a week as well as several group tutorials, which are held in regional centres.

Strathclyde Graduate Business School has five mandatory weekend schools, and Warwick Business School has three compulsory eight-day September seminars.

Although it can be argued that these attendances could be organised in students' own time, managers often need to be in a specific place at a specific time.

For those unable to attend a campus, Heriot Watt has a distance learning course. This requires no live teaching or exchanges of correspondence, and has more than 12,000 students in 90 countries. This involves nine structured learning modules including two electives. Each is followed by an exam taken in June or December at one of 250 centres world-wide. Students work at their own pace, taking exams when they feel ready. However, they must complete the course within seven years.

It is sometimes assumed that part-time and distance learning MBAs are inferior to full time. This is not so. Amba runs a widely respected voluntary inspection and accreditation scheme that sets rigorous standards. Part- time courses at 23 of Britain's 109 business schools are currently Amba accredited, as are five distance learning courses.

If part-time and distance learning courses were not available, it seems unlikely that the MBA could have survived and earned its reputation as the premier management development programme.

Moreover, many argue that a course that enables students to put their learning into practice at work during their MBA studies is even more valuable than a full-time programme of intensive academic study.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific