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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
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
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

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...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

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?