The management of change

MBA programmes of more enterprising schools are adapting to businesses' differing needs, says Philip Schofield

It is popularly supposed that Masters Degrees in Business Administration (MBAs) from different business schools follow a similar syllabus. However, this is not so.

In Britain 103 business schools offer more than 220 different MBA programmes. There is a huge diversity of content and methods of delivery. As well as general MBAs there are specialist programmes for specific industries and functions - including agribusiness, education, engineering, health, human resources, marketing, project management and retailing.

Others are tailored to individual organisations. Moreover, the programmes of the more enterprising business schools are constantly adapting to the changing needs of business.

Roger McCormick, director general of the Association of MBAs, says there is "perhaps more diversity in the UK than in any other country that we're familiar with".

He continues: "In America, for instance, there's a very high degree of homogeneity. In the UK MBAs range from the two years full-time at the London Business School, through one year full-time to all the part-time courses. In recent years, there has also been the phenomenon of distance learning. And there are various hybrids such as the modular degree, the company degree and so on. A very notable feature has been the extent to which the public service has developed its interest in the MBA." He cites the BBC and the civil service as examples.

Discussing how MBA courses adapt to changing business needs, Mr McCormick says: "Several things have already been taken on board. One is the international aspect of business which is being expressed in all sorts of ways. These include student exchanges and liaison arrangements with continental business schools." Secondly, he says, teaching individual subjects on a stand- alone basis has given way to a more integrated approach. He points out that solving real-life business problems usually involves multi-disciplinary solutions.

The third major change, suggests Mr McCormick, will be in "Information Technology and the use of distance learning in a preparatory mode". He suggests that in future MBA students will be expected to have covered some of the ground before they start a formal course. The formal MBA teaching will then be "more intensive and conceivably shorter".

Expressing a personal view, he says: "I can envisage that some of the more numerate elements will have been done by students using IT through distance learning." He believes that MBA courses can then concentrate on those things which can only be developed in discussion. "There will always be an important spine of knowledge which people must muster, but the key outcome of that will always be derived by discursive methods."

The traditional MBA was based primarily on lectures and case studies. However, as most business schools now insist that MBA students have a few years' prior management experience, much of the learning is through seminars, workshops and group projects.

Another trend has been the use of "action learning" which is concerned with examining existing work situations rather than simulations or case studies based on past problems. Most MBA students today are sponsored by their employers on part-time "executive programmes". In traditional MBA courses, tutors provide the case studies. In action learning it is the students who bring "case studies" from their sponsoring employers into the classroom. Learning and seeking solutions to real-life problems under the guidance of the class tutors run in parallel. As a useful by- product, sponsoring employers get what is in effect a piece of free- consultancy.

Action learning of this kind requires a high level of collaboration between employers and business schools. This is to be welcomed so long as objectivity and academic rigour are not compromised.

Some business schools are also looking to "critical management". This is a new way of thinking about management that enables managers to question the assumptions which lie behind their management practice and therefore encourage them to review and understand the broader context in which their businesses operate.

Graham Clarke, senior lecturer in operational management at the Cranfield School of Management, says managers need to understand who they are and how they affect others. He believes this is "much more important than knowing how to tabulate financial data or prepare a market report".

He also sees a distinction forming between business schools "which provide a management education and concentrate on the core disciplines and core knowledge and those which, like ourselves, develop the person".

Professor Chris Greenstead, director of Strathclyde Graduate Business School and chairman of the Association of Business Schools, agrees there has been a trend for some programmes to take a much broader view of management. He says: "Traditional MBA programmes have taught some finance, marketing, operations management and so on, and haven't linked them much together. What's happened in recent years is that programmes have taken a much more holistic view of management."

As a result, he says, they have "integrated the various aspects of management both in functional terms, but also in process terms. That then takes us into management strategy and also into the management of change. This in turn links into the skills of management as well as the knowledge basis required. So there has been much more emphasis on developing a range of management skills and interpersonal skills - the softer skills of management."

Delayering has meant that organisations need fewer senior people in functional areas, but require a higher proportion who have a "broad picture of what organisations are about and how they fit with their external environment".

As a result, Professor Greenstead says, "there is now more concentration on how you assess your external environment and how you interact with it. You have to take into account trends in social life, ethical trends and so on. These were rarely mentioned five years ago."

The better business schools are keeping abreast of corporate change in order that their programmes remain relevant to the needs of both their students and their sponsoring employers. In such a rapidly changing world of work, they are having to develop managers who not only act differently but think differently from their predecessors.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
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

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments