Education: High-fliers sign up here

Gaining an MBA is one of the best ways to further a management career. And you don't need a degree to enrol. By Phil Schofield
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SEVERAL REPORTS in recent years have stressed the importance of qualifications, of continuing professional education and development, and of lifelong learning. Today, with a third of school leavers entering higher education, it is not surprising that most people beginning management careers are already graduates. With a degree, they are well placed to obtain further qualifications.

But many managers now in mid-career started work 20 years ago when only one in 10 school leavers entered higher education. An Institute of Management Survey, The Qualified Manager, found that only a third of its members have a first degree. But it also found that more than three-quarters believe that business or management qualifications are becoming more important and that the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is the most highly rated of all.

However, top business schools promote the MBA as both a postgraduate and a post experience degree. Most ask for a minimum 2.1 degree and at least two years management experience. Some also require a good score in the formidable GMAT test. Does this mean that non-graduate managers are excluded from studying for an MBA?

Fortunately business schools do provide for non-graduates, particularly managers who are more experienced. There is nothing in an MBA course which requires any prior degree-level learning. However, knowing just how rigorous the better programmes are, the schools do need to reassure themselves that any candidates will be able to cope. One of the factors on which schools are assessed is the proportion of students who successfully complete their course.

A common approach is to sign on MBA students for the Diploma in Management which constitutes the first part of some MBA programmes. If they are successful they move seamlessly onto the MBA. If they fail, they are recorded as failing the diploma and not the MBA.

At Henley Management College, for example, non-graduates register for the diploma and work alongside those registered for the MBA. Both groups do exactly the same work, and diploma students are expected to complete the MBA if they can. This route is open to people joining the part-time modular programme or the distance learning option where the emphasis is rather more practical than on the full-time course. Consequently Jill Ford, business development director, says these are "perhaps better for non-graduates".

Non-graduate entrants must be experienced managers, aged over 27, and with "good work experience". The school "looks at their position in the company, their progression and their achievements... we look for people who have done well".

She says there are very few non-graduates on the full-time programme. "As there are limited full-time places, we don't tend to admit people by the diploma route." Full-time non-graduates are mainly middle- or senior- ranking officers in the armed forces who have completed training at one of the major academies.

Strathclyde Graduate Business school similarly takes non-graduates on its full-time MBA via the diploma route. Admissions manager Candace Greensted explains: "As we are a graduate school, we cannot register non-graduates to join the MBA." So they register for the diploma, subsequently moving to join the MBA. At present the school has only one full-time non-graduate.

Selection criteria are strict. The school requires at least 10 years management experience and needs assurances that students will be able to cope. So in addition to an interview it requires either a minimum GMAT score of 550 or completion of the school's own test.

At Kingston Business School, MBA course director Ann Rinsler says that the Diploma in Management Studies programme is separate from the MBA. Consequently, non-graduates sign straight on to the MBA programme. The admissions policy is less prescriptive than some, but equally demanding. "We want people who can contribute to the course, and get something out of it.

"We look at non-graduates more thoroughly than graduates. We expect management experience at a high level, the successful completion of our internal test, similar to GMAT but with a strategic component, or a GMAT score of 560-570."

Most, if not all, UK business schools make similar provisions for non- graduates. But all want students who can complete this rigorous programme, usually but not exclusively on a part-time basis, and who can make a contribution to the learning of their fellow students.

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