Embarassment of riches

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The Independent Online
It is sometimes supposed that all MBAs are very similar and follow the same syllabus. This is a fallacy. A school may offer several MBA programmes. There are full-time and many types of part-time courses.

Some are mainly theoretical, using case studies and simulations. Others mix theory with "action learning" and require students to analyse and solve real problems in their own organisations. Most prepare people for general management, others for specialist roles, particular industries, or even specific employers.

The pace of change in the business environment is accelerating, and courses are constantly being developed to meet new needs.

For example, many global industries must exploit new advances in science and technology to compete successfully. A new MBA (Management of Technology) for "technologists, financiers and entrepreneurs" was recently launched by City University Business School. It provides a good commercial understanding of technology, and shows how to incorporate new and breakthrough technologies into corporate strategy. This year the course is full-time: a part-time version starts next year.

The professions too need well-trained managers. Manchester Business School and the Law Faculty of Manchester University are launching a part-time MBA course designed specifically to meet the management needs of lawyers. These include partners in law firms, lawyers in public and private sector organisations, and lawyers who want to understand their corporate clients better.

Participants will study core management subjects and take part in workshops to show how these disciplines can be applied in the profession. They can tailor the programme to their own individual needs through a number of business and legal electives and consultancy projects in a legal environment.

The full MBA programme, which admits its first students next January, will be accredited for Law Society Continuing Professional Development points.

Initiatives are needed not only in course content but also in the method of delivery. Many surveys show managers are working longer hours then ever. This is a major obstacle to completing a part-time MBA.

Distance learning courses offer flexibility, but many do not offer the valuable lessons learnt through interaction with fellow students. Moreover, the dropout rate can be high because of a lack of regular contact with lecturers and tutors.

Kingston Business School is now offering a "weekend only" programme which combines distance learning with intensive sessions for one weekend a month over two years. As attendance time does not intrude into the normal working week, this is attractive to students and to sponsoring employers.

There is also innovation in financing courses. The London Business School (LBS) has joined a financing scheme to train managers from Central and Eastern Europe and some countries in Central Asia.

The "Investing In An International MBA" scheme, run by ABN AMRO Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, puts MBA courses at three of Europe's top business schools - LBS, INSEAD (Fontainebleau) and IESE (Barcelona) - within the reach of students from the former Soviet Bloc. The scheme provides loans for tuition fees: repayments do not start until six months after graduation, and may be spread over 131/2 years.