Ashridge Business School launched its Masters in management programme in April 2010 with the aim of providing an opportunity for its students to transform executive learning time into a recognised postgraduate qualification.
A Masters in management qualification isn't a new idea, but Roger Delves, director of Ashridge's programme, claims this version has been designed to respond to the changing needs of people at work.
"There's a growing interest among managers to add to their professional credibility and prospects by having a degree standard qualification," he explains. "But often they don't have the opportunity to take off a year to do a [full-time] MBA or [two-years for an] executive MBA. The attraction of the Ashridge programme is that it's mainly virtual, which allows people to study in their own space at their own time, but is a Masters level degree from a well-respected institution."
Delves says the programme is designed for our current business climate. "Much of the content addresses the need to lead in adversity and ambiguity. The changing international environment means there is a generation of managers who haven't managed in difficult economic times and need to learn how to do so quickly."
The programme is delivered in three stages, awarding a certificate, then a diploma and finally the Masters in management. Students attend Ashridge for five days during the first stage, although any open or tailored programmes they've completed there within the past five years can be credited towards these requirements. The total programme takes two years, but can be taken in three stages.
This combination of virtual learning and face-to-face experience is unusual, says Delves. "This is an interesting innovation. It's the first time that people who have done tailored executive education can credit that time against a qualification programme."
Distance learning has been on the scene for over a decade, but Delves argues people are increasingly accustomed to working with virtual material. "We decided to offer a media learning zone where they can choose to learn in a variety of different ways. The technology needs to be reasonably simple and robust, because students are based globally. We use PowerPoint with voice-overs, offer online synchronised tutorials for discussions and encourage learning support groups so no-one has to learn on their own."
Rather than issuing large expensive book lists, the programme provides hyperlinks to articles containing core academic thinking. Delves defends the scheme against accusations of being "lite" education. "From online discussions and feedback from tutorials we find our students are offering challenging questions and producing quality assignments."
To date around 30 students have signed up, with a three figure target by the end of next year. Ages range from 30 to 50 years old, with the majority from outside the UK. Delves says the fees are very competitive.
"The total programme costs £16,000, but students can do the first level then take a year out to save for the next stage. Employers have shown their support by sponsoring individuals and small groups, while some are considering it as part of their redundancy package."
Management development has moved away from purely academic learning to mixing theory with practical experience. Delves says: "We decided to assess by assignments rather than exams. All the learning is geared towards helping students to undertake assignments and they have to do a piece of internal consultancy inside their own organisation. This creates a virtuous circle where all the learning feeds straight back into practical workplace environments and use."
For the students who are based overseas, Ashridge is prepared to take the face-to-face learning to them.
"If there are a number of individuals in one area our faculty can go and deliver on the spot, or managers can attend open portfolio programmes that we offer in different parts of the world," says Delves.
"Wherever you are, Ashridge is creating an environment where you don't have to travel to the UK to get a UK Masters in management degree."
‘I LIKE THE PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO THE PROGRAMME’
Stephanie Roux is director of a Paris-based management consultancy who started on the Ashridge Masters in management programme in April 2010. Why did she choose Ashridge rather than programmes offered in France?
“The French style of management is very different to the English – here we still have formal talks to deal with an issue, but I like the Anglo-Saxon approach, explains Roux.
A British client with international branches had recommended Ashridge to Roux, and in 2008 she went to a short face-to-face programme on leadership skills at the management college.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it, and decided to do something that would give me a diploma.
“An MBA was too large and would take up too much time. I’d been to business school 20 years ago when I was 21, and this time I wanted to focus on my special subject, which is change leadership.
“The Ashridge programme spends a third of the year on this area, and also includes strategy and finance, so the offer was exactly what I wanted at this stage in my career.”
The flexibility of the programme means that Roux can fit studying round her job. “I spend the equivalent of two days a week on it in the evening and weekends. My tutor agreed that I could do a project on one of my clients for the practical learning assignment. I’ve been able to interview clients and try and understand their particular problem without having a consultant’s hat on.
“I like the pragmatic approach of the programme – there’s a lot of hype written about leadership, but the reality is very different, and that’s what the Ashridge programme gives you.
“It’s years since I was at business school, and though I’m proficient in change I needed to be updated in other areas of management. Doing the Masters in management is a valuable experience for the next step in my career, as a consultant with a broader outlook on business.”