If a business executive is someone who knows something about everything, business studies courses are magpie courses, borrowing something from everyone, incorporating psychology, politics, economics. You name it, they've nicked it and applied it to examining and comparing business practices, the multifarious cogs and wheels that drive the global economy.

Mixing a fascination with the cogs and wheels of business and an interest in the broader world is what the best business studies courses, like those at St Andrews, are all about. As a social science business studies falls between the posts of arts and sciences, borrowing bits from both, so you can do management as an MA with politics or poetry or as a BSc with maths or biology.

"That breadth brings a different dimension and educational health to the finalists," says Peter McKiernan, director of management courses at St Andrews. "It means our graduates are better at critical thinking, at going into organisations from a consultancy or audit side and asking probing questions."

George Mendes, 22, will be doing this next year with a job in Accenture's strategy unit. "I've loved it, the opportunity to dip across and do different things," says Mendes, a BSc economics and management student at St Andrews.

And the management itself does not just mean four years studying box factories. Mendes has looked at sustainable development and scenario thinking, an odd sort of futurology. "St Andrews really focuses on building students who can think for themselves rather than a factory of managers," he says. "Teaching approaches to management rather than just equipping them with the tools."

If however, you weren't a budding business guru as a school leaver, you've not necessarily missed the business studies boat. It is sometimes criticized as a subject for providing "one size fits all" models. One size would certainly not fit all, however, at the Open University.

"We must have one of the widest student bases of any university, from 18-year-olds to the retired," says Mike Green, senior lecturer of business studies at the OU. "We don't tell anyone how to manage, we say 'here are some ideas', so students can marry their own experience with a framework to think about that experience, that's pretty valuable."

This philosophy of reflective practice works particularly well with students who work at the same time, says Green, taking ideas back to work, seeing how they play, and bringing that back to monthly tutorials.

That does not have to be management experience. Business studies courses are not just for high-flyers. Richard Okoduwa, 36, was working as a security guard when he started the course four years ago. Six months after graduating he is now a management trainee with Oxfam. "It's been very, very useful," he says. "I've turned my life around. I became so much more confident. That confidence is invaluable."

Even high-flyers with bags of confidence have something to learn. The MBA, Masters in Business Administration, is the gold standard of the business élite and the UK's most prestigious place to graduate from is Oxford University's Saïd Business School.

MBA courses are, mostly, much of a muchness. The students are what make the difference. Saïd's students come from 49 countries, but all have one thing in common. "We don't want people who will simply soak up, but people who will contribute too," says Professor Roy Westbrook, who heads the school. "So you get the benefit of their experience and diversity in class, you get a great discussion."

"It's a really great mixing and meeting pot of different cultures, viewpoints and strategies," says Jennifer Segal, an MBA student at Saïd. "We learn a lot from each other." In the hotel business before joining the MBA, Segalhopes her time at Saïd will help her to live her dream and go it alone. She has already won the Oxford Entrepreneurs Idea Idol competition and had an offer of investment for her business development project, designer casts and slings for people happy to risk life and limb on the slopes and know they'll look good no matter what. "I'm an entrepreneurial type," she says. "I would love to do my own thing." You never know. The beautiful things about cogs and wheels are the revolutions and what they can make happen.