A brief history of the MBA

The MBA was introduced in the US at the beginning of the 20th century as a two-year postgraduate course. Most students enrolled straight after a first degree without business experience.

But by the 1950s, American MBAs were seen as irrelevant to the world of business and the schools were viewed as second rate. They responded by raising admission and teaching standards to create the classic American MBA programme - a first year of core courses giving a thorough understanding of management practices followed by a second year for specialisation or further study.

In the 1960s, the UK decided it needed its own business schools. On the recommendation of the Franks report, the Manchester Business School and the London Business School, were established. Other universities followed suit and companies began to provide management training for their employees; Henley Management College, Ashridge and INSEAD in France, started in this way. Two-year courses gave way to intensive 12-month programmes. Specialist MBAs with modules in topics such as international business, finance, the public sector and even football, were introduced. Studying abroad is a growing option either on a full-time basis, or by choosing one of a growing number of business schools that allows students to take at least one elective in another country.

The biggest growth in recent years has been in part-time and distance MBAs which allow students to continue working at the same time. The average length of part-time programmes is two and a half years and many students receive some form of sponsorship from their employers. The Association of MBAs says that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 people a year in the UK takingan MBA via distance learning.

There has been increased interest in executive MBA programmes - which take place in the evenings and at weekends. And in modular courses - which allow students to attend full time over extended periods and return to their employer the rest of the time.

In a difficult economic climate, business schools are having to adapt and ensure that they are turning out graduates with relevant skills.

Among other changes that business schools have introduced is an emphasis on "soft" skills such as ethics and an increased focus on practical, rather than purely academic, skills.

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