A different school of thought

Are you new or old school when it comes to choosing an MBA? Your choice may well determine the type of course you eventually study

Many employers and prospective MBA students overlook the fact that several of the business schools accredited by the Association of MBAs are in new universities - the former polytechnics. Among these are the Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University, Bristol School of Business at the University of the West of England, De Montfort University School of Business, Kingston Business School, Middlesex University Business School, and Westminster Business School at the University of Westminster.

Why should a prospective student consider a newer university for an MBA? For someone who wants to study an MBA in a specialism, or a general MBA part-time at a nearby business school, there may be no alternative. But for those with more choice there are a number of criteria to consider.

The actual core syllabus of an MBA programme is unlikely to differ significantly from one accredited school to another. As Hector Douglas, the Dean of the Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University, points out, "The whole strength of AMBA accreditation is that it is a brand which denotes a generic MBA." However, he adds, "Within that, the Association encourages an innovative approach to delivery."

The major differences between schools tend to be in the background of the faculty and in the balance between theory and practice.

Ann Rinsler, MBA Course Director at Kingston Business School, says: "The newer universities often tend to be slightly less academic and more related to the business world. The older universities for a long while spurned business as not suitably academic. They ignored what was going on out there, while the newer universities have built up good relationships with major companies. We are part of the business community.

"The second difference is that there is more emphasis on the delivery of courses in new universities. Older universities focus more on research, and their lecturing staff are evaluated primarily on their research activities.

"The background of the faculty can also differ. In the older universities the staff tend to have an academic background. Those in the newer ones tend to have management experience in industry and commerce. At Kingston we look for relevant experience because our students look for credibility... recent credibility and recent experience."

As Ann Rinsler explains, this is not a rigid differentiation. "We are talking about a continuum here. Research is important, but we also think it is very important that we all maintain links with the business community."

Professor Len Shackleton, Head of the Westminster Business School, says that the new providers do resemble the old in some respects. They are all members of the Association of Business Schools for example, "and our MBA is accredited by the Association of MBAs, which means that we have to meet similar criteria to accredited programmes in the older universities. Of course that isn't true of all the newer universities, several of whom don't have AMBA accreditation."

Contrasting the old universities with the new, he says all business schools do the same sort of thing. But institutions such as the London Business School, Manchester and UMIST have a very strong and extremely expensive full-time programme. "We have a full-time programme but the bulk of our students are actually part-time," he explains. "The new universities tend to have more part-time MBA students."

Kingston's part-time MBA takes two years. It links in with the Diploma in Management Studies. If you take the DMS part-time over two years, the second year covers the same material as the first year of the part-time MBA, so people can move seamlessly through the DMS and MBA on a part-time basis. This has a considerable attraction, according to Professor Shackleton. Moreover the faculty are all experienced in working in business and most have MBAs themselves.

Hector Douglas echoes Rinsler and Shackleton in saying that his teaching staff have a more practical vocational type background in business management than the traditional academic background.

That is not to suggest that research is unimportant at the new universities. Business schools in the new universities are concerned with how management research can also be used in a business. "From a staff development point of view I try to combine their experience with research and application," says Hector Douglas.

Prospective MBA students from such areas as merchant banking and management consultancy may find the quantitative and highly analytical approach of the traditional business school is better suited to their needs. But for managers running a business or major function within a business, the more practical, problem-solving approach of one of the newer universities may well suit them better.

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