Best of all possible worlds: How to mix and match distance, part-time and full-time learning

In these uncertain economic times, it can be hard to decide whether or not to do an MBA. On the one hand, you know it will improve your qualifications, boost your networks and get you ahead of the crowd. On the other hand, it's probably unwise to leave a secure job or put yourself out of the loop on the job-hunting market.

You could, of course, always do an MBA part-time, or by distance learning, but then you'll miss out on all the good things about the campus experience.

Luckily, now it is possible to take a top-class MBA and get the best of all worlds. Students are increasingly able to mix and match elements of distance, part-time and full-time learning to build a package that is right for them, and many schools think this is the way of the future.

Nigel Banister, the chief executive of Manchester Business School Worldwide, says the substantial growth in flexible MBA programmes over the past five years has been driven by top business schools offering more credible alternatives to full-time MBAs. This in turn, he says, has attracted students from multinational organisations, often sponsored by their companies. And he sees this growth continuing and becoming ever more sophisticated.

"More technology will be used to support flexible MBAs, with the student learning space becoming similar to their working environments, through online collaborative project tools and simulation software to supplement the face-to-face tuition," says Banister. "In the future, employers will also want their MBA employees to have an international perspective, so there will be growth in offering part of an MBA at different locations across the world. In our programmes, students can study in Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Jamaica, Brazil and next year in Miami."

Edinburgh Business School, part of Heriot-Watt University, has made its MBA truly flexible. Alick Kitchin, business director of Edinburgh Business School, explains: "It is modular. You can do it in any order, you can start when you like and finish when you like, and the same things are taught across the whole range of pedagogies. You can, for example, do accountancy by distance learning and come on to campus to study marketing."

To offer worldwide flexibility, the university is in partnership with 25 other institutions, and offers its MBA in English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. Exams are taken at 363 centres worldwide. "But all our students take the same exam, on the same day, and all the papers are marked at Edinburgh," says Kitchin. "Students know that the course is flexible but also rigorous."

The programme is the second-largest MBA programme in the world, after that offered by the University of Phoenix, and is especially popular with students based in the United States who like having some "tartan time" in Scotland.

"Many schools give their distance-learning students a chance to come on to campus, but at Warwick you can start as a full-time student and do all your core modules on campus, then change your mode of study to distance learning," says Rachel Killian, the marketing and recruitment director for the MBA at Warwick Business School, which has been at the forefront of flexible learning. "It's brilliant if you don't want to be out of your job for 12 months, but still want the advantages you get from being on campus."

Doing an MBA in the current climate is "a bit like taking out insurance – you don't know that you need it until you need it," she says. But doing it flexibly makes it much easier for students. "If a company should pull out of its sponsorship, you know you've got a less expensive way to finish your MBA. And you can put things on hold for six months as well, if you need to. People sometimes do this if they have a new baby or a promotion."

At Bradford University School of Management, students really appreciate being offered flexible options. "If your employment moves you away, you don't have to start afresh with another school," points out David Spicer, associate dean for the MBA programme. "And if someone starts part-time, then loses their job, they can switch to full-time study and make good use of their time while they are looking for another one. Some of our part-time students also really like to get some of their electives out of the way by distance learning over the summer. All our models are consistent with each other. It's the same modules, with the same content, just delivered in different ways."

However, the university knows how much MBA students get from their colleagues. "So we tend to discourage people from too much cherry-picking and encourage them to stay with their cohort," he says.

'A flexible programme is really good, especially in the recession'

Marwa Bouka, 30, is a civil engineer with the United Nations World Food Programme in Syria, and started her MBA at Warwick two years ago on an Anglo-Syrian scholarship from the Saïd Foundation.

"I wanted to do something to push me to another level in my career, and I was looking at MBA programmes in the UK, but things were going so well with my job I was not happy to leave.

So I started my application as a distance-learning student. When I contacted Warwick, they said it was a flexible programme. I thought that sounded great – although it was also a little confusing to me until they explained it, because I thought full-time was full-time and distance learning was distance learning!

I started as a full-time student for three months and did six modules. It was very intense, but a really good experience. On campus, you are surrounded by people from all over the world. After that, I had a three-month break and did nine months as a distance learner, and then had another three-month break, and now I am back on campus for the last two months.

A flexible programme is really good, especially now in the economic recession. It is much easier for people to take a couple of months off than to leave their jobs. The only difficulty was making the switch to distance learning after being on campus. Working online is different, but you get used to it after a time."

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?