Scottish business schools
Big breaks north of the border
From the quality of life to the flexible courses, there are many benefits to studying in Scotland, says Midge Gillies
Thursday 13 October 2005
Official figures show that Scotland, which has a long tradition of sending engineers and managers abroad, is attracting a growing number of overseas students. Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University has only two students from the UK on its full-time MBA programme. It believes Scotland is such a strong brand that it uses the Scottish and European Union flags in its promotional material - but not the Union Jack.
Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University attracts students from over 150 countries and only 14 per cent of its intake is from the UK. Ironically, one of its home-grown alumni, author Irvine Welsh became famous for turning Scotland's tartan and shortbread image on its head with his novel Trainspotting.
At the University of Edinburgh Management School, which like Aberdeen has accreditation from the Association of MBAs (AMBA), only 10 of the 74 students in its current MBA class are British. Simon Earp, director of the management school, believes managers are drawn to the city because it is a capital, financial centre and home to the famous Festival. He adds that devolution has helped to update Scotland's image abroad. There are now more consulates in Edinburgh and an influx of civil servants who have relocated from London and are keen to study part-time for an MBA.
The University of Strathclyde Graduate School of Business, which is AMBA-accredited, offers its MBA in 10 different centres around the world and encourages its Glasgow-based students to travel abroad as part of their programme.
Scottish business schools do not attract many students from the City of London unless they have a strong connection with Scotland. Two employees of the Royal Bank of Scotland who worked in the City, for example, decided to study for their MBA at the University of Edinburgh Management School. But it is rare for a City worker to study at Strathclyde because it does not major in finance. More often students opt to go north of the border because they want to change direction - perhaps to move to a new industry - or to help them refresh their management style. A vet who was working in England chose Edinburgh because he wanted to move away from general practice.
Many millionaires have chosen Strathclyde for what its director Professor Colin Eden describes as its idiosyncratic nature.
"Often they do it for very personal reasons, not on the basis that it's going to make them more successful."
MBA students tend to be older at Scottish business schools than their counterparts in the US and UK. At Strathclyde the average age is 34. The schools argue that this means students benefit from sharing a classroom with experienced managers. It also means that Scottish schools do not tend to do well in league tables because their alumni miss out on the salary hikes younger MBAs can expect.
Business schools north of the border are proud of the quality of life they can offer - the fact that you can be in stunning scenery within half an hour of leaving Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen. But this can sometimes lead to disappointment. Earp says that the fact that Scotland has few blue chip companies means that most high-flyers are unable to stay there after completing their MBA. Eden adds that the urge to live in Scotland has spurred some alumni to set up their own businesses - often helped by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.
"Many of the more successful Indian restaurants are run by our alumni because they loved the place so much they wanted to stay," he says.
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have large populations of mature students attached to their universities and business schools. Eden believes this not only makes them attractive places in which to live but adds to the positive links between education and industry. Eden, who taught at the University of Bath School of Management before moving to Strathclyde, found the way Scottish industry values university education "shocking and earth shattering".
"Industry will talk to you constructively and assume that you've got something useful to say. The other positive thing about Scotland is the extent to which it is a village. It's relatively easy to pick up the phone and talk to and meet some of the most important people in business. That can be a struggle down south."
At Aberdeen Business School, the range of MBA programmes has been developed partly in response to demand from students who came from the oil and gas industry. The school now offers part-time, full-time and online teaching, and the chance to move between programmes if a student relocates. This flexibility has proved popular with high-flying students in other industries who don't stay in one place for long. It has also had unexpected benefits such as its appeal to disabled students who find it easier to study online.
Andrew Turnbull, the school's MBA director, recognises that Aberdeen does not have the instant recognition of a city like Edinburgh and that it can seem a long way away. But he adds that remoteness is a frame of mind. "We had a student from the Shetlands who was hurt to find that his home was seen as remote to the people of Aberdeen. To him Iceland was remote."
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