Business schools are having to adapt fast to the world of e-commerce - but are they chasing a fad?

Business schools in Britain are vying to establish their e-business credibility with prospective MBA students.

City University Business School lays claim to having established the first MBA in e-business in Europe, while Cranfield University School of Management aspires to being the business school world leader when it comes to internet business.

Clearly, in the brave new world of dot com superlatives, the fever for being first has now spread to the fiercely competitive world of MBA training. Cranfield has established an internet business incubator, CranfieldCreates.com, to help students set up e-businesses during the year-long MBA programme. It gives expert advice on internet business strategy, marketing and business start up, office space and guidance on legal and tax issues.

Some of the work the Cranfield students put into their e-businesses will be assessed as part of their MBA programme. "The overall aim of CranfieldCreates.com is to establish Cranfield as the school you would think about if you think internet business," says Gerard Burke, an IT strategy consultant leading the project.

According to Mr Burke, Cranfield is the first school of management in the world which actively assists MBA students in starting internet businesses during their MBA programmes. This may or may not be the case but what is certainly true is that other internet entrepreneurs are setting up their own dot com companies while studying for MBAs in other British business schools. Several students in the first year of City University Business School's specialist MBA in e-business, which enrolled its first intake last autumn, are in the throes of setting up their own dot com companies.

Professor Clive Holtham, the school's Bull Information Systems Professor of Information Management, says: "One good thing that all this euphoria about e-business has done is that it has realised this incredible creativity amongst people early in their careers."

City's MBA in e-business, which has nine specialist courses focusing on e-business and e-commerce, has enrolled 15 students. All of City's 110 students, however, do a course in e-commerce in their first term. This is a paperless, virtual exercise in which the students work in teams to analyse the business strategies of leading-edge internet companies. The resulting case studies are collected on a CD-Rom database.

The University of Bath School of Management has adopted a more integrationist approach to e-business than some other schools. E-commerce issues are tackled in marketing, strategy and IT systems, says Philip Powell, chair of information management.

There are no plans to launch a specialist e-business MBA but an e-commerce elective will start this May. "There is an insatiable student demand for e-commerce," says Professor Powell. "One of the dangers is that it's a fad. While e-business changes a lot of the options you have, it does not fundamentally change the need for an aligned business strategy, an Information Systems strategy, the fundamental need to produce good products and to get them to market."

It is important not to be carried away with the idea that e- commerce is going to change everything in every way because it won't, according to Professor Powell. In time e- business will be regarded as another aspect of marketing, strategy and technology.

This is not a view that appears to be shared by Julia Tyler, director of the two-year, full-time MBA programme at the London Business School. She says: "We are in the middle of a business revolution. That affects how we develop our business students."

LBS has been doing innovative work involving entrepreneurial activity with a technological bent and e-business for several years now. The school has its own business incubator unit where new companies can start up and several students have started web-based companies.

One, Iglu.com, which trades skiing holidays on the web, is funded with venture capital money from the school's own venture capital fund. Another student is setting up a web-based service to help people find decent plumbers and electricians in their local areas.

The school's e-electives include managing.com, a suite of electives looking at e-venture strategy: how you use digital technology as well as the internet in developing businesses. LBS is grooming its graduates in general management skills that are suitable for conventional businesses or for e-businesses. The new internet businesses need the same qualities that traditional MBA recruiters are looking for, in other words, deep analytic thinkers who understand risk, possess imagination and take responsibility for their actions.

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