Finger on the local pulse

New universities have devised courses to give students experience in local businesses
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The Independent Online

Picking one from the huge range of MBAs now on offer means narrowing down choices based on the type of course you are looking for - full-time or part-time. The good news is that there is now a huge range of top-quality provision - including courses at some newer universities, which graduated from polytechnic status just over a decade ago.

Their comparatively late arrival on the scene meant they devised their courses in a different way from some of the earlier business schools set up in the Sixties, which took their cue from the first American models. Those were full of full-time students leaving work to take an MBA intending to return in another role. Newer schools on the block had closer engagement with local economies and workers who wanted part-time provision.

They have built on that flexibility and most now offer full-time courses, variations on the part-time theme and often an international perspective too. But there is usually a solid bed rock of cross-fertilisation and links with local businesses.

These local connections are what make the newer universities so responsive to changes in demand, according to Warwick Jones, associate dean at Bristol Business School, part of the University of the West of England. Most large companies based in the area - in Bristol's case, Airbus, Rolls Royce and Lloyds TSB, among others - have links with the school, either sending students, providing the school with placement opportunities or taking advantage of Bristol's tailored development, research or consultancy contracts. In the public sector, too, they can provide masters degrees in leadership and organisation in public service, attractive to health service professionals in that area. But in the case of the MBA, "We have to recognise that managers' time is valuable, and convenience and time are important," says Jones.

Bristol therefore offers two part-time versions of the MBA, enabling students to continue to work in their organisations and choose to study either on a day-release basis or, since last year, on a block-release system involving attendance for four day blocks. These are usually in the autumn and spring terms, with a longer period for the preparation of a dissertation in the final year.

If full-time is the preferred option, courses are 12 months in total but can be based in the UK or in Europe, at partner institutions in Nancy, France, and Nuremberg, Germany. The one-year course is intended for those who have some business expertise, but want to develop skills that will push them up to senior management level. The European route is a prime opportunity not only to learn business, but language skills.

The new university business schools can be large, and thus able to offer broad portfolios of post-graduate degrees in marketing, financial services and accounting. "We do have a big undergraduate programme - we are graduating over 600 business studies graduates every year, and many stay in Bristol," says Jones.

Importantly, however, he is adamant that the school agrees with The Association of MBAs (AMBA) that when it comes to full-time MBAs, students need a minimum of two years' relevant work experience before they can achieve full benefit from a course. Part-time or distance learners need a lot more. The association will only accredit schools which follow this recruitment pattern - seven of the modern universities so far- Kingston, the University of the West of England, Middlesex, Manchester Metropolitan, Leicester Business School (De Montfort University), Robert Gordon Aberdeen, and Oxford Brookes.

Bristol has one of the longest records of continuous accreditation of any modern business school - it's been AMBA-accredited for 10 years. "There are obviously tremendous benefits being seen to deliver certain standards," says Jones. "But you have to be prepared to meet the right requirements - students with the right qualifications and the right academic staff and facilities."

He recognises that has to be part of the business school's strategy, and those who want to take post-graduate students won't agree. Bristol, however, intends to keep the profile which has served it well since it began business.

CASE STUDY - ANDREAS BURGER

Andreas Burger typifies the modern European business student - aiming high and cross border , to maximise both business and language skills. He now works for Siemens in Germany.

"I wanted the right course, but I also chose Bristol because I was attracted to the city. It seemed a vibrant place to live and socialise. It proved to be the right decision. Not only did I enjoy my time at Bristol and make new friends, some of whom I still keep in touch with, but the MBA has enabled me to find the job I was looking for - a high profile position with an international company. My attempts to find such a role before the MBA were unsuccessful and the qualification definitely opened doors which were previously closed."

I took the full time, one year European MBA route at Bristol , run in English, including study time in France and Germany. The international study environment was a major benefit - the programme was delivered by highly qualified international lecturers.

The opportunity to improve my English with a focus on business issues was a great advantage, as was the fact that I could gain a widely recognised management qualification in just one year. It would have taken three years in Germany.

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