MBAs: Community spirit benefits those who live, work and study in one place

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The Independent Online

When Kirstine Dale decided to do an MBA she knew that she wanted to do it part-time, and choosing the three-year course at the University of Exeter's School of Business and Economics, close to where she lives, has been "wonderful".

Her job as programme analysis and evaluation manager for the Meteorological Office is also based in Exeter, which means that university, work and home are all within a short journey of each other - something that has been especially useful since the arrival of her baby last summer.

But it is the immediate link between her studies and her job that has been the best thing about taking a local MBA. "I do a half day at the university on Mondays, so I can be studying theory in the morning and then seeing if there is any practical application for it in the office in the afternoon. I'm the sort of person who doesn't cement things in my mind until I see them happening. You hear of people doing an MBA in a year, but for me that would be too much information, too quickly." Also, she says the Met Office's close links with the university mean that she often sees the same faces around at different events.

For many MBA students, going local is the only option. Family or work constraints means they cannot think of packing their bags and heading off to a distant management college. Others make the positive choice that this is the way they want to go about things. Either way, there are many clear benefits to be had from tapping into local resources.

One is that you can network with others from your region. "So you might find out things about local companies that your company might link in with," says Maureen Costelloe, MBA programme coordinator for Exeter. "Although local does not mean small. Business is global, and our part-time programme links in with the full-time one, so you get to meet with students from all countries and backgrounds."

The same is true for the 50 students doing the University of Strathclyde's Graduate School of Business's part-time MBA. They take classes two evenings a week, and being within driving distance of the university helps students to get together with their group to study, says George Burt, a lecturer on management strategy and international environment. "Also, they are all dealing with broadly similar issues in the region, even though their immediate context might be different."

But part-time students take their full part in the annual July summer school, mixing with the full-time students, and also study, for a 10-week period, the challenges of development in sub-Saharan Africa. "We want to get them out of their narrowly defined shell, to look beyond their boundaries. They are coming across things they have never thought about before, and it's important that they learn how to balance the broad picture with handling detail."

Middlesex University now offers its part-time programme on a weekend basis. "We used to offer it in the evenings, but this fits better with people's work schedules. The idea that people leave work at five or 5.30 or six doesn't seem to happen," says John Weldon, director of post-graduate business programmes. "This helps them plan out their diary more effectively."

Students benefit from the shared experience of working in London, he says, and can look forward to strong business networks in and around the capital when they finish. "Also our ex-MBAs provide very good opportunities for students to do their dissertations."

Being London-based means that many faculty members have had the experience of working in commerce in the capital, he says, and the school uses its geographical position to bring in high-powered speakers, such as the chairmen and chief executives of leading FTSE companies. "Which would probably be much harder for a school based elsewhere in the country."

But Gillian Forster, programme director for general management programmes at the Newcastle Business School, based at Northumbria University, emphasises the benefits that come from a school building up good relationships with its local corporations and the public sector. "We have a large cohort of students from Northern Rock, and about five a year from the National Health Service, and five or 10 from local health authorities. Then we have good corporate relationships with the Northumbria Police, Alcan and Newcastle City Council."

The downside to doing a local, part-time MBA is that it usually takes three or four years of study, and students need to be able to keep motivated, even when home and office pressures build up. And they rarely have the same amount of leisure time to chat and network that full-time students can indulge in.

But going local also means that students can make direct and immediate use of what they are learning about finance, human resources, and marketing. "In fact, quite a lot of our students tend to get promoted while on the course," says John Weldon.

Sometimes, she says, courses can be customised by using appropriate case studies and examples, or bespoke programmes can be put together for a specific company. "But our part-time MBA very much addresses local and regional issues because what we've got on it are regional managers. We use a reflective practical approach. They are able to bring their experience of what goes on where they work to studying theory, and then they can put theory into practice when they go back to work. It means we use fewer case studies and work more from life."

'Students here are from diverse educational and employment backgrounds'

Mark Hallan, 38, works for Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's economic development agency, running Globalscot, an international Scottish business network. He decided to take a part-time MBA at Strathclyde University when he knew he was short of qualifications.

I had no formal higher education after I left school. I've worked for Scottish Enterprise for 15 years and I've always had jobs I've enjoyed and which have stretched me and my skills. But I knew I was coming to the end of my abilities and needed something more.

I've actually thought about it for some time, but my job has meant seven years in the United States, and some time down in London, so it is only now that I'm back in Scotland that I've got the time to do it.

I didn't even look around. I knew Strathclyde had a very good reputation. My office is in central Glasgow, and I live in the centre of the city as well, so it was only a couple of miles to get there. The students are from diverse educational and employment backgrounds, and there are a couple of students from Africa, and three or four from continental Europe, so it is very much not parochial.

And although the fees aren't exactly the cheapest around, being local does keep down the cost of going to and from classes.

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