Liz Lightfoot meets the recipients of this year’s awards

Anyone who doubts whether today's MBA has appeal beyond the pursuit of commercial profit just has to look at the winners of this year's Durham scholarships. All three are ambitious professionals wanting to bring business ideas and effective management to their chosen fields in the public and private sectors.

Tim Forber is a police superintendent and head of operations for West Yorkshire Police who is about to move to Greater Manchester as a divisional commander. Helen Winslow is a hospital doctor working in infectious diseases and tropical medicine in Liverpool, and Carlos Andreas Sanchez Garcia is a lawyer in Bogota, Colombia, who works on big infrastructure projects.

The annual scholarships, worth the full cost of the fees for the MBA courses - between £12,640 and £19,000 - are offered by Durham Business School in partnership with The Independent in three categories - distance learning, executive (part-time) and full-time, designed to meet the work schedules of different applicants.

This year, Sanchez Garcia, 31, will travel from Bogota, the highland capital of Colombia in South America, to the picturesque cathedral city of Durham for the one-year full-time course.

The distance-learning option has been awarded to Winslow, 29, a registrar who wants to continue her clinical practice while studying. Supt Forber, 37, chose the part-time option with its short blocks of teaching to fit in with his professional and family responsibilities - he has three children under the age of four.

All will be following the same programme, and Durham offers the flexibility to move between them if anyone finds they have more or less time on their hands, perhaps through promotion or redundancy, according to Professor Rob Dixon, the school's dean.

Sanchez Garcia is an associate lawyer for a firm specialising in large construction projects. He also lectures part-time at the law school at the Universidad de los Andes, one of the country's leading universities.

Back in England, Forber visited all the best business schools in the North-east to choose his course. "In the end, I applied only to Durham. Partly, it was its reputation and partly gut instinct that it would give me what I need to develop my career and go further," he says. "The scholarship means that I won't have to take out a big bank loan to fund it."

Forber joined the police force at the age of 24 after taking a law degree and the solicitors' professional course. "My father was a policeman, and that is what I wanted to do when I left school, but my parents persuaded me to go to university," he said.

It took him 12 years to move up the ranks from being a beat bobby in Richmond upon Thames, Surrey, to a superintendent in West Yorkshire in charge of operations. He leaves for Greater Manchester this month with a superb record of solving all 20 murders he investigated.

Having worked on the beat, as a detective in different parts of the country and in management, he has a good CV. "The reason I want to do the MBA is to make sure I have the commercial and business skills to make it to chief officer rank, which is a very competitive field," he says. "The course at Durham Business School will address the aspects that stretch me day to day in my current job - human resources, financial strategy, change management and, of course, marketing which is a big area for the police as we try to get across all the good work that we do."

A doctor committed to the NHS, Winslow believes that improving the management skills of doctors would produce better patient care and enhance outcomes. "Management in the NHS is a big deal, and we hear it is not being done very well. From the inside, it is a similar picture. We have managers who have little idea what it is to work clinically, and clinicians who are very good at their work but not very good at managing budgets," she says.

"If you can put the two together, it could make a real difference."