Online degrees are all the rage, but do students really benefit from internet-delivered qualifications?

Dotcom shares may have plummeted, but e-commerce is very much here to stay. Business school MBA programmes worldwide now include electives or elements about e-commerce and many are delivered at least partly online. Some in North America are delivered mainly online, while others still include some face-to-face meetings with students and faculty.

Dotcom shares may have plummeted, but e-commerce is very much here to stay. Business school MBA programmes worldwide now include electives or elements about e-commerce and many are delivered at least partly online. Some in North America are delivered mainly online, while others still include some face-to-face meetings with students and faculty.

Internet-delivered MBAs ­ with varying degrees of direct personal contact ­ include those from Athabasca University in Canada, the University of Phoenix, the University of Florida, Duke University, Colorado State University and Indiana University.

Academics from a consortium involving Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia Business School, the London School of Economics, Stanford University and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business are building an MBA programme which will be wholly delivered online via a new virtual learning community for working professionals.

A new university, Cardean University (named after the Roman goddess of portals), will give students academic mentors, with communication taking place by email and threaded discussions.

Cardean is a wholly owned subsidiary of ENext, a company which the five academic stakeholders partly own. It provides the university's managerial support and infrastructure.

FT Knowledge is also in negotiation with the Judge Business School in Cambridge to create an internet-delivered MBA.

Many employers in the US have doubts about MBAs delivered solely via the internet without any face-to-face student or faculty contacts. There are fears that students will not develop their leadership qualities, people management or team-working skills.

Some business schools believe that the technology has not yet been developed far enough for internet-only MBAs to provide multiple video conferencing and live voice exchanges.

The UK Government is also in the throes of setting up a globally competitive e-university to beam courses worldwide. The Department for Education and Science, the University for Industry, the Open University, the Learning and Skills Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England are in discussions and private sector partners are being sought, with £62m set aside for development until the year 2004. It is hoped the virtual university will be launched in spring 2002.

Quite how such a proposal chimes in with the Open University ­ it is Europe's largest provider of MBA graduates (some 1,400 worldwide last year) ­ is not at all clear at this stage.

Just how aware business schools and companies are of the need to be au fait with the use of cutting-edge technologies is illustrated by the following examples.

The University of Navarra's IESE school in Barcelona organises high-level short courses around the globe with other business schools and corporations. This year's programme of events includes Winning with E-bricks: adapting to the new economy, staged with McKinsey and Company in Reykjavik in October; Strategic Management in the Information Age, staged with the MIT Sloan School of Management in Barcelona in June; and Marketing in the New Economy, organised with Harvard Business School in June.

In the United States, Stanford Graduate School of Business has established a new centre for electronic business and commerce which co-ordinates a number of programmes in this fast-moving field. The school offers 11 courses related to internet technology. Yale School of Management offers electives in the internet and the Web and how to build a high-tech company.

Other programmes which have adapted to take account of e-commerce developments include the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, which has revamped its classical MBAs to include an emphasis on electronic commerce, and Monash Mt Eliza Business School in Australia, which has electives in business on the communication highway, e-commerce applications and virtual organisations.

In the south of France near Nice, the Theseus International Management Institute runs a full-time MBA programme and part-time Executive MBA programme. Both of these courses focus on managing in a high-tech environment. The school is located in Europe's largest technology park.

Various aspects of e-business are examined, including the security of e-commerce and legal issues involved in conducting e-business. High-tech, telecom and dotcom case studies are also embedded in marketing and strategy courses.

The University of Nottingham Business School, which runs a large number of MBA programmes, has set up a Cyber Business Centre in a bid to become the leading provider of information on the impact of e-technology on business and the nature of work. The centre's website can be accessed on www.nottingham.ac.uk/cyber and a password is required to get into its archive section.

Chris Barnatt, senior lecturer in computing and organisations and author of the book Cyber Business, says we are now seeing the technology being conformed to the user rather than the user to the technology. The new generation of technology is mobile and flexible ­ everything from pocket computers to 3D printers. In future, e-businesses will be shaped to comply with the customer's needs.

The City University Business School has an MBA (Electronic Business) which looks at how to exploit the new technologies commercially. What exactly are the most important aspects of technological development which will affect the speed of exploitation of e-commerce?

How do you plan, design and problem solve for fast-changing, high-tech situations? What is unique to the internet? What makes sense strategically? How do you manage your relationship with your customers properly? What types of business are most appropriate for the internet? Where can you really make money?

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