If logistics summons up unhappy memories of an articulated lorry cutting you up on the M6, think again. For Haitians devastated by January's earthquake, it was a matter of life and death that the right supplies arrived at the right time and at the right place. With its sister, supply chain management, logistics has become more important as world trade has expanded, and countries such as India and China have emerged as manufacturing giants. The status of logistics has risen, and its techniques are being deployed for humanitarian and military, as well as commercial, use.
The academic standing of the subject has grown commensurately. Demand for places on MSc logistics and supply chain management courses at British universities is increasing fast, especially from overseas students. Applicants typically have some background in the discipline, either from undergraduate degrees – many business degrees include some logistics – or from work.
"It's a really important part of business, but it was really overlooked for a while," says Steven Clare, who graduated last year from the MSc course in logistics and supply chain management at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). He got interested in the subject while studying for a degree in management at Manchester Business School. Impressed by MMU's open day, he signed up for the full-time degree. Clare is working part time before starting as a KPMG graduate trainee in the autumn.
The MMU fee is £4,200 for home students and £9,290 for overseas students. Alan Carroll, a senior lecturer at MMU and programme leader for logistics, says the course is for "international students with an eye on business and an eye on humanitarian logistics". Of the 35 students taking the degree this year, three-quarters are from overseas.
The one-year, full-time degree covers humanitarian and military logistics – Carroll was in the Army's Royal Logistics Corps – and follows a pattern of theory and practice, case studies of real problems, and a dissertation or consultancy. Most of the graduates go to work abroad and most of the Chinese graduates enter the private sector. Carroll is enthusiastic about the international composition of the student cohort. Most students from rich countries have no idea how bad basic infrastructure such as roads can be, he says. "It's good to have international students on the course, because they have first-hand experience of this. Students really learn from each other."
John Towriss, who leads the MSc in logistics and supply chain management at Cranfield University, agrees. The number of students taking Cranfield's degree has doubled to 84 in the past two years. Twenty are Chinese and only four qualify as UK students despite the university offering bursaries to UK students for half of the £9,500 fee. This is of concern for the UK, which needs more logistics practitioners. "Everything we do concentrates on putting theory into practice," Towriss says. Fees for overseas students are £17,500.
Cranfield has offered various types of training in logistics for about 30 years. In 2008, 90 per cent of students found jobs within three months of graduating, and, last year it was 75 per cent. Cranfield graduates often go to work for major companies such as Tesco. The course also has 20 to 30 part-time students.
At Newcastle Business School, part of Northumbria University, about 80 per cent of students taking the specialist MSc in global logistics and supply chain management are from overseas, says David Oglethorpe, professor of logistics and supply chain management. The fees for the course are £7,200 for home and £10,250 for overseas students. "The modules are very much strategy-based, looking at strategic change and risk management," he says. He is especially interested in the impact of climate change on logistics, which, he believes, today's logistics graduates will have to address in their careers. It looks as though the application of logistics will continue to spread.
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