The MBA (Master of Business) degree is still the pre-eminent business qualification and is very highly valued by a wide range of ambitious senior business people and employers/recruiters. The MBA is a general management qualification that equips students for a career in business management, helping them acquire broad perspectives on a wide range of areas that they need to grasp and understand in order to operate effectively at a senior level.
Student motivations for studying an MBA vary from person to person but there is some common ground. In many multinational organisations, the MBA is really viewed as a pre-requisite for a career in senior management as it exposes students to all the core areas of a business and gives them a perspective and a set of tools which makes them more effective in their roles. For others, the trigger may be a plan to switch careers, start a company, or move from a specialist role to general management.
Today, there are many good business schools and MBA programmes to choose from, so students should look around and find the right combination of school and programme to meet their personal needs.
Choosing an MBA is a very personal decision but building an initial shortlist of candidate schools based on reputation and ranking (the Financial Times annual MBA ranking, for example) and accreditation (triple MBA ranking is the gold standard), is a good start. Prospective students may also want to look at global rankings for return on investment in various MBA programmes. After that, students should look for the programmes that best suit them – subjects, study formats, full time or part-time/blended learning, amount of face to face contact time with peers and faculty, international network and exposure, alumni network, careers support, entry criteria and cost. Then, go and meet the school and students and alumni, if possible, for deeper insights.
Ultimately, you only study for an MBA once in your life and so students should choose the best school and programme – it should prove to be a career and life-transforming experience and a very good investment.
What’s new in the MBA world?
The world and business world has changed immeasurably compared to 1965 when the first UK business schools were set up. So, how can business schools and the MBA keep pace with the rapidly developing demands of business for the skills needed for the 21st century?
Business is transforming at a rapid pace with whole industries undergoing change driven especially by the forces of digital technology – often in the hands of customers and consumers. Banking and finance, retail, healthcare and education are all going through this seismic shift which is ripping up some traditional business models.
Business – companies and their employees – are also working differently in response to these changes; whether it’s a long established MNC, SME or a startup, everyone is looking to technology to create efficiencies, facilitate collaboration, and create new services for customers.
Even data is coming to the frontline of business where the promise of new insights is creating excitement with the advent of big data/analytics and the potential for new streams and lakes of data could create new ways of understanding customers, their needs and behaviours.
What does this mean for business schools?
Schools have to adapt to this changing pattern of business; with change moving so quickly, fewer businesspeople are able or willing to step away from the workplace for full-time programmes such as an MBA. More people want more accessibility through part-time and self-study, greater levels of tailorable content, shorter programmes to start getting the benefits faster, and more deeply personalised development elements as part of the programme.
Of course, businesspeople investing in their own careers (and employers supporting their staff) also want the quality assurance of a recognised programme and qualification, and the richness of the face to face contact with faculty and peers.
An Online self-study will only take you so far – students learn from each other as well as professors and the practical work experience of a fellow student or fellow project group member from the same or different field/market can be very valuable.
A noticeable trend in the MBA is for younger students taking part-time programmes that would normally be the target for experienced mid-career professionals. The new generation of business people wants everything faster and earlier, to allow time to harvest the benefits through a career. So, it is not unusual to see a 2 year part-time MBA programme now, delivering the same content as a full-time programme through a specially designed blended learning programme.
Soft skills and personalisation are increasingly important to students; soft skill areas from communications to the reflective manager illustrate the growing importance of the intangible qualities of leadership and management beyond the technical and functional.
The professional and personal skills required - from leadership to creativity - are increasingly being packaged into executive MBA programmes which may include a degree of personal development and even personal executive mentoring for students.
In a fast-moving world, even an MBA is not an end but a beginning and the need for working professionals to stay fresh and up to date in their field is critical and so ongoing executive education is proving to be a vital component of talent management programmes for many companies as they seek to retain their top talent and attract new blood.