East Anglia: Could an MBA be the best investment you will make?

AS THE University of East Anglia (UEA) starts looking for its next cohort of MBA students, ANNABELLE DICKSON asks about the benefits of the management qualification and what it is like.

DESPITE having an international reputation (last year’s full-time course had 13 different nationalities represented), the University of East Anglia’s Masters in Business Administration (MBA) courses are very much rooted in the region.

Leading local business figures are brought in three times a year to give their views on what will be the important themes in business, and as part of the course, regional companies of all sizes open their doors to offer real consultancy projects.

But MBA programme director Terry Kendrick feels it could help even more local businesses – particularly after winning a gold standard in the MBA world last year.

The Association of MBAs has given the course the AMBA “kitemark” – a standard many discerning potential MBA students will see as vital when considering a course.

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Mr Kendrick said: “A lot of senior managers in the bigger Norfolk companies will have been to AMBA accredited universities. They will be sent to Cranfield University or Ashridge Business School. We have got the quality provision on the doorstep now. There’s no need to send your managers to distant MBA courses,” he added.

For practical reasons, the executive part-time MBA course tends to attract students from a 50-mile radius and the international nature of the full-time course is one of the great selling points. But whichever course is chosen, the UEA is selective about who takes part.

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Mr Kendrick said: “It is really important to be part of a cohort of people you can learn from. It is group teaching. By the time students finish the course about 50% of what they learn is from lectures and 50% from the experiences of other cohort members. You cannot get that from being in a company. If you just work in your company you are going to get no new ideas from outside.”

So who can you expect to find on your course?

Mr Kendrick quotes research from the Executive MBA Council that shows five years ago 70% of MBAs were funded by businesses, with just 30% self-funded. It is now the opposite.

He said: “What this means is we have to be clear in explaining the benefits to students of an MBA education. It is still the case that our anecdotal evidence suggests that people who do the MBA get promotions on the back of it.

He said: “At the moment, if you are already working in a company, it’s actually very difficult to get promotions from a functional position to a senior board level. The MBA is ideal for that, as it is a generalist management qualification that will allow you to operate at a senior level.”

But he also said it allowed experienced managers to set up their own businesses.

“The MBA gives them everything they need to be able to operate across all functions,” he said.

But the most striking trend is the influx of people who have been made redundant.

Mr Kendrick said: “One of the things happening is a lot of people are being made redundant. An MBA is a good response to redundancy. Students are saying ‘I have got 15 to 20 years of experience – it is a good time to upskill’.”

But in a market where there are many institutions offering an MBA, what makes the UEA stand out?

As well as the full-time MBA and its part-time executive course, the UEA now offers the strategic carbon management-MBA which has proved popular.

Mr Kendrick said: “Strategic carbon management gives people a high level view of the carbon agenda in companies. Not as a tree hugger, but in sustainability. It is now a really important agenda item in companies. Not just from the point of view of compliance, but many companies are getting competitive advantage from being first movers in carbon management.”

And course leaders and alumni speak most passionately about the consultancy projects which provide real experience.

Mr Kendrick said: “There is no point in running an MBA programme just from within an executive education suite, it needs to be embedded in the business community. We are very much engaged with local business. They provide consultancy projects. These are real projects for real issues.”

Among the local businesses students have carried out projects for are insurance company Marsh, Norwich Theatre Royal, brewer Adnams, the Franchise Development Service and the Norfolk Showground.

The UEA has also worked with businesses further afield including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Active.

The unusual timing of the course also makes it stand out with the MBA running across a calendar year, rather than an academic year.

Mr Kendrick said: “When we started, it was already a very mature market. We thought starting it then was appropriate to the business year. September is a good time of year if you want students starting from school. September to December is a planning period in a company and you do not want to leave at that point.”

So as the school starts to recruit its January intake, what does the future hold for the course?

Mr Kendrick said: “At the moment the MBA is a mature market in the sense it is not showing great growth, but it has now become a very standard qualification to achieve at a certain point in your career. It is a cyclical market, one that was very popular in the early 2000s, but it lost some ground to MsCs.”

Mr Kendrick said: “Where we are the moment is not the end of our development. This is just the beginning of a very innovative approach to executive education. Watch this space because this could develop quite dramatically. We want to widen the family of MBAs.”

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