Setting the scene

2002

With over 10,000 MBA graduates a year in the UK alone, it is vital for potential students to know that their qualification will be recognised by and relevant to a prospective employer.

The Association of MBAs (www.mba.org.uk) accredits 36 of the UK’s 118 business schools and a number of other programmes in Europe and the rest of the world, and accredited schools are using their resource and reputation to make their courses reflect the growing diversity of global business.

At the Leeds University Business School, a bursary scheme that currently attracts students from countries such as India, China, Russia and Brazil is being extended to encourage more women students to take up the option of business education. For the first time this year, three women will be offered a part-fee bursary of £3000 to offset the £15,000 cost of the one-year full time course.

Although Leeds currently enjoys a progressive male/female ratio of 60/40, Sales and Marketing Manager Sara Avery is keen to reach a 50/50 position – “It is important to us that we keep up the momentum in encouraging women applicants,” she says. The aim is to ensure that more women are able to take up offers of places once they have passed the requirements for entry. The bursary, funded by the school, comes off fees at source.

Measures to encourage women are also been in place at one of the world’s elite courses. The one-year Sloan Masters programme at the London Business School costs in excess of £30,000, and applies even sterner tests of quality and experience to its prospective students, who tend to be older and more senior than ‘regular’ MBAs. Against that background, it may seem odd to talk about greater access, but the Director, Lynn Hoffman, is keen to extend the opportunity to more women. The ‘Women With Leadership Potential’ scholarship offers £10,000 to one woman each year. Whilst acknowledging that this has helped to increase female participation from 16% to 30% over the last five years, Hoffman thinks that money is only one factor: “The problem is not so much the finance, but in marketing this as an appropriate course for female executives,” she claims. Women make fewer applications than men: “They tend not to apply unless they feel that they are well-qualified to do it.”

Her pragmatism is backed by a recent alumna, Jackie Fry, who was a Sloan Master in 2001 before becoming a manager of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Dismissing the notion that gender made any difference to the ability to fulfil the demands of the programme, that both men and women on the course had family responsibilities and pointing out that one of her classmates both conceived and gave birth during the course, she points to the issue of timing and work-life balance as a possible deterrent to women applying.

The most measurable increase in access to taking an MBA is in distance learning, with 40% of over 10,000 students in the UK studying through the Open University Business School. Again, international recognition of a course accredited by the Association of MBAs is an important factor in helping students from different backgrounds to make their choice.

One Slovakian graduate of the OU, now a director of administration at APP in his home country, commented: “an MBA in Eastern Europe is still seen as extraordinary – the Open University offered a recognised and reputable MBA by distance education.”

Open learning programmes backed by technology can greatly enhance access. The Open University offers facilities for students to receive Braille and tape recorded course material, to take examinations at home or over a number of days and even to bring materials to their home using a specially designed Access Bus.

For disabled users, such as Ann Edwards, aged 40, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, this emphasis on access was key: “I didn’t have to struggle to libraries, which can be difficult when you are in a wheelchair. Everything I needed was delivered to me in person, or online.” Ann continued her full-time job as Personnel Manager for Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council throughout, taking a study break for a year when unwell, and graduates this summer.

The Association of MBAs’ work in encouraging diversity is carried through in its alumni function, offering continuing social contact and opportunities for professional development to its members to augment the personal networks that are a valuable and integral part of the MBA. One of the key skills in a global business environment is being able to communicate effectively with people from other cultures, and the international mix of students and opportunities encouraged by UK business schools enhances this.

In the wake of Enron and WorldCom in a flurry of allegations of corporate malpractice, business schools and companies are also taking corporate social responsibility (CSR) seriously.

This year’s Association of MBA Directors’ conference in Barcelona featured a keynote speech from the Dean of ESADE on CSR. INSEAD has also launched an Academy of Corporate Citizenship. Together with Ashridge, Cranfield School of Management, Vlerick Leuven Gent and Copenhagen business schools these have come together as part of the CSR Academy formed with the aim of helping teaching faculties to build CSR into mainstream business education.

“CSR is something that is already on company and academic agendas,” affirms Xavier Mendoza, the Dean of ESADE and he calls for action for a strategic response from the business and educational communities:

“What we need is a forum to link academic and business worlds in order to turn CSR into a learning opportunity. Our response to the challenge posed by CSR needs to be based on innovation and learning. Social responsibility is incorporated in the dynamics of corporate change in order to provide answers to both market expectations and what society expects of companies. In this context, it is well worth asking what implications this has for an MBA education.”

In preparing the next generation of business leaders, progressive schools are tying their CSR colours to the mast. In the same way in which they recognise that they add value to their courses by agreeing to undergo the continual scrutiny necessary for accreditation by the Association of MBAs there is a clear understanding that the best students will demand that CSR form part of the MBA curriculum.

The business world now recognises that CSR is the new way of doing business and not a passing fad. MBAs that graduate with a good understanding of these issues will be in the best position to influence their company’s culture with a view to not simply avoiding the mistakes of others but also helping to provide a competitive edge.

For further information about the range of courses and incentives open to those considering an MBA, consult the Association of MBAs Official MBA Handbook (published by Pearson) or the web site, www.mba.org.uk

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