Monday, 24 November 2014

London MBA

So you want to study for your 
MBA in London ?

England is lucky to punch above its weight in the international education market place, with large numbers of well regarded universities spread all over the country attracting foreign students each year, in spite of recent government initiatives to reduce immigration. But if you want to study for an MBA in London, surprisingly the choice is rather more restricted than you might first think, with leading global brands such as LSE, which started teaching management in 1930's, not offering this experience hungry general management masters degree. Although Bradford lays claim to being the UK's first Business School (1963) government funding concentrated on the Universities of London and Manchester, who were the first institutions to offer the MBA in UK. The London Business School, benefiting from a long history and patronage is now positioned as one of the leading European MBA providers. The Cass school at City is a clear choice for those interested in a financial focus and Imperial has a strong appeal thanks to its outstanding reputation. Applicants to premium priced, leading brand MBA programmes often face highly competitive entrance requirements beyond academic and language skills that can include a so-called aptitude test such as GMAT, that in my experience many working students find unappealing due to the additional time and cost requirements this places on them. It does offer, however, a consistent yard stick to select the strongest candidates and to make scholarship offers.

School of Management, Royal Holloway

So how do applicants choose a London MBA provider?

Clearly price and reputation play an important role, as intimated above. Other key factors appear to include accreditation, campus location and the cohort, as the MBA curriculum tends to offer an ab initio, broad, general management education that is not enormously different across the range of providers. Because the MBA is considered an ideal qualification for those who have not previously studied management at university, but possess a number of years of workplace experience, differences are more obvious in the B-school personality, teaching team and elements of the physical services cape. 

Intriguingly, in some countries quality accreditation is very important (e.g. N. America, EU), whilst in others perhaps that are more agent led, it is absolutely not. The three main accrediting bodies are AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, with the latter the only body strongly focussed on the MBA itself. We have found that few schools can justify the high costs and time commitments required for multiple accreditation. Being open and confident enough to allow external auditors to review programme paper work in detail and to speak at length with faculty, alumni and current students is probably a good indicator of quality, and a desire to offer an ever improving student experience. Although smaller and newer programmes may struggle to resource accreditation because of its significant staff time implications and financial costs. My own institution, Royal Holloway, chooses AMBA accreditation for its MBA and MSc International Management portfolio, which appears to be the leading choice amongst quality UK business schools. 

Discussing programme selection strategies with a number of students over the years identifies that many use the various forms of media rankings to develop a short list based on programme fees, reputation and accreditation. A London location can be very attractive, it delivers unequivocally to the question "Where did you study for your MBA ?" because everyone knows London and the collegiate structure of University of London helps provide a slightly fuzzy, halo effect on the variety of institutions operating in this space. I note several continental European, particularly French and Spanish, institutions have adopted acronym monikers, few, I proffer, have sufficient global reach to overcome this loss of a clear sense of location that helps ground a service brand. 

Campus vs. City centre

Bright lights and the city vibe are a clear motivational factors for many, although you might expect to burn a bigger hole in your savings to fund more costly accommodation and general living costs. I find my cash just evaporates when I visit central London, as I drop in on Starbucks and eateries with gay abandon. With exciting entertainment options on your doorstep and amazing shopping, personally I am glad to have opted for campus student experiences, but I understand the lure of the city.
Are these my kind of people ?

A number of suburban London campus programmes are offered, including Brunel, Surrey, Reading, Kingston and my own Royal Holloway University of London. All offer decent, cheap and fast access to the metropolis via public transport, but also provide a pleasant learning environment without the city hassles. Perhaps the best of both worlds ?

Whilst the outside space and building exteriors are important in the early weeks, post graduate programmes and particularly the high intensity MBA (ours students attend 610 hours of class, with group work in addition) sees students very involved with their peers and the learning programme. Gone are the days of relatively carefree undergraduate study peppered with frequent late night visits to the students union. Our MBAs are more likely to be undertaking group study in the library at midnight than partying, although clearly a balanced approach is encouraged, social soft skills are important, after all. Thus perhaps solid advice would recommend that applicants take additional steps to understand the nature of the student body by asking detailed questions of the course team and taking up opportunities to speak with current and alumni students. The tribal, instinctive question "Are these my kind of people ?" is rarely addressed in the euphemistically bland, corporate speak that is found on many formal university programme descriptions. I have tried to address this need with a post on my MBADirector blog titled "Will I fit in ?" and by encouraging applicants to undertake serious research across a number of MBA providers, I really do not want students on our programme whose expectations are better met elsewhere. 

Even with a clear focus of wanting to study for a London MBA, it is apparent that a blend of key decision factors should be considered, from the cognitive accreditation measures to intangible social dimensions, each given a very personal weighting. Is there an App for that ?

Justin O'Brien, MBA Director

Royal Holloway University of London