MBAs Get Competitive

This disparity highlights more than tightening economic market and throws up changes in students’ expectations. In today’s market, both students and prospective employers look for two crucial words associated with their MBA: mobility and globalisation.
In practical terms this means that an MBA is much more sought after if it can be started here in New Zealand, and then when the employee and part-time student is relocated overseas, she can “seamlessly” continue her studies in say, Australia. Today’s MBA needs to be portable and transferable. Secondly, with proliferation of local MBAs on offer, students want to be sure their degree will stand up in the global marketplace. It will sell better if it has strong links with the business community and be recognised as guarantee of international merit.
All MBA directors are quick to point out the differences and particular strengths of their courses but without system of benchmarking here, it is difficult to establish which courses are more useful, tougher to get through, and recognised internationally. There is clear need for degrees in New Zealand to be subjected to objective criteria by the Association of MBAs (AMBA).
The University of Canterbury prides itself on its rigorous standards, which is one way to maintain credibility. MBA students need to get B average on core courses and cannot fail even one course. There are no make-up courses. “We really push our students but we lose very few. With so many MBAs around one of our differentiating factors is the high standard we can maintain. I believe ours is one of the most comprehensive degrees available in New Zealand with wide range of electives,” says Suzanne Worrall, MBA director at Canterbury. “Students must undertake an applied project which takes 800 hours of work and forms 25 percent of the MBA. The project should make real difference to an organisation’s profitability.”
As part of the general trend towards self development and leadership skills, Worrall has seen an increasing interest from international PR students, those who have experience and need to take qualification back home which guarantees quality degree. Worrall also notes an encouraging trend, the reversal of the ?brain drain’. “We have several New Zealanders who left years ago to take up work in the UK. They have been rapidly promoted, reached their early 30s and are coming back to Christchurch to take up our full-time MBA.” There are several reasons for this, not least that MBAs here represent excellent value for money. If we can provide quality education at fraction of the cost of American or British degrees, this is drawcard that will continue to attract people from overseas.
Offering wide range of courses has also helped Otago University attract students. This year Otago University’s MBA programme was ranked by the Financial Times in the top 100 worldwide. This was first for New Zealand. What makes it stand out from other programmes on offer here? Regena Mitchell, director Executive MBA (Auckland) at Otago says, “While our degree sits uncomfortably in most universities because it covers so many areas and is more about breadth than depth, we see this as our strength. The delivery has changed but the content has changed little in the last 25 years except to adjust to what is happening in the business community. Most students have been promoted out of their area of specialty and have little, if any, managerial experience. It is our aim to move them out of their comfort zone, their area of specialty, and expose them to an overall philosophy which affects the whole business.”
Otago’s typical student doing the Executive MBA has an average age of 37, works full-time and attends Otago’s classes on some Fridays plus weekend workshops, clocking up total of 720 contact hours over two years. Mitchell believes that older students with more experience are able to bring greater understanding helping others change. “Think of doctor doing an anatomy class, looking from the outside in. It is best for the whole group to look at things strategically, not just from one perspective, like marketing or accounting. Older people use their life experience to help bring about change in work situation.”
Adjusting to change is an ongoing issue, one that also affects the design of MBA degrees. With the wide choice of courses on offer, each one needs to be able to identify its strengths and differences if it is going to survive. Waikato University has an Executive MBA that it offered in Auckland and in Hamilton. Earlier this year it was pulled from the Auckland market and in April new programme was advertised. The new MBA focuses on ecommerce and entrepreneurship and began in May.
Tony Richardson, associate director of the MBA programme at Waikato University explains. “The former two-year executive MBA programme has been replaced with modular programme allowing greater flexibility and more pathways into the programme. The new model includes participation creating real-time B2B market hub in association with some of New Zealand’s most successful entrepreneurs. Another new component is the overseas study trip to China and Singapore to look at aspects of international business. The combination of lectures/workshops, action research, web-based support and field study offers challenging learning environment.”
Martin Devlin, MBA director at Massey University, notes that while there is now more competition and more enquiries, there are fewer good candidates applying for MBAs. “There are 11 MBAs on offer in Auckland alone and these are of varying quality. Degrees at New Zealand universities all undergo an academic audit unit which has standard of accreditation but this is not the case for all degrees at other institutes.”
It looks inevitable that the proliferation of degrees here will lead to more rationalisation in New Zealand. “It is no longer just question of regional focus, now we are seeing global moves. Just as Columbia University and the London Business School have joined forces, so we will see more collaborative ventures with other business schools in New Zealand,” says Devlin.
One of the biggest changes in the industry is the impact of new technology on both the delivery and design of MBAs. How popular are online MBAs in New Zealand? There are currently two institutions that offer ?distance MBAs’ here – AUT offers the Henley MBA, and Manukau Institute of Technology offers the Southern Cross MBA. Both embrace ?webucation’ to assist in the delivery of the content. From 1998 to 1999 there was considerable growth in the numbers who attended these degrees – 70 entered in 1998 and 117 entered in 1999. Numbers are not yet available for the year 2000 but it is anticipated there has been drop in new students enrolling.
It is difficult to assess how popular online MBA courses are here. While directors of today’s programmes acknowledge the strengths of online assisted learning, all the ones that I spoke to were unanimous about the crucial role face-to-face discussion provides. As Mitchell says, “one of the most important things managers need to know, is how to deal with different backgrounds, different personal styles and philosophies. People constantly ask us, ?how do I bring about change in diplomatic way?” It comes as no surprise that learning skills to resolve conflict is easier in classroom setting, than in chat room. Mitchell adds that MBA students often comment that the most useful things they learned during the MBA, they learned from each other during face-to-face discussions.
That said, it is inevitable that new technology has an ongoing impact on MBAs. What does it really mean to do an MBA online? There is quite bit of variation in the process. In the most extreme case, the student has no contact with faculty or other students face to face. Topic information is distributed via the computer and assignments are graded and returned via email.
Duke University

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