MBAs Under the Microscope

Last year The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report found that Kiwis were some of the most entrepreneurial of that particular species in the world. Despite this, many new businesses flopped in their first year. The report, not unreasonably, recommended strengthening “the provision of entrepreneurship teaching, research and education at all levels of the education system”.
Philippa Reed, executive director at the University of Auckland Business School, is realistic and pragmatic about the level of local business education. “The knowledge and skills needed to compete internationally are increasing but it is clear that more needs to be done to raise the level of professional management expertise in this country,” she says.
The Auckland MBA programme includes links with business at all levels – the students are all currently employed in business, the lecturers have mix of real business background and research, and the courses include seminars with senior executives. The business school is also partner in the ICEHOUSE initiative, programme designed to assist people with start-up businesses or growth issues moving to the next level. The other partners are the BNZ, Carter Holt Harvey, Boston Consulting Group, Chapman Tripp, Microsoft and Compaq. The business accelerator at the ICEHOUSE currently has eight start-up ventures in residence. “We also have links with UniServices Limited, our commercialisation arm, which has many successful high technology spin-off companies in which the university holds equity,” says Reed.
The Henley MBA at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has strong links with corporates in the UK and Europe through Henley Management College’s consortium and company MBA programmes. “In Auckland we have manager with Vodafone participating in Henley Global Consortium MBA, which is made up of executives from the around the world including Ford, IBM, Electrolux, Continental and Vodafone,” says Stephen LeCouter, information manager for the Henley MBA programmes.
Reed acknowledges that to make step change would require significant investment in people, programmes and facilities. “Other countries have recognised that for country to remain prosperous it must invest not only in education in science and technology, but also in business and management education. Good ideas remain simply good ideas without business know-how and the capability to launch them into domestic and global markets. We need to celebrate wealth creation from technology and also from the arts as desirable cultural feature. Creating wealth from the arts is not something to be embarrassed about.”
Raising the level of international recognition of our academic qualifications is an ongoing concern for our business schools. Along with flexibility (part-time study and online-assisted learning) and mobility (start at one school here, get transferred with the job and finish off in say, Australia), the need for our MBAs to stack up internationally is paramount. Good news, then, for the Universities of Canterbury, Massey and Auckland whose MBA degree programmes have all been accredited by the UK-based Association of MBAs.
A three-person team came to New Zealand in March to assess the MBAs against demanding set of criteria established by their advisory board of business people from wide range of countries. “The awarding of accreditation is significant for several reasons,” explains Suzanne Worrall, MBA director at the University of Canterbury. “First, we can state that this degree has international standing and we can discuss the quality of the students, the curriculum, the lecturers and the administration. Second, the AMBA accreditation is highly regarded by companies throughout the world. Third, that three New Zealand universities were awarded AMBA status speaks volumes about world-class standards here.”
Are enough of our MBA courses regarded as world class? Like most labels, ‘world class’ is loaded with controversy. Andy Godfrey, International MBA director at Manukau Institute of Technology, is “not sure how world class is defined or measured and to what extent, on cost-benefit scale, New Zealand can afford world-class MBAs – as evidenced by Auckland’s proposed costs of $100 million. It would seem that world class is oriented towards major corporates and young, recently qualified graduates. Our students are mature managers (average age 40) wishing to upskill. We aspire to the best standards possible, the MBA is accredited by the Graduate Management Association of Australia and we have clear idea of our market.”
Robyn Leeming, head of the graduate school of business at Massey University, is also realistic about what New Zealand MBA programmes can offer. “I do not think New Zealand can ever aspire to teaching world-class MBA in that we cannot attract the level of academic excellence that private institutions in the US and Europe can pay for. Nor can employers in Australasia provide the richness of employment experience that must enhance the level of debate in the major business schools of those continents.”
But according to Leeming, Massey can offer MBAs that provide students with very high level of education based on sound scholarship of international theory and local business case studies. “This is particularly true in the area of small to medium enterprise development and growth, the areas where the New Zealand experience provides rich learning environment.”
The number of students enrolling for Manukau’s International MBA has grown significantly in the past 12 months as the degree has become established in the market (it began in 1998). Godfrey attributes the growth to two factors. “The flexibility of study, which the concept of supported distance education offers, with weekend workshops and teletutorials, and the international nature of the course (at Australian universities and offered across the Asia-Pacific region). This type of course offers more career flexibility than purely New Zealand-based MBA.”
World class or not, student numbers signing up for our MBAs continue to climb, with more interest than ever coming from Asian students. Ed Weymes, director of Waikato Management School at the University of Waikato, has recently returned from India. “We are getting lot more interest from top private Indian universities collaborating with us. Asian students from Singapore, Taiwan and China regard New Zealand favourably as place to live and study. Interest has risen over the past year for three reasons: the lower cost of the NZ dollar, our reputation for quality education, and September 11th underscoring that New Zealand is one of the safest destinations in the world.”
Henley’s LeCouter reiterates the trend for non-New Zealanders with permanent residency joining its programme. “Students originate from range of countries and made up 50 percent of our new intakes last year.” LeCouter says the fact that Henley has just been awarded accreditation by AACSB, the principal assurance body in the US, helps attract overseas students.
The same three reasons that attract overseas students here also apply to Australia. We do not lose more than handful of our MBA students to universities across the Tasman. Only four or five Kiwis enrolled at Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney (less than five percent of the full-time MBA class). Alan Valvasori, media manager at AGSM, believes that reputation and ranking lure those Kiwis but Chris Groom at the graduate school of Victoria University says its few Kiwis are all permanent residents working in Australia. “The growth market at the moment is China,” says Groom.
Massey University has been quick to fuel China’s interest. It began an offshore MBA programme in Shenzhen run in partnership with Netbig, significant education provider in China, in April this year. Massey is equally keen to lift the horizons of Kiwis in New Zealand economic environment. “Given the enormous contribution farming makes to our economy we have to ackno

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