UpFront Where to for the MBA?

The traditional means of delivery may be declining in popularity but management education itself has great future because people doing the courses get so much personal benefit from them, according to professor Stephen Watson, principal of Britain’s Henley Management College.
“When you talk to MBA alumni, they are so positive about how their experience of management education has led them to do things they’re sure they wouldn’t have otherwise done. It’s learning journey – people find they’ve not only learned some facts or learned how to think but have learned how to understand themselves better and so can exercise positions of responsibility better than they could have done before.”
Watson, who visited New Zealand last month, says the kind of flak hurled at MBAs by high profile critics such as US management professor Henry Mintzberg applies to the more academic product emerging from North American business schools. “More arid and less practical,” they represent the type of MBA that Mintzberg criticises – and that President George Bush acquired, notes Watson.
“MBAs are not the same wherever you do them – they have different characteristics. What we find is that structuring for both knowledge of subject and personal development is more valuable than other kinds of executive education.”
What is changing is how the education is delivered. Applications for fulltime MBA study have declined in both the US and UK.
“I think we are now in an over-capacity situation on fulltime courses – but not on distance learning which is fortunately what we specialise in.”
One big change, he says, is the increased move to “e-mediated” versions – where presentations and discussion is carried out online. People around the world can log into the same presentation that can be mediated by phone conference call coupled with visual aids on the computer and email discussion.
“We’re only just at the beginning of this I think. The communicability between people wherever they are in the world will just continue to grow.”
Although the Henley MBA is delivered in number of developed countries around the world, cultural differences are barrier. The Chinese business culture, for instance, is just too different.
“To imagine you can have global programme applied anywhere is inadequate.”
In terms of course content, there’s now more focus on entrepreneurism and leadership.
“They’re related terms – it’s all about imagining possible new ways of doing things and bringing those about. The reason is that the world is changing so fast traditional ways of doing things are not going to work in future. Organisations that don’t adapt will die so they need those kinds of people.”
Whether business education can deliver them is another question.
“My view is that leadership is complex and there are certain characteristics leader needs that if they don’t already have, they’re never going to get; others can be developed. So it’s neither true to say leaders are born not made, nor that anyone can be leader if only they go through the right process.
“Everybody has some aspects which can be developed – in particular the ability to listen, to inspire and to imagine.”

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