Distance learning MBAs focus on entrepreneurship
The content of online MBAs shifts as working for yourself gets more appealingeducation Updated: Nov 23, 2011 10:42 IST
The MBA used to be the preserve of the senior manager – the best way to clamber up the career ladder to a lucrative boardroom position. Then came the recession, and thousands more business men and women at every stage in their careers were adding the three letters after their name in a bid to boost their employability. A few years on, MBAs are more popular than ever.
But with corporate life now involving 12-hour-plus days and stressful job insecurity, today, for many, the motivation to do an MBA has changed.
The growing lure of life as an entrepreneur means MBA courses are shifting to include modules on creating a start-up. The Tomorrow’s MBA study, an annual report commissioned by the Association of Business Schools, which represents the UK’s business schools and management colleges, reported on the trend for the first time this summer. “For years,” it said, “the focus for many MBA students has been banking, finance and consulting. This is changing; entrepreneurship may be the trend of the future.”
The research found that more than 30% named entrepreneurship as one of the most important pieces of content in an MBA programme, the first time it featured in the top five student choices.
Academics confirm the shift. With many new start-up ideas involving the internet, where entrepreneurs need to move fast to avoid having their idea copied, it’s little surprise that demand for distance-learning MBAs - which are easier to juggle alongside incubating a business idea - is soaring. For example, at the University of Liverpool, the largest provider of wholly online degrees in Europe, more than a third of its 7,500 internet students are enrolled on MBA courses and entrepreneurialism has become a growing component.
“Over the past two years, we’ve introduced modules in social enterprise, entrepreneurial work in emerging markets, and entrepreneurship because students have become increasingly keen on them,” says Alan Southern, director of e-learning and senior lecturer in management.
Durham University’s business school saw enrolment in its online global MBA rise by over 200% for the 2011 intake. Warwick University, which offers modules in entrepreneurial finance and new-venture creation, innovation and creativity, also confirms a strong growth in demand. On its course, students develop their own business plans through a final project, which could be further developed into a career. “Our enterprise stream benefits from links with Warwick Science Park and Warwick Ventures, responsible for commercialising the university’s research,” says Jon Lees, executive director of the MBA course.
That practical element is a key attraction, adds Southern at Liverpool. Nick Jenkins, for example, the founder of online greeting card business Moonpig, dreamed up his personalised card idea while studying for an MBA at Cranfield University. Other entrepreneurial MBAs include John Scully, former chief executive of Apple, and Meg Whitman, president of eBay.
And the enterprise trend is spreading to traditional MBAs: the London Business School’s full-time MBA programme includes six entrepreneurship electives; Cass Business School offers Entrepreneurship: From Start-up to Success, and Innovation and New Product Development, among its MBA options.
Heather Short, who is in her 40s, is studying an MBA at the University of Portsmouth. “I was sure it would lead me to something exciting,” she says. “And it has.”
Short was working in networking marketing when she saw a product being used overseas that she thought had “huge potential” in the UK and embarked on an MBA to find out how to be more entrepreneurial. “I now have the theory to back up my business experience,” says Short. “There is definitely a shift from people doing MBAs to climb the corporate ladder to those keen to learn skills for a start-up. The MBA recognises this by having an entrepreneur’s masterclass, but there could even be a course in its own right.”
Likewise Shaun McCormick, 38, was working in senior management for a pharmaceutical giant when he enrolled on a distance learning MBA at the University of Leicester.
“The course content challenges your thought process, and the strategic and creative thinking made me look at just about everything I was doing,” he says. “I kept asking myself ‘why not set up a business with the ideas you are generating?’”
At the beginning of the recession, when McCormick was made redundant, he did just that. He now runs three businesses, including consultancy Tacit Pharma, which advises firms on procurement strategy, sales, regulation and new business generation. “The MBA helped my understanding of all the factors that impact on a business and how best to navigate to grow. My MBA experiences helped me launch, finance and grow the companies, find new markets and customers and create jobs.” Much of the current demand for online MBAs stems from students living in developing economies. At Bradford University, MBA course organisers introduced a module in entrepreneurship in April, partly to appeal to an international audience. Some 40% of the university’s distance students live in developing countries. “Traditional international business strategy-type modules have been augmented by more focused ones, such as managing international business in emerging economies,” explains spokesman Jonathan Muir.
That’s true, too, at Liverpool. “Nine in 10 of our online student population come from overseas, where there’s also a strong demand for entrepreneurial education,” says Southern. “But it’s a different type of need, so we’ve responded with modules on starting up a business in emerging economies like Brazil and China. It means our online MBA is just as valid for someone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur in Germany, the UK or Nigeria.”
— Guardian News Service