The MBA (Masters of Business Administration) has attained such stature among businesses that studying for the qualification seems to have almost become a rite-of-passage for those wishing to step into senior management positions in the corporate world.
The popularity of the MBA has not diminished despite the prolonged challenge posed by the economic instability of recent years – a fact attested to by the array of colleges from which it is available (course providers include DIT, UCD, Dublin Business School, Griffith College Dublin and UCC, among others) – and while financial incentive has often been associated with the qualification, such an abundance of options suggests another consideration; namely, the pressing need for well-trained and experienced leaders.
Eoghan O’Sullivan, the MBA Development Manager at DIT’s College of Business, agrees that the financial crisis did play a role in how colleges thought about the MBA courses they provided. ‘Following the onset of the global financial crisis, the challenge for MBA providers was to ensure that the programmes have a renewed emphasis on areas such as corporate governance and ethics, problem solving, decision making and change management – to try to help organisations to avoid similar crises in the future.’
The MBA at DIT is one such example. ‘The DIT MBA was completely re-engineered in 2009 to provide a focused response to the smart economy,’ says O’Sullivan. ‘By utilising our ties with industry to great effect we have ensured the programme is geared towards equipping DIT MBA graduates with the skill set they need to navigate tough market conditions and manage organisations ethically, while maintaining growth through delivery of real customer value. Our aim is to ensure that graduates have the requisite skills, whether they find themselves working for an Irish organisation looking to internationalise or an MNC managing global operations.’
Generally speaking, MBA programmes tend to be comprehensive in scope and take into account the various duties and obligations normally expected of those in senior management positions. For instance, students are typically given training in financial, marketing, strategic and people management. They are also given the opportunity to enhance their communication and presentation skills, as well as their ability to negotiate with and influence others. Yet despite this focus on the essentials of managerial practice, MBA programmes still succeed in differentiating themselves from other postgraduate management courses in a number of ways.
‘One distinguishing feature of the MBA is the Leadership Development Programme’, says O’Sullivan. This is run in conjunction with classes and projects for the duration of the course. ‘The Programme begins by using Psychometric tools to identify individual needs and then seeks to address these needs through one-to-one mentoring with a range of workshops in areas including Critical Thinking, Influencing and Negotiating skills, Time Management and effective Presentation Skills.’
Another noteworthy distinction lies in the level of experience that MBA students bring to their studies. The expectation (indeed, it is often a requirement) of many programme providers is that applicants have an appropriate academic qualification (typically a second-class honours primary degree) along with at least 2–3 years of professional experience (preferably at managerial level). In fact, most MBA programmes are specifically designed to cater for those who still hold full-time positions. By running their courses on a part-time basis over the course of two years, programme providers thereby afford their students the opportunity to immediately transfer their college learning to the professional environment, something that DIT’s O’Sullivan is keen to expound upon:
‘Sponsoring organisations see an immediate benefit from participants as the latest business concepts and strategic competencies covered in class can be immediately applied to the workplace. DIT College of Business has close relationships with various industry partners and professional bodies, which allows the MBA to remain at the forefront of business practice and satisfy the needs of employers. Supplemental to this, participant must also complete a variety of real-time projects for their employer during the programme, including a large-scale consultancy project. This requires that the student research a pertinent business issue (challenge or opportunity), and develop a series of recommendations and an action plan for implementation. Participants are supported throughout this process by DIT Faculty and consultancy experts.’
The huge level of experience and diversity brought by students also contributes to their own class learning. ‘The average age of the DIT MBA student is 36, typically with 12 years’ work experience, 6 of which have been years spent in a management role’, continues O’Sullivan. ‘This wealth of experience and knowledge allows for deep peer learning, a hallmark of the MBA programme. Small class sizes are further broken down into working groups, which enhances structured in-class discussions and debating on business issues, thus allowing participants to share their experiences and to reflect – and possibly improve on – current practices in their organisation.’
Such interaction also encourages networking and the generation of ideas – both of which are essential to the development of new business practices and ventures.
While it cannot be said that studying for an MBA comes with the guarantee of a career, what can be said is that the qualification confers its graduates with a set of highly valued career goals and, consequently, greater prospects for the future.
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