Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in the UK and international MBA market. The increasing demand for training in what is now routinely accepted as the graduate management degree is in part due to the MBA's growing reputation with senior executives in the business world.

There is also a growing recognition - illustrated by the recent implosion of the bubble - that entrepreneurial vision alone is rarely enough for long-term success. Dynamic leadership and innovative strategy needs to be complimented with the sound theoretical grounding and diverse, up-to-the-minute management skills that only a top MBA can offer.

The benefit of this situation for prospective students is that, as the number of MBA courses available increases, so too does the diversity and choice of options available. However, such diversity often means that the task of identifying the most suitable course can be a daunting one. This is in no way helped by the increasingly aggressive marketing campaigns that inevitably emerge from such a competitive market.

When considering an MBA, a number of factors emerge as the key criteria on which a decision should be based.

In the past, many MBA providers were slow to adapt to the accelerating pace of change in the business world. The best courses are now updated regularly to keep pace with such changes but students would be wise to ensure this is the case before making a commitment to a course. Bear in mind as well that in business, keeping pace with developments is often not enough. Because of this, institutions with an active and rich research culture - at the cutting edge of strategic innovation - will continue to hold a premium.

Top MBAs are also marked by their flexibility. As the business world continues to embrace the rapid developments in technology, telecommunication and e-business, the need for a flexible and integrative approach becomes a high priority. Courses that offer a wide range of electives, afford flexible choice, and are able to integrate diverse approaches, will help produce graduates who are highly valued assets in the new economy.

Such diversity should also extend to an institution's links with national and international business. Corporate connections offer an invaluable opportunity for MBA students to gain rewarding work experience, apply their understanding of business theory in the real world and develop their network of contacts. For those developing such networks, it is important for an institution to have an active and supportive alumni service. It is also highly advantageous for an MBA provider to be located near a major corporate business region. Indeed, employers commonly hold such institutions in higher regard for this reason.

The location of an institution has implications for socialising and recreation as well. Top MBAs are undoubtedly demanding and intensive but this is all the more reason to select a programme location that offers diverse opportunities for participating in non-curricular activities between study. Prospective students are advised to ensure their interests will be catered for either on campus or within easy reach of it. However, although the bright lights of a city may appeal, a peaceful campus may also be desirable for study.

An environment that fosters collaboration between staff and students is also advantageous. The best business schools naturally demand and attract academic staff who can compliment their academic training with previous corporate experience. Many programmes (particularly those with strict entry requirements) will also be host to students with their own unique experience that can potentially offer new and informed perspectives on study topics. In light of this, an environment that promotes and fosters collaboration and co-operation between students and staff should be seen as a valuable asset.

It is recommended too that a prospective MBA course has a solid reputation for student support. Tutors, mentors and effective administrative support all contribute to reduce pressure on students while they are learning. Stress is also minimised (although rarely eliminated!) in institutions with well-resourced study facilities (including library and computer centre) and comfortable lecture theatres and seminar rooms.

It is increasingly vital that an MBA course approaches it's subject from a truly international perspective. Programmes that offer a high proportion of students and faculty from a wide range of nationalities should be favoured above those with a less cosmopolitan mix. As business becomes increasingly global, the ability to understand the 'big-picture' coupled with the awareness of the international dimension to business will continue to be a quality highly valued by employers and a key factor for entrepreneurial success.

For most students, enrolling for an MBA is a serious financial investment. Only a small amount of investigation will reveal the wide range of course fees being charged by different institutions. Bear in mind that, when it comes to MBAs, cost does not always equate to quality. It is an unfortunate fact that employers often fail to recognise this. Because of this, there is no doubt that the reputation of an MBA programme within the business community (both national and international) should play a significant part in the decision to enrol. For those students who do have a limited budget, be assured that there are still programmes available that provide a stimulating and rigorous learning environment without the heart-stopping course fees.

Although deciding on the most appropriate MBA programme can be a daunting task, it is undoubtedly worth the time and effort to research the market thoroughly before any final choice is made. A top MBA programme will provide students with the tools, acumen and confidence to fully achieve both professional and personal goals. Whether within existing companies or new enterprises, MBA graduates will have taken a significant step on the road to success.

With thanks to:

Steve Brown, Research and Development Co-coordinator &

Professor Colin Haslam, Head of the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London


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