MBA Entrants Vote for High-Quality Study

Vladimir Tumanov
The Open University Business School MBA Program in Russia

It is now possible to say that the hardest time for our industry has passed. Last spring most enterprises experienced problems, and the educational market shrank 40 percent. The strongest business schools lost about 20 percent to 30 percent of their students while the weaker ones were on the brink of dissolution. In autumn, however, there was a change for the better.

It was quite natural that the audience changed during the crisis. Last spring the open days in many Moscow schools attracted lots of people, but only some of them were ready to invest in education at that moment. In autumn when the crisis was receding, students came to MBA programs prepared with very specific questions on accreditation, licenses, study form and quality.

These growing requirements from entrants on the quality of education have resulted in the disappearance of offers that had been generated on the tide of overheated demand. Even the top 10 schools had to close some of their narrowly specialized programs, for instance in HR. Generalist programs appear to be more viable, which is easily explained because today a manager can be the head of marketing or sales, but tomorrow they might be on the board of directors and need to demonstrate broader competences.

Today’s MBA entrants are primarily interested in the quality of services and so like to get as much information as possible about the program that they are interested in. It is very important for them to assess the level of lecturers and alumni, so they find out whether the program is known in Russia and internationally. Some time ago the basic criterion for choice was ratings, but now people are interested in international accreditation from independent expert organizations with the most reputable of them being AMBA (Association of MBAs), EQUIS (European Fund for Management Development) and AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). Two of these, or even better three (triple crown certificates), confirm quality of study and make a business school a serious option for entrants.

The most significant criterion of quality is practice-oriented study. Many entrants ask what the real use of an MBA is: When will they get back the invested money? What will their career development be? These questions are very important, and all educational institutions try to answer positively and give the names of well-known alumni. But to be honest, many business schools were set up inside academic universities and essentially remain such. Study is delivered traditionally: For two years students take notes of lectures, do their homework and get marks. However, business schools that initially draw on western formats pay much more attention to case studies and the operational issues of their students.

It is worth now comparing two types of study: Russian, based on theory, and the more pragmatic Western. One of the recent books by Henry Mintzberg has the title “Managers not MBAs.” The author strongly objects to young people getting an MBA. In Russia, this form of study is available to any person holding a degree of higher education. State business schools welcome such an approach, which allows them to prolong the educational cycle: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees, then MBA. They certainly saturate their programs with practice sessions but adhere to academic teaching principles.

As a rule, Western MBA programs attract mature people with practical interests. Of course, for a number of students the academic system is more comprehensible, easy and convenient. Some would like to get a second higher education, master’s degree or professional development certificate. It is necessary to take into account the psychological types of entrants: Some need to be supervised by academic advisors while others, conversely, strive for leadership and self-dependence. It is essential for schools to differentiate the audience, and for entrants to understand clearly where they intend to study. In any case, the MBA is the top of the educational pyramid and substantial professional experience is needed to get this qualification.

When an individual comes face to face with plentiful knowledge from lectures, the result is not effective study. The significant advantage of the Western approach to the MBA is the opportunity for group discussions of case studies with a tutor and fellow students. Indeed, this format better suits busy people who are not ready to lose time in traffic jams in order to attend lectures on weekday evenings. For them, it is important to adapt their knowledge in the process of active discussions, listen to the opinions of others, see the weaknesses or perhaps strengths of their solutions and absorb the experience of their colleagues. Group discussions are good because they allow several viewpoints to be expressed, and all of them will be right. In business, there is no one single correct way to solve the task. It is in just such a noisy, multipolar and enthralling world that real leaders often appear.

Face-to-face, part-time and module formats allow a person to study according to the development of their competences. After the first stage, some recognize that they are not yet ready to implement their knowledge in practice and so have an interval in their studies. Others come straight to the second stage. Irrespective of the period an individual studies, the MBA very soon ingrains managerial skills, and the student’s outlook considerably broadens.

The diploma per se does not automatically fling the doors to companies open and is not in itself a career boost. Only those who focus on acquiring certain skills become leaders and high-level managers. The MBA program creates the necessary conditions for changing the mindset of an individual, helping them get rid of older patterns and rules, building a definite system of responding to external challenge and, finally, making them a world-class manager or an entrepreneur.