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What makes an MBA ‘world-class’?


Themes: Leadership

World-classMBA programmes, once the preserve of US business schools, are now available globally. Dr Richard Barker encourages applicants to do their homework!

The MBA is an American creation and the world’s leading business schools were in the United States but the pendulum has swung, according to a leading expert on business-related programmes.

Dr Richard Barker, former Director of the MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School, has just completed his study into worldwide MBA programmes and reports that several world-class programmes have emerged internationally, first in Europe and increasingly in Asia and beyond.

“The world is changing quite quickly and the market growth potential in Europe and Asia for business education is huge.

“People come through MBA programmes here (Cambridge) and you see the value to them and it becomes obvious how much market potential there is for other people doing the same.”

Dr Barker predicts that the business school market in Europe and Asia will develop quickly over the next few decades. That growth will be similar to American schools’ – reputation and resource – but very different in other ways.

“The nature of the learning experience will be very different if you go to a top business school in Europe or Asia as opposed to a top business school in America.

“It then becomes a personal choice. I don’t think it’s about quality, even the quality of the learning experience. It’s more about the suitability of the learning experience to the individual.”

Dr Barker says now is a good time to take stock, to celebrate the international emergence of world-class business schools complementing those in America, and to learn from those schools in guiding ambitious future growth in business education.

He has produced a checklist both for those delivering MBA programmes and for potential applicants to use to evaluate criteria before making their final choices.

The checklist comprises ten factors in three categories. There are three core ‘enabling factors’, two ‘raw materials’ and five ‘catalysts’. The enabling factors include reputation, resource and research.

There are other critically important elements to be considered in choosing a programme.

“I think the single most important factor in choosing a business school is not so much the facilities or even the ranking. It’s the quality of the students who you will be in the classroom with.

“There are two dimensions to that. First is the individual quality, ‘how good are these people as individuals and their career backgrounds, their first degrees, their GMAT scores, the characteristics of the individuals, their interpersonal skills, their career potential’.”

For Dr Barker the second critical second factor, which is easily overlooked, is the overall feel of the group.

“When you go into a business school you want to evaluate not just a few people to get a feel of the overall sense, but you also want to get some sense of the diversity in the classroom because the MBA learning experience is about interpersonal interaction – it’s a shared learning experience.

“Absolutely critical is the quality and diversity and variety of experience of other people in the room. In a highly homogenous programme where everyone has the same kind of background you’re not going to learn as much, whereas if you have geographic diversity, industry diversity, different functional roles, then you get a lot more from the programme”.

Dr Barker was Director of the Cambridge MBA from 2003-2008. He has been a Visiting Professor at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University and at INSEAD.