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MBA studies are growing in popularity; originally established in the US, they were adopted in Europe in the 1960s. Since then MBA programmes have changed considerably, moving away from the original US model[1,2]. Large numbers of schools operate around the world and they encounter strong competition for students. A significant aspect of an MBA which distinguishes it from its competitors is the content of its programme -- the nature of its curriculum and how it meets the needs of business life.
The aim of this paper is to present the results of an empirical study which explored the issue of the design of an MBA curriculum. The results show how a business school chose to select its curriculum, and how its graduates responded through their experience in their business life.
The curriculum is important to the applicant, the employer and the business school; for the applicant, what will be taught and who will teach it; for the business school, what its staff teach and how the curriculum could be developed to meet the needs of the employers and students; for business, which competences may be expected from the graduate from a specific business school. Thus the programme content is an important aspect in the evaluation of the performance of business schools.
The performance of business schools in the UK is being evaluated by the Higher Education Council in two areas: teaching excellence and excellence in research. One purpose underlying these evaluations is to inform Government funding of the sector. Another purpose is to ensure that the curriculum is such that it will attract both students and academic staff. However, when evaluating the quality of business schools, not only are teaching excellence and research output important, but also the curriculum and the value of its graduates to business are taken into account.
The aims of MBA programmes are to prepare their graduates for managerial roles, help them gain a better understanding of the industrial and business world and its needs, enrich their skills and provide them with competences relevant to their careers. Many researchers have demonstrated the need for such a fit[4-7]. One growing concern is the internationalization of business studies. A special issue of the Journal of Business Administration in 1992 was devoted to the topic of internationalizing management education.
For the individual, one reason for undertaking an MBA is to improve career prospects. Few studies have measured this effect. Boyatzis and Renio indicate some positive attributes gained from MBA studies. In their sample, comparing 72 applicants for an MBA with 27 MBA graduates, they found a higher level of self-evaluation in six managerial skills among the graduates. This demonstrates some possible advantages of MBA studies in developing managerial skills. Their measures, however, are debatable, i.e. there is an ambiguity in the definition of these skills, and there is no clear, direct explanation why an MBA will affect internal needs such as need for achievement. Also, their sample size is rather small.
Graduates are not the only ones to gain from their studies. Other beneficiaries from MBA programmes are the companies employing the graduates. Espey and Batchelor indicate such a contribution, having studied a programme tailored for a specific organization. They report how the company gained from the students carrying out projects and writing dissertations relating to the real needs of the company, thus making the graduates better managers, more involved and caring for the company, and experienced in personal development and self-actualization. The conclusion was that MBA studies in a tailored programme produce better decision makers who increase their knowledge of the company and thus improve both in the short and long term than those on conventional programmes. Thus, as Kane found, the importance of an MBA in recruitment decisions is increasing
How can we evaluate the curriculum, its quality, its fitness for purpose and its relevance? Who is in the best position to provide such an evaluation? For us the answer to the second question was to return to the graduates who have invested their time …