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Byline: Victoria Masterson

Years after completing his Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Aberdeen, entrepreneur Mark Tabrett says he still regularly dips into the knowledge base it gave him.

"The MBA was the perfect route to bridging the gap between theoretical and professional knowledge," says Tabrett, who studied economic science and maths at honours level and now runs a fintech start-up in London.

"One course available during my time - macroeconomics for business - helped me apply the theory learned through my undergraduate degree to real life global scenarios. It taught me to analyse and approach challenges in a whole new way. Similarly, a course highlighting the importance of managing expectations across different business cultures is helping me work effectively with our new business partners in Sub-Saharan Africa."

Tabrett's start-up, Nimbli, is using innovative technology to S financial inclusion in East Africa and the UK.

"My MBA didn't spot the growth opportunity we saw in Africa but it's certainly helped Nimbli build a company which could be successful there," he says.

The University of Aberdeen Business School offers a range of MBA options, including an MBA Finance and MBA Energy Management, with full or parttime study options on campus in Aberdeen. There is also a part-time executive MBA, delivered over two years in London, and a 100 per cent online option - the 'MBA Global'.

"Beyond knowledge and understanding of core areas of business, the MBA helps individuals develop their interpersonal, leadership and team skills, as well as financial literacy, all of which are attributes highly prized by employers," says Dr Trevor Morrow, director of the MBA Programmes.

"One of the key features of our MBA is innovation and entrepreneurship, with students trained in the development of ideas, business startup, design thinking and pitching." Using innovative teaching and learning resources is a key focus for the university. This includes the Harvard Business School Simulation Everest Challenge, a virtual exercise that tasks teams of students to face the mental and emotional rigours of climbing the world's tallest mountain.

Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University has campuses in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia and offers MBAs with specialisms in finance, human resource management, marketing, oil and gas and strategic planning. The school was a pioneer of distance learning MBAs and has more than 20,000 MBA graduates across five continents.

As Brexit dawns and the business environment remains tough, Edinburgh Business School's MBA programme director, Ken Brown, believes an MBA can equip students with additional skills to navigate difficult times.

"The current business climate is very uncertain, from the relentless move from bricks and mortar to online sales, to Brexit in the UK and Europe, trade tensions between the US and China, and a strong dollar causing economic problems in many countries," Brown says.

"A good MBA will give a person the hard skills they need to analyse the business environment and also the softskills to be able to succeed in different cultural environments."

Brown is seeing online MBAs fuelling growth across the sector, and a trend towards more MBAs with specialisms. "This suits both students who want that focus and employers who want those specific skills," he says.

The MBA is still recognised as a means of achieving career change or achieving faster growth in an organisation, Brown adds.

Edinburgh Business School MBA graduate Jacqueline Cassidy is head of external affairs and a member of the senior leadership team at Children in Scotland, a national network of more than 500 organisations working with children and their families.

After an early career in publishing, she focused increasingly on fundraising and business development in the charitable and third sectors.

"Scarce resources across the sector mean that professional development opportunities beyond short, practical courses are rarely available, and our sector lacks the highly developed managerial and senior leadership skills that MBA programmes afford the private sector," Cassidy says. "The number of MBA qualified leaders is limited, though I believe the third sector can benefit from many of the same skills for successful leadership as commercial businesses."

Cassidy says the interdisciplinary approach of the MBA has broadened her skill set, helping to enhance both her effectiveness as a senior leader in the charity sector in Scotland - and the contribution she can make to social and community projects in current and future roles.

Alongside its core MBA programme, University of the Highlands and Islands introduced an MBA Aviation in 2014 to satisfy an increasing global demand for aviation professionals.

The course is taught by a mix of management and aviation specialists and covers management principles, practices and techniques in aviation contexts.

"The programme started from very small beginnings and our first cohort had six international students," says Sara O'Hagan, MBA/MBA Aviation course leader at Perth College UHI.

"We now have around 35 students studying on a part and full-time basis. Most of our students choose online and part-time study, so they can work and learn at the same time."

Current trends suggest that online study is in demand - because it reduces barriers to entry and provides great accessibility. Niche MBA programmes also continue to flourish as the needs of organisations change and there is a move away from the generalist to the specialist manager. In September 2019, UHI will offer additional niche programmes in the areas of resilience and in mountain studies.

"These areas represent specialisms the university is currently focusing in undergraduate and postgraduate provision and where we anticipate growth," O'Hagan says.

Looking ahead, she notes the arrival of a new acronym predicting the future shape of the business world - 'VUCA' - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. "As such, individuals need to be ever more flexible and adaptable," O'Hagan suggests. MBA graduates are seen as having these qualities, and that drives demand for MBA programmes.

One of UHI's MBA graduates is Scott Innes, 28, a lecturer in business and management at Perth College UHI.

"With my existing qualifications, I wasn't able to teach or support students from degree level upwards and was unsuccessful when applying for academic leadership roles because I didn't have a Masters," Innes explains.

"While studying for my MBA, I applied for and was offered an academic leadership role. This means I'm now the programme leader for higher national business across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership. I'm also now responsible for providing academic guidance to both degree and honours year students who are studying on the BA Business and Management programme at Perth College UHI."

At recruitment business Eden Scott, associate director Michael Lynch, 37, studied a flexible learning MBA course at Strathclyde Business School over three years.

"Doing the MBA was a chance to further develop as a person, broaden my business knowledge in topics such as finance, strategy and leadership, whilst opening a whole new social and professional network," Lynch says.

"The MBA is already helping me in my day-to-day interaction with clients, many of whom are C-suite (boardroom) level and who operate across the international renewable energy sector.

"Our renewable energy division is currently preferred supplier to some of the industry's highest profile projects and companies, and the MBA helps me to better understand the challenges our clients are facing on a day-to-day basis. It could be a chief executive in a new technology developer striving towards commercialisation - or a project director for an offshore wind project who is working towards financial close on a PS2.5bn project overseeing a complex international supply chain."

His experience on the MBA also helps him input strategically to the business and understand and anticipate change.

While an MBA can make a CV stand out and give candidates more of a global outlook on business, recruiters also want to see other strong qualifying factors, particularly experience.

"The boards we service and the investors we support are looking for leading individuals who have experience and a strong network within their chosen sector," says Guy Martin, co-founder and director of Eden Scott. "The experience of leading people and achieving challenging goals is more in demand than an academic qualification."

The University of Edinburgh Business School offers a one-year full time MBA and a two-year part-time Executive MBA, alongside 13 specialist Master of Science programmes. "Fifty four per cent of our MBA candidates are women, while the industry average is still just 37 per cent," points out school dean Professor Wendy Loretto. "There are more than 20 different countries represented in our 50-strong cohort, drawn from a diverse range of sectors. Participants range in age from 28 to 50 and this year we have a Nigerian doctor based in South Africa, an Ontario Police Officer with 20 years' experience and a Sierra Leone-based NGO worker for American Aid."

The school doesn't actively recruit more women or charity workers, but six years ago set out a mission to be more accessible to people who might otherwise be put offby a perception of MBAs being "exclusive to corporate men in suits".

"We develop the curriculum of every course with partners such as RBS, Johnson & Johnson and the Homeless World Cup, who present their real world problems our candidates have to address," Loretto continues. "MBAs also have the opportunity to engage with leading industry guest speakers from companies including Skyscanner, Waitrose and Santander."

The programme includes an annual visit to Colombia, where candidates meet with corporates including Postobon, Colombia's largest beverage company, and Nuestra, a major food processor. They also meet with social entrepreneurs from initiatives including Ruta-N, which provides office space and support for inward investors and entrepreneurs, and Techo, a non-profit set up to tackle poverty.

With the arrival of Brexit, 2019 is a big year for Scotland, the UK and its education sector.

"We are realistic about the challenges to come, but as long as there are people with a desire to transition to more senior roles, switch careers or start their own business, an MBA will continue to be the flagship professional qualification," Loretto says. "The business environment is going to change considerably, but we believe our commitment to diversity of experience and ideas will continue to inspire and attract those focused on thinking differently."

Stirling Management School at the University of Stirling offers The Stirling MBA, a one-year course covering essential management areas, including accounting and finance, marketing, operations, economics and human resources. All postgraduate students take part in a 'Flying Start Leadership Programme' at the beginning of the academic year to equip them with skills including public speaking, working under pressure and managing conflict.

"Our MBA alumni work globally across all sectors of the economy in management, marketing and advertising, government administration and banking and finance in organisations ranging from the National Health Service to management consultancies and banking organisations," says Professor George Burt, programme director at Stirling Management School.

"MBAs are particularly important in the current climate because of the level of uncertainty and complexity surrounding every organisation."

Stirling MBA graduate Sanyam Raaj Khera, 27, from India, was working as a supply chain officer for an edible oil manufacturer in Singapore before she decided to study the Stirling MBA. "I chose to do an MBA because I had been in Singapore for nine years and I was stuck in my career," she says. "I wanted to move into marketing and business development.

"I chose to study for an MBA in the UK because the education system here is considered to be the best in the world. I came to Stirling because, strange as it might seem, I was missing cold weather."

After submitting her dissertation, Khera moved back to Singapore and had some interviews.

"I wasn't expecting the MBA to have such a dramatic impact so quickly, but I have now started a new job in business development and marketing with the Mewah Group (an agri-business) in Singapore. Doing an MBA worked out well for me - it is a great achievement." | January 2019 INSIDER 89

The MBA was the perfect route to bridging the gap between theoretical and professional knowledgeMark Tabrett, NimbliThe number of MBA qualified leaders is limited, though I believe the third sector can benefit from many of the same skills for successful leadership as commercial businesses Jacqueline Cassidy, Children in Scotland (below)The experience of leading people and achieving challenging goals is more in demand than an academic qualification Guy Martin, Eden Scott (below)


Professor Wendy Loretto, dean of University of Edinburgh Business School
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Insider Monthly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 11, 2019
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