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Archive for January, 2008

Henley distance learning MBA in the Economist ranking

For the first time, the well-known Economist Intelligence Unit has produced a ranking of distance learning MBAs. You can read the extended report here. Henley is placed at number 6, which means that we are the only European school in the top ten of both EIU MBA rankings. We are number two in the UK, behind Warwick. To be honest, I’d much rather we were number one!

DL is often hard to categorise and define, so although there are occasionally attempts to list programmes (usually ranked by reported numbers of registered students), until now no-one has successfully collated a coherent and transparent ranking. Though I welcome it, I’m not sure how successful this one is because they are not actually comparing like with like.

The first thing that struck me was that the EIU ranking extends only to 10 schools. This is somewhat baffling since there must be at least twice that number of recognised DL MBA programmes, or shades of DL, around the world. Did they not ask certain schools to participate? Did they ask but some schools declined? How did they identify their target list?

The second thing is the criteria used to define their formula for the final list, via the three sub-categories of “Programme Content”, “Quality of Fellow Students” and “Distance Learning elements” (this last one might contain a number of different things). The Florida and IE programmes use distance learning aspects to deliver what is in fact a regular part-time MBA curriculum to a regular part-time MBA sized cohort. Henley, Warwick and OU deliver to a much more geographically spread and perhaps more experienced set of students. The consortium programme offered via Nantes (which includes Maastricht and EADE) is more interesting as a model.

If only some of the schools on the list are competing with each other, then the overall comparison seems less useful. Having looked, for example, at the web sites for Florida (ranked number 1) and Curtin (ranked number 4) they are both clearly solid schools, but ones that deliver to a localised market.

Nevertheless, there is value for the education provider to look closely at what goes on in other schools, and I’m sure there are interest points for all 10 schools on the list. Understanding the mechanics behind the ranking will probably be useful in knowing where to work on for next year. Though we did ok in the third category, I would like to report then that we our current and past students have a more favourable opinion of Henley’s learning materials, sense of connection with the school and value for money.

However, we will no doubt still be in competition with the part-time MBA delivered using DL methodology, and with some schools where the cultural norm is to grade/evaluate at the top end of the scale (the US). In the UK, not only do we need to deliver an excellent service, you the programme member need to be happy to acknowledge it on the Likert scale in the questionnaire.

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Some early thoughts on my new role

The road from Programme Leader to Director of Studies doesn’t look far on the map, but is up a deceptively steep path. I feel as though I haven’t sat down in the last month or so, which is odd since I am sitting down most of the day. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant position to be in and I am thankful to be involved at such an interesting level with one of the best business schools in the world.

What’s great about it? For one thing, every day is different. I can be dealing with an appeal or special request from a programme member one moment, then interviewing a potential candidate the next. Chairing the pre-board of examiners meeting one day (this will be a new experience for me next week!) and running an experiential learning exercise another.

The downside? For one thing, you’re only as good as your last decision, so the pressure’s always there to maintain a high standard, and sometimes you have to do that with very limited resources and in situations often with very fuzzy interpretations. The organisation will never stop absorbing your time and energy, so no doubt I will have to learn how to be selfish and carve out time for my own – my PhD, my home life, as well as things which you need to do now although they won’t bear fruit for a long while to come.

We ask our MBAs to be adult learners, to be open to reflecting on their progress critically and questioning a lot of taken-for-granteds. I hope we practice what we preach. I know it will pay off to do so.

What I have learnt so far is that when you reach a point where the buck actually starts stopping, you have to adopt the right sorts of behaviours to handle it, or occasionally delay handling it. The skills and experience that got you there help but they are very unlikely to be enough. I will have to ask my colleagues in a few months time, and perhaps some of the MBA programme members, whether I’m getting it about right.

With so much to occupy the week days, the weekends have been like oases of calm; desert islands of respite and recharge. I am even more fortunate that my desert island is Oxford, a small city with a thousand different ways to root you to your spot again. This weekend we have also decided to open a gift bottle of 1996 Disznoko 5 puttonyos Tokayi dessert wine, a fabulous drink and something really worth savouring in tiny sips.

A thought that has occurred to me lately is the importance of emotion in learning. I don’t think you can have a good MBA if there is no investment, involvement or celebration of emotion. I also still believe the slower you can take your studies, the better…

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All quiet on the western front

We had a break in our Internet connection at the College which lasted from Sunday lunchtime to end of work on Monday. It wasn’t our fault, and another 20 colleges and schools were affected, but of course when your system isn’t working, no-one can see whether it’s localised or general.

It’s always interesting to see what happens when technology’s blankets are torn off the bed for a while. We had internal email, so that probably kept the e-junkies going, but for most of us it was a liberating break from the tyranny of ‘response-response-response’ to new mail. I got on with several long-delayed or ignored desk projects and employed a radical new-fangled management technique called management-by-walking-around.

My walk took me also to the Business Transformation workshop for intake 31, where I was able to host a short Q and A on the Reading merger. People had good questions, mostly relating to reassurance about our belief in Henley as a brand, clarification on where their degree will come from and what the business case is for the deal.

Actually, the same questions have come up again and again and it will be very important that we communicate as much as possible in the coming weeks and months.

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Reading between the lines

Everyone here is, not very surprisingly, talking about the proposed merger of Henley Management College with Reading Business School.

The funny thing is – concern over the nuts and bolts of how it will all happen notwithstanding – there is a generally optimistic consensus which accepts not only the advisability of such a move but also the synergy and opportunity.

Reading has no corporate clientele (beyond those sponsoring some research) and no MBA. I suspect the lack of MBA is more to do with how recently their Business School was formed as a unit rather than anything else. Whatever the reason, it does mean that we should be able to carry on doing what we do in the special way we do it. But we’ll be doing this on a fresh investment in infrastructure, on economies of scale in support and business development, and on depth of resources in faculty and expertise. This should help us in the rankings, so as long as the Henley brand is retained, this is very good news for all current members and alumni.

So I’m very excited by what this will mean. I wouldn’t want to lose a single drop of what makes Henley unique, and I suspect that colleagues at Reading will be feeling the same (their Real Estate and Economics departments, for example, are world renowned), but the very simple truth is that it’s a win-win.

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