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Archive for February, 2008

Back to Skool

I find myself in alien territory of academia. Yesterday I came up to Lancaster University, a modern, self-contained education provider, sandwiched between the main north-south rail line and the M6, but with lovely views on to green hills beyond. There are all sorts of students here – quite different to the ambience of Henley.

This is my first trip to this campus as a PhD student, and I had to go through the same rites of passage of registration, library and ISS logins that everyone does. I also had a meeting with my supervisors, John Burgoyne and Ian Clark. We were joined by a third academic, Ian Densten, so my barely-thought-through ideas were given a real work-out in their mental gym. My brain still aches this morning! But it was also tremendously helpful and although I cannot see with 20/20 vision where I am going, I can see better now where I’m not.

Today I have been attending a get-together of other part-time PhD students in the department. It’s very interesting hearing different people’s stories and perspectives. Some of the stories are horror stories, but they are told with some relish by those who have them now in their past. How I look forward to telling my own, in hindsight.

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The delicate chemistry of the crowd

From the slow start, last week picked up in both pace and mood. By Friday, and the arrival of the new Henley-Based MBA intake, things were at full pelt.

It’s very interesting how every new cohort, despite bearing so many similarities to one another (age, geography, industry and workshop agenda tend not to vary across the year), has developed its own distinct personality by lunchtime on the first day. There must be an almost chemical reaction, unseen by those it involves, that produces a slightly different formula each time.

The temptation would be to say something such as ‘this intake reminds me of…’ but that would preclude the almost certain possibility that this intake is of its own making, forming its own story, and quite like ones we’ve seen before. Let’s see where it goes from here.

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Monday bites back

I knew it was going to be one of those days when on a freezing cold start to the day on the M40 this morning I was cut off by a white van which completely failed to see me. Lucky there was nothing by my side as I swerved left to avoid the van.

My composure recaptured, I nevertheless decided to park on the ‘client’ side of the road at Henley (and therefore just outside my own office), with the flimsy internal excuse that I was already late. After a quick word with the Director of Studies for the Full-time MBA I made it to work and went straight to set up a team build session for the Advanced Management Programme, which is now in its third and final week. The team-build went well, and I really enjoy working with the spontaneity of an experiential learning exercise, but from then until I left at 6.30 that evening, the day was a fusillade of issues…

Some days are quiet games of gentle lawn tennis, others are like being on the other side of the net as the training machine blasts out ball after ball at top speed. I now have a ‘to do’ list to organise my ‘to do’ list. There were issues to juggle all day around budgets, timetables, workshops, special cases in admission, re-registration and plagiarism, as well as several ‘corridor’ meetings with colleagues from all over the college.

I didn’t make it in to speak with intake 35 during their Finance workshop, but will start with them tomorrow morning at their Personal Development session. Being away in Hungary, I missed being able to speak to Intake 32, which I very much regret as theirs was a Part Starter workshop and marked the half-way point in their MBA.

One piece of heartening news is that we are now certain to be over target in recruitment for the next Henley intake, which start at the College this week on Friday.

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Einstein’s theory of the relativity of time, revisited

Since I will have my first face-to-face meeting with my supervisors before the end of February, I had a couple of days working from home this week, ostensibly to make some progress with ideas for my PhD.

I rediscovered the strange phenomenon that making a cup of tea, an activity that might occupy thirty seconds at work on a busy day, can take a full 35 minutes at home when all that waits to distract you is a pile of academic articles about complexity theory, adult learning theory and critical realism.

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Eastern promise Central to Europe

Last week I had the unexpected but none the less pleasurable chance to spend a week in Budapest with the full-time MBA group, who were undertaking the first of their three foreign study trips during their one-year programme.

Having lived there for so long, and having acquired the language, I was in the strange position of knowing some of the background history (and background chat). We visited four companies while there, and during the final presentations it was fascinating to see impressions drawn through fresh pairs of eyes. This was also a very friendly, lively and impeccably behaved group, which helped.

Much of what I knew from my time living and working there remains. The sweep of the river as it runs through one of the great city views of Europe is tremendous, and there are plenty of signs that on many levels Budapest is thriving.

Yet for all that Budapest has now gained the trappings of a European Union capital city, there is something I miss of the dilapidated and mysterious city I encountered in 1987, stepping off the train at the Eastern Railway station. I was a refugee from the dwindling anarchic freedom of Margaret Thatcher’s England, and Budapest was a totally foreign experience. Materially things were simple because there was no outlet for them to be ostentatious. Manners were strictly observed and part of another era. But austere necessity seemed to have also forced all the creativity and self expression underground, and I soon discovered that there were many networks of like-minded (and some broad-minded) people. The system was absolute, but everyone absolutely knew how to get around it. As a visitor, you were taken from unlikely place to unlikely place in the city. Everything was available, but you had to know where, and who.

Remnants of that mindset were sometimes hinted at during the study tour, though the back-drop now seems completely inappropriate. Where the ability to circumvent the rules, the determination to look after number one, and the insulation of “being Hungarian” were once necessary survival mechanisms, the same attributes leave the country in danger of being passed by. Reforms don’t work, the political elite excel in a mix of corruption and bigotry, and there is a cultural inwardness that refuses to reach out to neighbour and takes little or no interest outside the world of the magyar.

The sad thing is that they would have so much going for them. They are proud, independent and very clever. But like many formerly powerful European nations, you are left with the feeling that Hungary (even after all these years since their starring role in the downfall of the Berlin Wall) hasn’t quite got the point.

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e-Newsletter for January

Dear all,

It’s one of those very stormy English winter days here at Henley, with wind-driven rain, trees bending at their tops and the surface of the Thames whipped into (by staid British standards) a frenzied procession downstream toward London. And yet the daffodils are already flowering on the lawns and hinting at Spring, so it appears to me a bit of a mixed message.

The Merger

The only item worth starting with this month is the piece of news you all will already know, namely the proposed merger with Reading Business School. Since first announced, and where concern has been raised by programme members, it appears the be centred on the retention of the word Henley with the MBA (it remains in place) and on the location of the MBA in the College (we stay in place). The things that make Henley special, and perhaps they are the ones that influenced you most, are exactly the elements of the deal that make sense for Reading. The size, resources and research reputation of Reading complement our strengths and provide a platform to compete with other top 10 world business schools.

There’s more information about the merger now posted on your eLearning area, and there is also an email where you can address comments and questions – merger@henleymc.ac.uk. Don’t be shy.

The Ranking

Another interesting development this month is the first ever ranking of Distance Learning MBA programmes, which has been created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Henley is placed at number 6 in the world. This places us above everyone else in the UK except Warwick (who are now in my sights!).

The addition of this ranking is both long overdue and welcome. Despite the limitations one must always keep in mind with any ranking, it does gives us another metric to help define the Henley MBA and measure our progress and perceived brand value. One of those limitations is the difficulty in defining what is and what isn’t a distance learning degree. Another is discerning the extent to which a programme is local or global. The Henley DL MBA is global, and one or two of the other schools listed cannot claim this. The Henley DL MBA is also a distinct and separate alternative to the part-time Executive MBA, which again cannot be said of some of the other programmes ranked by EIU.

Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that Henley is one of only two schools listed in the top ten of both Economist MBA rankings. Thank you to anyone who contributed their time in participating in the survey last year and we hope that many more of you will feel energised to do so in 2008.

Home Straight Community News

Those members in Intake HB28 who have reached the Dissertation due date in the schedule but have yet to submit their final masterpiece have now all been invited to join the Home Straight. This will attract the attentions of two experienced Henley tutors to monitor your progress and encourage you, as well as a community of around 300 others in the same position. There is a blog, to which you will need an invitation from me. The blog has been fairly quiet in the last month, so I’d like to remind anyone who has a useful insight or tip to share it with the others online.

Dissertation Request

Speaking of HB28, one of their number, Dahjit Ghoman, has approached me to advertise for volunteers to participate in research for his Dissertation. The topic is “Low cost sourcing.”

More Research

One of the best ways to learn more about doing your own research on the MBA is to participate in someone else’s. Here is another opportunity, brought to my notice by Roger Palmer on the Henley Faculty. He writes:

“We would like to ask you to support a research project by completing an online questionnaire. The research, which is being conducted by a Ph.D. student, deals with the question of how customers evaluate and use information sources. The hypotheses will be tested on the MBA market. This is a very interesting market with many customers (you), suppliers (business schools) and third-party information sources (such as rankings, accreditations, etc.).
Henley has agreed to support the project as it contributes to state-of-the-art research and also helps us to enhance our existing knowledge of the MBA market and hence the efficiency of our marketing efforts.

Please start the survey by clicking on the following link:
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The site will be available until February 10, 2008.

Last but not least, you have the chance to win one of two 50 EUR or one of fifteen 25 EUR gift certificates from Amazon.”

Results from the Board of Examiners in January

These should now be available to you online on the e:portal. I sincerely hope that you have good news and are feeling either very pleased with yourself if you have now finished, or spurred on if you are part-way through. It is sometimes frustrating to have what appears to be a considerable lag between the exam and the results, or confirmation of award. I can recall wondering what on earth Henley was up to when I was a DL programme member myself. However, having seen the process from the other side of the fence, I now see the many steps taken to ensure equity and accuracy in marking, assured by a very thorough system of external examiners. This month’s Board of Examiners meeting ran for a gruelling three hours, and the level of detail and concern over individual cases was very noticeable. We know that the MBA process means a lot to you.
Apologies for the break in communication on the Henley website and e:assignment portal at the start of the month. It was very frustrating, but the fault was outside the College and actually affected many other institutions for a number of days as well. It was doubly frustrating that we couldn’t let you know what the problem was!

New Associate in Malta

I’m pleased to announce that we have recently signed a contract with Allied Consultants in Malta, who will be continuing the long relationship with the Henley MBA that has been the work of Reno Sammut for many years. Having just returned from a visit there, I can tell you that the statistic that one in every thousand worker in Malta has a Henley MBA is true – we met them everywhere!

Next month we will be running Stage One starter workshops here at Henley for the next Henley-based intake, HB38, and also for groups from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and (I’m told) Greenland.

Finally, many thanks to all those who were kind enough to write with congratulations on my new position. I can testify both that the role is a fantastic challenge and also that the honeymoon period is definitely over!

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