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I did not think there would be a part three to this series of postings. I thought the strange case of the “MBA Winner” web site was more or less closed last year with the second instalment. And yet…. it lives on with the posting yesterday of a rather intriguing comment from someone called “Matt”, which I reproduce below (first verbatim, then with some notes and responses).

***Note: Since first posting this Part Three, I have heard from Matt, and he makes the fair point that I replied online here before he had replied to me. In his message Matt confirms that he was a student at Henley, and that he experienced poor tutor support, poor enough for him to seek additional support with MBA Winner. Matt says, however, that he received tutoring only and his work was his own. Matt goes on politely to take me to task with my comments on his comment, so to speak, which I have to take on the chin. I think it fair, therefore, to amend them below in line with what I know. I have asked Matt if he will share more of what happened, and what he believes went wrong, as I genuinely believe that the Business School should (where appropriate and within reasonable limits) make help available on the MBA.

But first, a recap.

A year ago I received an unsolicited email from a company selling “advice” to MBA students. Most of what they were selling was getting someone to write assignments on your behalf. I responded and entered into a short and not altogether un-bizarre correspondence with the company concerned. The exchange fuelled two blog posts, which you can see by clicking:

here (for part 1)

and

here (for part 2)

And I figured that was that. Now the Part 2 posting has attracted the comment below:

    “I have used MBA Winner myself as an MBA Student and I can tell you that I really got great help when I needed them.

     Chris Dalton does not like the idea of students experiencing frustration and having to meet tutors who are not really bothered to help. Business Schools like Henley charge an awful lot of money for the services they provide. Is the cost representative of the service that you offer Mr Dalton? From my experience with Henley Business School this is so far from the truth! The institution is the big cheater and you try to protect it. Who is cheating whom?

     I was going through severe illness and I was not getting any understanding from my institution. The tutors from MBA Winner really assisted me and helped me and I am grateful for this. I would advice that you consider the unethical side of your own educational business practices where money means more than the student. You are ready to point out how plagiarism is when someone writes someone else’s assignment. However when it comes to your failure to provide a good service as a business school your argument shifts to how there is staff that could help….. !! Yeah…. OK.

   Matt”

(This was what I wrote first:) Naturally, I was a bit concerned at first. Was Matt a Henley MBA student? Had we treated him poorly? Had his assignments been written for him?!?!  I wrote to Matt via the email address that comes attached when someone comments on the blog.  No reply, yet. (Reply now received, hence these parenthetical amendments)

And then I looked more closely at the comment. Here’s my annotated version:

 “I have used MBA Winner myself as an MBA Student and I can tell you that I really got great help when I needed them.

(OK, what could one object to here? It doesn’t say what “help” meant. Paid tutor support, presumably. It sounds like the other teasing testimonials on the MBA Winner web site. Everything, and nothing.)(with the added info, there does appear to be a back-story)

Chris Dalton does not like the idea of students experiencing frustration and having to meet tutors who are not really bothered to help.

(I call upon the readers of this blog to adjudicate on this one. Where did I say that? And, does Matt mean I don’t like the idea of tutors not bothering? Surely I’d be nuts to like the idea of tutors not bothering. And, there are frustrations that students on a good MBA should feel, as well as others that they shouldn’t. Which sort Matt means comes out later…)(think I still stand by much of this. I am very concerned if a tutor will not help. That should not happen. But, give me details…!)

Business Schools like Henley charge an awful lot of money for the services they provide. Is the cost representative of the service that you offer Mr Dalton? From my experience with Henley Business School this is so far from the truth! The institution is the big cheater and you try to protect it. Who is cheating whom?

(Matt, what experience with HBS are you referring to? You don’t appear on our database. Now, I don’t know if the cost of the Henley MBA is representative of the service that we offer, but I do think our students will not be shy in letting us know when this is the case. In my experience with Henley, when this happens – and it sometimes does – I hope that we take them seriously and act to correct the situation. The basic accusation here is that Business Schools are there to take your money and not provide you with a service. This theme repeats itself numerous times on http://www.mbawinner.com , where the payment is for a service that is delivered. The only slight problem with this is that the service in question is you submitting work that is not your own for a university degree. That is the herd of elephants sitting somewhat impatiently on the other side of the room.)  (notwithstanding Matt’s statement that he did not get tutors to write for him, I am happy to hold to my position on this, at least regarding the school where I work. I’m sure there are sausage-factory MBAs with anonymous interaction and arrogant, stand-offish faculty… I just don’t think MBA Winner represents the answer. Still, it’s healthy to air the debate, I think)

I was going through severe illness and I was not getting any understanding from my institution. The tutors from MBA Winner really assisted me and helped me and I am grateful for this. I would advice that you consider the unethical side of your own educational business practices where money means more than the student. You are ready to point out how plagiarism is when someone writes someone else’s assignment. However when it comes to your failure to provide a good service as a business school your argument shifts to how there is staff that could help….. !! Yeah…. OK.

(I’m very sorry to hear that you were not well, Matt. At Henley, when a student doing the MBA encounters a serious illness, problem or reason that they can’t study, they receive advice and assistance and may suspend their studies until they are better or the issue is resolved. I suspect that you may have chosen the wrong institution in the first place. The answer is not to aim low and cheapen yourself by paying someone to write your MBA for you, it is to aim higher and find one that expects more. Or, if the Higher Education sector leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, focus on gaining experience as a manager in the real world instead. No-one can fake that for you.) (given the institution in question is apparently Henley, then I would want to know more details…)

Matt”

(Dear Matt, you may, for all I know, be a real person, and your comment may be heartfelt, your experience bitter. But I’m not convinced. Sorry.)(dear Matt, you are a real person, so apologies for the snooty tone of this. As a serious educator and, I hope, a professional, I believe that if there is a problem, then the Business School needs to put its house in order)

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Following yesterday’s post, in which I laid bare the contents of an e-mail exchange with an organisation that says it provides tutoring support for MBA students as well as bespoke, written from scratch MBA assignments (for a price) I did receive a reply to my (I will freely admit) provocative and critical e-mail.

I wasn’t sure whether I should write another blog post. After all, I would not normally broadcast e-mail content in this way. However, there is no getting away from the fact that at least part of what this company is offering is ethically objectionable and I’m afraid when it comes to violating certain standards and values, I think an interest in upholding those values outweighs the potential embarrassment of someone being a bit annoyed about their e-mail being placed in the public domain.

Had the reply been differently worded, I also probably wouldn’t have bothered. I will let you read what I received, so that you can make your own mind, and then (because I was not encouraged to enter into a dialogue directly by replying) I will place an annotated version with my own position and opinion below that.

This is what Dr Robson sent me yesterday:

“—–Original Message—–
From: support@mbawinner.com [mailto:support@mbawinner.com]
Sent: 23 January 2012 16:27
To: Chris Dalton
Cc: support@mbawinner.com;

Subject: RE: MBA Winner Newsletter

Dear Mr Dalton

My intention is not to start a conversation with you as we share very different views on what we do and what services we offer and why offer them.

You are free to use any adjectives you like as these are an extension of someone’s thinking and well being. On this ground we do not take offense even though we might feel pity for the stance you take.

Thank you for accepting my apologies. The information we use is publically available. Our newsletter is sent out to a number of individuals some of which subscribe for it and some do not but are nevertheless given the opportunity to read something that will make them think of their MBA studies. In any case individuals have the opportunity to read the newsletter or delete the email.

With regards to our website and the information contained in it please note the following issues.

Firstly, the chargeable rates of professional service provides depend on the client’s actual requirements and these can differ considerably.

So even though we might not mention our rates this is in order not to confuse our clients. Once we know what our clients needs and want we can then negotiate the appropriate rate for our service.

Secondly, contrary to your expectations a lot of the work we do is tutoring students, spending time explaining and supporting them.

Our aim is not to compete with universities but to offer a service that allows students to understand and build up their knowledge and confidence.

We understand the debate on plagiarism and I would not like to go into this further and for what is ethical or not because I have seen business schools engaging in highly unethical behaviour and this is highly disguised under their corporate power and structure.

What I can say with confidence, and from our experience however, is that universities remain highly impersonal to students’ needs and personal circumstances. Our aim is to encourage our clients to learn but there are cases where the work we produce for them made the whole difference. I repeat that this is something that you do not have to accept or agree with. However interpretations about why and how such service adds or does not add to a students’ experience should be treated with greater caution.

Thirdly, our website features testimonials and I am not sure how you missed it.

http://www.mbawinner.com/testimonials.html

We do not have a profile of tutors because we do not think that we need one. Do you know many websites where they advertise all the employees working for them?

With regards to the students’ education and professional development all I can say is that there is no monopoly for how the education and development on students happens. I respect the work that you do.

However you must appreciate that business schools often operate as impersonal aggressive profit making machines.

We do not claim to offer the world but the work we do is specific, is well thought and adds value to the students. The feedback we get from our clients is really the best testimony to support this.

I leave the debate here and wish you good luck with your work

Kind Regards

Dr Adam Robson”

And here are my thoughts, inserted as comments in the text:

“—–Original Message—–
From: support@mbawinner.com [mailto:support@mbawinner.com]
Sent: 23 January 2012 16:27
To: Chris Dalton
Cc: support@mbawinner.com;

Subject: RE: MBA Winner Newsletter

Dear Mr Dalton

My intention is not to start a conversation with you as we share very different views on what we do and what services we offer and why offer them. [ Fair enough. We do have different views. My view is that plagiarism is cheating.]

You are free to use any adjectives you like as these are an extension of someone’s thinking and well being. On this ground we do not take offense even though we might feel pity for the stance you take. [ Hold on, is Dr Robson feeling sorry for me? As far as I can tell, my stance is that the payment of another person to write an assignment for you, for you then to submit this work as part of a university degree without acknowledging that someone else wrote it is quite unequivocally not allowed. I’m not sure I’m the one who should feel a little bit ashamed.]

Thank you for accepting my apologies. The information we use is publically available. Our newsletter is sent out to a number of individuals some of which subscribe for it and some do not but are nevertheless given the opportunity to read something that will make them think of their MBA studies. In any case individuals have the opportunity to read the newsletter or delete the email. [ I think Dr Robson is apologising for having, presumably, proactively gone out and lifted my e-mail address from the public domain as a potential client for his company’s services. I don’t feel too bad about this, and he’s right that my e-mail is probably quite easily accessible. However, his company’s newsletter was a thinly veiled advertisement people who might indeed ” think of their MBA studies” to think also about how they might pay MBA Winner for advice and/or assignment writing. I think Dr Robson believes this is a legitimate public service.]

With regards to our website and the information contained in it please note the following issues.

Firstly, the chargeable rates of professional service provides depend on the client’s actual requirements and these can differ considerably.

So even though we might not mention our rates this is in order not to confuse our clients. Once we know what our clients needs and want we can then negotiate the appropriate rate for our service. [ I wonder how much that is.]

Secondly, contrary to your expectations a lot of the work we do is tutoring students, spending time explaining and supporting them. [ If that was all that they did, I guess that would be okay. A bit strange, mind, but okay. The point, of course, is that this is not all they do]

Our aim is not to compete with universities but to offer a service that allows students to understand and build up their knowledge and confidence. [ What?!? A business service that allows students to understand and build up their knowledge and confidence? What a great idea! I wonder what we could give as a name to this kind of service? How about ” Business School”?]

We understand the debate on plagiarism and I would not like to go into this further and for what is ethical or not because I have seen business schools engaging in highly unethical behaviour and this is highly disguised under their corporate power and structure. [ Is there a “debate”? I wonder which part of cheating is ambiguous. I’m sure Dr Robson would indeed not like to go into this further. It is, after all,  pretty thin ice to be standing on and it’s still January.  His rationale for saying that there is no problem in getting somebody to write to your assignment for you seems to be that it is no less ethical then the way that business schools interact and behave with their students. An interesting argument. It would be even more interesting, I suppose, if there were any evidence of this (no examples on his website). It may well be true that universities are institutions that do exercise power in their structure, and actually the debate around what is the best way to evaluate and assess someone’s learning is a genuine interesting area for research, but I cannot understand the logic that, in effect, legitimises the custom authoring of graded coursework.  Personally, I think that the relationship between student and institution (just like the relationship between manager and organisation, and between organisation and customer, and so on…) respresents the two sides of the same coin.]

What I can say with confidence, and from our experience however, is that universities remain highly impersonal to students’ needs and personal circumstances. Our aim is to encourage our clients to learn but there are cases where the work we produce for them made the whole difference. I repeat that this is something that you do not have to accept or agree with. However interpretations about why and how such service adds or does not add to a students’ experience should be treated with greater caution. [” There are cases where the work we produce for them made the whole difference”? Wow. No, I guess this is something that I do not have to accept or agree with. How is this not a ‘ black and white’ argument? Seriously. What kind of integrity a manager have if they had progressed through to university graduation with a Masters degree with this kind of moral compass? What does that say about role of the Business School in society? I could accept that, if a student were affluent enough or (and let’s be generous and say that there may well be some schools which are not as good as some others) desperate enough, paying for some additional subject or study skills tutoring is fine. This seems like the legitimate “front” for the plagiarism aspect.]

Thirdly, our website features testimonials and I am not sure how you missed it. [ Fair point. I did find this later.]

http://www.mbawinner.com/testimonials.html

We do not have a profile of tutors because we do not think that we need one. Do you know many websites where they advertise all the employees working for them? [ Not a fair point. I think they do not put the profiles of the tutors up online because they know that what the tutors are doing is unethical, and if any of them had careers in current academia, those careers would be in jeopardy.]

With regards to the students’ education and professional development all I can say is that there is no monopoly for how the education and development on students happens. I respect the work that you do. [ Sorry, but I don’t believe a word of that.]

However you must appreciate that business schools often operate as impersonal aggressive profit-making machines.

We do not claim to offer the world but the work we do is specific, is well thought and adds value to the students. The feedback we get from our clients is really the best testimony to support this.

I leave the debate here and wish you good luck with your work

Kind Regards

Dr Adam Robson”

I’d be interested to hear what other people think about this. Am I crazy? Anyway, I will leave “the debate” here.

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This morning in my inbox there was an unsolicited email from a company called “MBAWinner.com”, with the subject line ‘MBA Winner newsletter’. It turned out that the pdf attachment was not a newsletter at all, but a glossy brochure for a company which offers (for an hourly fee) MBA tutor advice and/or “custom” writing of assignments for MBAs.

While it might be one thing for a student to pay another person to tutor them (it’s a free country), as you can imagine I am very opposed to getting others to write your assignment for you – because it’s plagiarism.

I thought them stupid for sending this to a faculty member, and I wrote back telling them so. The reply I got surprised me as I think I hurt their feelings. So I spent a little longer looking at their website (www.mbawinner.com), which did not result in me revising my opinion.

Here are the emails as they came:

“—-original Message—–
From: support@mbawinner.com [mailto:support@mbawinner.com]
Sent: 22 January 2012 15:16
To: Chris Dalton
Subject: MBA Winner Newsletter

Dear Chris

Please find our latest MBA Winner newsletter attached here Kind Regards Peter

MBA Winner

Expertise Shapes Your Future

———————-

www.mbawinner.com

Tel: 0800 756 6411

196 High Road

Wood Green

London

N22 8HH

——————————————————————————–

IF YOU ARE NOT THE INTENDED RECIPIENT OF THIS EMAIL, ANY REVIEW, USE, DISCLOSURE OR DISTRIBUTION BY YOU OF ITS CONTENTS IS PROHIBITED” (since I am the intended recipient, I reckon I’m ok disclosing this here…).

“—–Original Message—–
From: Chris Dalton
Sent: 23 January 2012 11:17
To: ‘support@mbawinner.com’
Subject: RE: MBA Winner Newsletter

Hello,

This appears to be an advertisement (not a newsletter) for an assignment writing service? I find it hard to believe that you would be stupid enough to send this to a tutor in a top UK Business School, but you have, so I should probably let you know that this would go against everything we teach and everything we expect from our MBA students. But I think you already know this.

I would, however, like to ask how you included my email in your list.

Chris Dalton”

So what I got back was:

“—–Original Message—–

From: support@mbawinner.com [mailto:support@mbawinner.com]

Sent: 23 January 2012 14:22

To: Chris Dalton

Cc: support@mbawinner.com;

Subject: RE: MBA Winner Newsletter

Dear Mr Dalton

First of all I would like to apologise for you receiving this newsletter.

This was sent to you by accident and  you should not have received it. So apologies.

As for your comment about being stupid you might want to be more considered in your formal as well informal communication and correspondence.

Kind Regards

Dr Adam Robson”

Here’s my reply:

“—–Original Message—–
From: Chris Dalton
Sent: 23 January 2012 15:05
To: ‘support@mbawinner.com’
Subject: RE: MBA Winner Newsletter

Dear Dr Robson,

Thanks for the prompt reply. I am glad that the original unsolicited email was in error, though you do not answer my question how my name got on to your list. I am assuming that your target audience are current or future MBA students who are looking for someone to write their assignments for them, so it must indeed be a bit embarrassing to have sent it to “the other side”, as it were.

I am a bit concerned that I have been harsh in describing your sending me this as stupid (actually, it’s not clear who sent me the first email since it is signed somewhat enigmatically only by ‘Peter’). Perhaps I was being unfair. So I decided to check out the web site. I must say that your site is clear, uncluttered in its layout and contains a great number of reassuringly neutral stock photographs. However, after having had a closer look at the business,  I think I will defend my use of the s-word, and for the following reasons:

1. Your home page outlines what your company does. One line of business is advising students on how they might do better in their assignments, how they can become unstuck and how what sorts of things they might do to get better grades. There is an undisclosed hourly fee for this ‘Professional Consultation’. It’s hard to argue with this, of course, as anyone is free to offer advice. In fact, we already offer a very similar service as this to our students, only we call it tutoring and it’s included in the fees. Since the tutors may also be the markers, there’s a strong likelihood that the advice given will be succinct, germane and impactful.

2. The other area of your business, and since one suspects this may actually be the bit MBA students can’t get from the tutors in their schools my sneaking feeling is that this is your bread and butter, is ‘Custom Writing Service’.

I quote your home page here, because it’s quite brazen:

” Our custom writing service is aimed at students who simply require an expert to undertake their work and guarantee to produce first grade results. There is no plagiarism involved and all assignments are research based. This service is targeted at MBA students who for unforeseen reasons or circumstances have been unable to produce the required academic work.”

I don’t know how paying someone to undertake the writing of your coursework, assignment or dissertation does not constitute plagiarism since the student must surely be passing off the work of one of your staff as their own. I think that does count as plagiarism. If what you mean when you say “there is no plagiarism involved” is that your tutors are not themselves cutting and pasting the words or (heaven forbid) getting someone else to write their work for them, then I think you may be missing the point.

3.  There are no testimonials on your site. Nor are there any tutor profiles. Neither fact creates a sense of being educationally bona fide. You do publish your office location and invite people to visit, if they wish, and this is admirable. I did have a look on Google Maps (Wood Green is a nice area, actually), and wonder whether I should ask for you in the Dry Cleaners on the ground floor, or the accommodation agency upstairs?

A good MBA is never about the grades, it’s about the learning. That learning may not be easy, and an MBA’s life balance may be difficult, especially when they are studying part-time, but that’s part of the process. The value of working through this oneself, without resorting to cheating, is what we would argue is the main benefit of the study – not

You will forgive me for not pulling any punches here. What ghost writing MBA assignments does is demean and devalue the point of calling it education. I know you won’t agree – after all, your web site says the following, “Our service is aimed at making a difference to your personal development by fulfilling your course requirements.” But Personal Development is professionally very close to my heart, so I do think the use of the word stupid is, in this case, defendable.

That is all,

Chris Dalton”

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that I did find some testimonials on the website (sorry). Clearly, the tutoring side of the business is what it is, but I suspect the school where ‘Peter A Jones, Leeds’ did his MBA may want to check his work… Also, I did not ask MBA Winner whether it would be OK to blog this but, you know what? I  did my MBA all by myself and I’m proud that it wasn’t easy, and that I learnt as much through my own errors as through the rewards of good grades, so I don’t care. Grrr.

Up-date- this story continued for a part two

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