The MBA is a globally recognised high-prestige business qualification. It’s offered by hundreds of universities in every part of the world. And MBA students aspire to leading roles in our corporations, public services, and not-for-profits.
In fact, providing MBA courses is now very big business indeed. So, why would you want one, what is an MBA exactly, and where can you go to get one? Those would be the questions a consumer guide would answer.
But this is not a consumer guide. Instead, we’re going to look at the MBA as a Big Idea.
Why did MBAs arise?
The origins of the MBA lie in the industrialisation of the United States and, in particular, with the growth of one strand of thinking. We’ve covered it before (and will no doubt talk about it again). That Big Idea was Scientific Management.
This was the idea of Frederick Winslow Taylor that he could apply scientific principles to the way people work. To a degree, it was successful, but do read our article to learn more. But one of its biggest successes was the start of the first US business schools, of which the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was the first (1881). And, it remains consistently one of the best, to this day.
Others followed fast, with the world famous Harvard Business School opening its doors in 1908.
These early schools were established by men (and yes, it was the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, so I do mean men) of business. They were alumni of these universities and wanted to encourage the development of other men, like themselves.
Extending the Big Idea
It was only in the 1930s that these American universities started to run programs for executives already experienced in the world of work. And it was nearly 70 years after the foundation of Wharton that the first non-US business school opened, the Ivey Business School at Western University, in Canada (then, the University of Western Ontario).
Asia and Europe followed soon after, with:
- the Institute of Business Administration Karachi set up in 1955 at the University of Karachi in Pakistan, together with the Wharton School.
- INSEAD in France, in 1957. INSEAD stands for Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires, or in English: European Institute of Business Administration.
A Global Industry
As business globalised, so did the idea of a business-oriented higher degree. Now, MBAs are big business. I’d estimate that something like 1,000 (give or take a hundred or so) universities around the world provide one or more MBA programmes.
These feed the insatiable desire of big businesses and major national public service providers for high-calibre managers and executives who can demonstrate in some way an academic grounding in business studies.
But perhaps even more, the MBA industry serves the huge desire for young professional and managerial candidates to trade up their current job status for a higher salary, higher prestige role, which they believe their MBA will open up for them.
Will their MBA get them a better job?
Yes, I believe that often it will. Just look back at the previous paragraph.
But the question you should be asking – and which this article will not and cannot even start to answer – is this:
Will the cost of your MBA be justified by its value?
The Costs of an MBA:
- Study materials
- Travel, accommodation and subsistence
- Opportunity cost (time spent studying and not earning – and maybe missing promotions)
The Benefits of an MBA:
- Learning and knowledge
- Skills and experience
- The qualification and kudos
- The friends and professional connections you make
What is an MBA?
There are so many types of MBA, that the question is hard to answer definitively. What we can say is that it is a higher degree, at Masters level. That is, it is senior to a Bachelor’s (or first) degree, and less demanding and prestigious than a Doctoral Degree (which typically requires some form of original research).
MBAs take from one year (full time) to four years (part time), with one and two year programmes the most common. They usually include:
- Core, mandatory modules
- Elective modules from a menu of options, that allow some specialisation
- A project or thesis
MBA programs can be general, with students specialising by selection of their elective modules or specialised. Specialised MBAs can cover any of a huge range of specialisms. Some of the most common MBA specialisations are:
- Information Technology
- Healthcare Management
- International Business
- Human Resources
- Operations Management
- Supply Chain Management
- Organisational Design (OD)
- Project Management
- Business Strategy
Where to Study
You have more options than I could possibly cover. But consider these questions, among many others:
- Local or distant – do you want to study near your home for minimal disruption on family life, or are you free (or eager) to travel?
- National or International – do you want an experience rooted in your own culture, or do you see this as a chance to broaden your global experiences?
- Prestigious or Practical – do you want the pressure and price of a high-prestige business school, or the more relaxed approach of one that is less so?
- General or Specialised – do you want a broad business education, or have you a specific end-destination in mind that demands a deep focus?
- Full-time or Part-time – can you afford or do you prefer to take time out of work for a deep immersion, or do you need or choose to stay in work, and balance your studies with work and other responsibilities?
I cannot and will not recommend a business school. But, as a matter of observation, if you are interested in prestige, there are many rankings available. Some schools are consistently in the top tiers.
Top-ranked MBA Business Schools
The presence of a school in this list says nothing more than that I kept seeing their name when researching this article. The omission of a school from this list does not mean in any way that its courses are anything other than excellent.
- Stanford Graduate School of Business
- Harvard Business School
- University of Pennsylvania: Wharton
- MIT Sloane School of Business
- Columbia Business School
- London Business School
- HEC Paris
- Cambridge University: Judge Business School
- Oxford University: Said Business School
- CEIBS: the China Europe International Business School
- Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School
- Nanyang Business School, Singapore
What is Your experience of MBAs?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
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