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 To MBA or not to MBA?


‘You could be forgiven for thinking just about every man and his dog has an MBA these days,’ says Anthony Hesketh, of Lancaster University management school. We know what he means. Such is the worldwide growth and awareness of the MBA that this icon of career advancement and high salaries has almost become synonymous with postgraduate education in the business sector.
In reality, many postgraduate alternatives to an MBA exist. The total number of MBA programmes worldwide is around 2,400, while other masters and advanced courses in the whole spectrum of business education add up to more than 10,000.
Two key distinctions exist in matching what aspiring students want with what the universities offer: first is generalization versus specialization, and second is pre-experience versus post-experience, and the two distinctions are interlinked. Carol Blackman, of the University of Westminster school of business, explains the first distinction. ‘Specialist masters programmes are designed either for career preparation in a clearly defined type of job or profession, or are intended to develop or enhance professional competence in individuals who are already experienced. The aim is to increase the depth of their knowledge in the specialist area. The MBA, on the other hand, is a general management programme which provides practising managers with an opportunity for personal development with a broadly-based introduction to all management subject areas and the theory and practice of management’.
Specialist knowledge, however, is not everything when it comes to finding a job. Surveys by the UK’s Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) repeatedly confirm that what employers seek, and continue to find scarce, are the personal skills that will make graduates valuable employees. In fact, when recruiting new graduates, most employers considered these skills more important than specialist knowledge. What employers seek most from new graduates are enthusiasm and self- motivation, interpersonal skills, team working and good oral communication. Of the nineteen skills considered important in AGR’s 2002 survey, just three require specialist education - numeracy, computer literacy and foreign languages - and these are low on the list.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, chief executive of topcareers.net, takes this further. ‘Clearly, salary differentials for those with a second degree, but no significant work experience, do not match those of a good MBA and a number of years in the workplace. According to the AGR research, about 14% of employers offered a better salary to those new graduates with a masters - or even a doctorate. In my view, the salary improvement of 10% to 15% largely reflects the recruit’s age and earning expectancy rather than the increase in human capital perceived by the employer. Contrast this with our latest topmba.com MBA Recruiters Survey results which shows that the average salary paid to an MBA with good work experience in the US and Europe is US$80,000 - around two and a half times the average starting salary for a young postgraduate.’
Anthony Hesketh poses the question whether holding a second degree may even be a disadvantage. ‘I have seen many reports over the years suggesting that employers view
postgraduates as eminently less employable than those with a first degree. Drive, motivation and career focus, not to mention ability, are what employers value and are prepared to pay for. A postgraduate immediately has an uphill task explaining an additional year, or three years, of study.’
This view may seem cynical, but, if you are about to graduate and are considering a further degree, you should take the realities into account and ask yourself some hard questions:
• Is the qualification I am considering going to impress employers?
• Is it going to give me the edge over less qualified candidates?
• Is my consideration of a second degree because I am not sure of my career direction?
• Will employers consider that I lack drive and ambition because I have deferred my
attempts to find a worthwhile job?
Many postgraduate options exist that can help you to acquire the personal skills that employers in the world of business are seeking. Consider, for example, the offerings of Strathclyde and Durham universities.
According to Dr Nic Beech, of the University of Strathclyde graduate school of business: The MSc in business management (MBM), offered at USGSB is suitable for students with a good first degree - particularly a non-business first degree - but little or no business experience. Our MBM offers these graduates the opportunity to combine the specialization of their first degree with a general management qualification - something employers recognize produces a well-rounded individual.
Graduates tell us that the MBM allows them to access sectors previously out of reach. It is designed to develop the business knowledge, practical experience and personal skills which employers are seeking.’
At the University of Durham business school, Sheena Maberly is careers development officer; she too sees high value in qualifications such as the Durham MA in management (DMAM). She says: ‘Whatever your first degree, from anthropology to zoology, a postgraduate business degree can help you gain a competitive edge in an over-crowded job market. If you’re just starting out in your career, a business masters degree like the DMAM will enable you to develop skills directly relevant to employers’ needs. So, extending your studies into management can make you better equipped to ‘hit the ground running’ - and that’s what employers expect. Recruiters are highly selective and a vocational qualification is additional evidence of motivation.’
Before committing yourself to postgraduate study, weigh up the options. Perhaps the best route might be to take a job now and plan to do an MBA a few years down the line? Try to get sponsorship from a company. Or go for a well researched and thoroughly thought through masters that will help you land a good job. Ultimately the choice is yours, but focus on the future, and on your target employer’s expectations. 

 Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading passage?
TRUE  if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

1. British employers are more interested in what potential recruits can do than what they know.

2. A recruit with a specialist masters usually earns as much as an experienced employee with a good MBA.

3. The writer claims that undergraduates often plan to do a masters because they can′t decide what career to follow.

 The text quotes various individuals. Choose the people that relate to the following points.

1. Employees with postgraduate qualifications earn more because they are older and expect more.
A. Nunzio Quacquarelli
B. Carol Blackman
C. Nic Beech
D. Anthony Hesketh

2. It can be difficult to convince an employer that the extra time spent at university was necessary.
A. Nic Beech
B. Anthony Hesketh
C. Carol Blackman
D. Nunzio Quacquarelli

3. One type of course focuses on a particular aspect of business, whereas the other is more general in approach.
A. Nunzio Quacquarelli
B. Anthony Hesketh
C. Carol Blackman
D. Nic Beech

4. Graduates who have neither worked in nor studied business are suited to our programme.
A. Nunzio Quacquarelli
B. Anthony Hesketh
C. Nic Beech
D. Carol Blackman

5. There is evidence that companies may prefer to employ people without a masters degree.
A. Nunzio Quacquarelli
B. Nic Beech
C. Carol Blackman
D. Anthony Hesketh

 Complete the summary below. Choose ONE word from the reading passage for each answer.


According to Sheena Maberly, a second degree can improve the (1)…………… prospects of graduates in any subject. Taking a management MA gives them the (2) …………… companies are looking for, and lets them get straight on with the job as soon as they start work. It also shows they have the (3) …………… that companies seek.
First, however, it is important to consider the (4) ……………: whether to start right away on a carefully chosen postgraduate course, or to do so after a few years’ work, preferably with financial assistance from the (5) ……………. Whichever they decide, they should think about the (6) ………………, and what the company wants. 

future job skills company motivation options


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