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The part-time MBA at Strathclyde Business School…

I firmly believe that the part-time MBA at Strathclyde Business School will be one of the most positive, life-changing experiences I will ever undertake. However, before deciding to attend the course I was disappointed to discover that most of the advice from comparison tables and other so-called thought-leaders focused largely on indicators such as salary-increases, percentage of graduates working at ABC investment bank or XYZ consulting firm, or even bizarrely using things like ‘career rank’, which generate a comparative indicator using an individual’s level of seniority and the size of their employer before and after becoming an MBA, in order to somehow rank the performance of various business schools. This all seemed like madness to me, and with hindsight although I am only 10% along the path to becoming an MBA, in my opinion this blind focus on going after the largest salary or the quickest promotion detracts from the spirit of education and the simpler yet arguably more important life-changing benefits education of all types can offer, such as gaining a broader perspective on life or even simply becoming a happier, more fulfilled person. In my humble opinion these benefits are priceless, so if like me you think an MBA will generate them for you, go for it – you won’t regret it!

That said, for the next two years, I must devote a considerable chunk of what used to be called ‘spare-time’ to attending lectures, reading textbooks, meeting up with team-members to work on group projects, revising for exams, conducting research, writing essays, drafting reports, and completing a myriad of other course-related tasks. This tends to result in questions from colleagues and friends along the lines of ‘how can you do this?’, ‘why are you doing this?’ or even ‘are you crazy?’! Hopefully this first in a series of post-semester blog entries will be a chance for me to not only answer these types of questions for the benefit of others thinking of taking a similar path, but also to maximise my own learning by actively reflecting on my experiences on the course.

Why part-time study?

It might take a few weeks to acclimatise, but sooner or later some fantastic positives will materialise that will make the late nights, heavy workload, and personal sacrifices seem worth it. These include:

  • Building up meaningful friendships with like-minded individuals from a diverse range of industries and locations.
  • Improving knowledge and understanding of the theoretical and practical sides of business.
  • Listening to and conversing with top professors and academics.
  • Absorbing information and best-practice from the course then applying it during full-time employment – the very next day in many cases.
  • Benefitting from a vast support network aimed at helping students achieve what they want to achieve.

While the part-time route may take longer than the full-time option and involves more personal sacrifices compared with the flexible learning path, after spending 3 years completing my undergraduate degree via part-time study I am a very strong advocate of it for those who are working but are also interested in self-improvement.

Why Strathclyde Business School?

Although remaining in the vicinity of Scotland was an important factor in the short-term due to work and family commitments, the flexibility of the Strathclyde MBA was also very important. At any point throughout the duration of the course I can attend lectures at a number of international centres around the world, I can opt to temporarily join the full-time or flexible learning classes, and if want to I can attend extra classes in order to shorten the duration of the course from 3 to 2-2.5 years.

The business school’s reputation was also a consideration due to the amount of time, effort, and financial investment involved. After narrowing the list of potentials down to a handful of universities which satisfied the criteria of being easily-accessible, flexible, and reputable, I visited each of them personally in order to make my final decision about where to attend. From my initial contact with the admissions team right through to the on-campus presentations, Strathclyde Business School stood out from the crowd and seemed to offer the best overall value by some considerable distance.

After 3 months it speaks volumes that the only thing I would change about the course is the opening hours of the business school at the weekend. Closing at 4.30pm isn’t ideal, but then we can walk over to the huge library at the end of the road so it is by no means a major issue. I can honestly say there is not one meaningful aspect about the business school or the course that I would change. Comparisons from the likes of the Financial Times regularly place the Strathclyde MBA as one of the top 10 in the UK and just this year The Economist ranked it as the 4th best MBA in the UK and the 40th best globally. After experiencing it first-hand I am not surprised that it performs so well in comparison to its international counterparts.

How does it feel to finish the first semester?

I feel a real mixture of emotions, ranging from relief that I managed to complete three modules in 12 weeks, to nervousness because I have to wait until February before my marks are released, and happiness because I got to enjoy a well-deserved Christmas break!

Reflecting on the modules I have (hopefully) completed, each one was challenging and enjoyable in their own unique ways.

First, every Monday evening meant a Managing People in Organisations (MPIO) lecture. I enjoyed this module because it helped me better understand how the various ways in which people are managed can influence, and can be influenced by, an organisation’s structure, design, and culture, as well as how the overall relationship between an organisation or an individual manager and its employees can lead to a more effective working environment and a better organisational outcome.

The parts I felt were most challenging about MPIO were, not surprisingly, the exam and the group project. I have yet to receive my marks for either, so in reality I have absolutely no idea how I performed, but both elements were certainly challenging and I will be delighted to get above the 40% pass-mark in both. This sounds easy but anyone familiar with the UK marking system will appreciate that it is far from it!

I thought the exam was particularly challenging because it required a considerable amount of time to read, absorb, and be able to retrieve sufficient information in order to form coherent arguments and answer three essay questions about a wide range of potential topics in three hours.

The group project was difficult, but also extremely interesting and enjoyable, because it required lots of team-working in order to draft a lengthy report analysing three companies’ employee engagement policies in light of relevant theory and best-practice recommendations.

Every Thursday night consisted of an Analytical Support for Decision Making (ASDM) lecture. This class really helped me understand the various ways in which data can be organised and used effectively to help organisations make better choices. Being a bit of a spreadsheet/math-geek, I really enjoyed this class because it allowed me to expand my knowledge of the theories underpinning some of the practicalities I had already picked up during my working life as well as gain some very useful new skills which have already been of great use during the course of my full-time employment.

The most challenging part of ASDM was working together in a group to produce a detailed report aimed at helping a hospital optimise the storage and procurement of blood for transfusions. This involved a lot of data analysis, organisation, team-working, and the use of multi-criteria decision making theories and software to construct a professional report with reasoned recommendations as to how the hospital should adjust its procedures in order to operate more efficiently.

The ‘Learning Manager’ module was a very interesting weekend course aimed at providing an insight in to the psychology of how managers and leaders can, and should aim to be, more self-aware in order to better understand the ways in which people feel, act, and behave. My favourite part of the course was learning from the inspirational tutors, Oliver Crane and Graham Houston. The most challenging aspect was the time it required. Attending university all weekend meant having to effectively ‘work’ full-time for 12 days running as well as also attend 12 hours’ of additional night-time lectures plus keep up with the ongoing reading/coursework/group-project requirements in-between. 

Although I am still eagerly awaiting the exam board’s decision about my marks for the first set of modules, I find myself completely immersed in the course and am thoroughly looking forward to starting afresh after the New Year break. I hope this blog entry goes some way to helping others realise that while there is of course a considerable amount of work involved in becoming an MBA regardless of the method of study selected, in my opinion the wide-ranging benefits far outweigh any potential downsides. 

Next time

I should hopefully have completed year 1 prior to writing the next entry, so hopefully I will have some actual marks to reflect on – who knows where my opinions will end up by that point!

Comments or questions are welcome here or direct via uk.linkedin.com/in/josephweir/