Business world and business schools face similar challenges and opportunities

The business world is moving faster and is more complex than ever; as we move out of one of the worst economic crises, and with disruptive technology wreaking havoc in practically every industry, plotting a career course can be a challenge.

Globalisation is a phenomenon we see increasingly across business, with the world economy more interconnected than ever. Companies are seemingly able and willing to do business in markets far removed from their bases, manufacturing plants or operations centres.

Many business functions are outsourced and virtualised around the world as firms search for efficiencies, cost reductions and flexibility — to free-up resources and to concentrate on whatever it is they do best.

Talent is also increasingly mobile, as we can clearly see from the Manchester Business School’s Middle East part-time MBA programme, with students of 90 nationalities, many of them residing in the UAE, drawn here by the attractive career opportunities. And many are staying here longer and building careers, which means training and development opportunities are important — something the UAE scores very highly on; the country was ranked sixth for higher education and training by the World Economic Forum in the latest Global Competitiveness Report.

I recently had the privilege in Dubai of presiding over the Middle East graduation ceremony for the latest group of part-time MBA students. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of my role. But this is not the end; business education — as with all education — is a lifelong journey and not an end in itself.

Where will these new MBA graduates go and what will they do? Many are already doing it — moving on, moving up and starting up.

But the business world is moving faster and is more complex than ever; as we move out of one of the worst economic crises, and with disruptive technology wreaking havoc in practically every industry, plotting a career course can be a challenge. So how will an MBA benefit a businessperson today, in the midst of all this tumultuous change?

It is precisely this change that makes learning so worthwhile; the capacity to remain flexible, open to new ideas, adaptable and continuing to learn new skills while maintaining an understanding of the very dynamic business world — this is itself an absolute necessity on which to build a career.

Technology is driving change and redefining business and whole industries — education included. It is also underpinning the increasing globalisation of business — education included. It is therefore both the problem and the solution.

This technology disruption is presenting unique opportunities in education — for example, for students to take in lectures in some of the world’s leading seats of learning.

The scale and reach of mass open online courses truly impressive. Manchester Business School’s first, launched last year, has attracted more than 17,000 enrolments from 184 countries.

While students have more learning options these days, our Global MBA students are telling us clearly that face-to-face time with academics is critical. A good compromise can be found in the form of blended learning, which combines the best of the virtual and the physical worlds.

Manchester Business School runs a blended learning, part-time Global MBA programme around the world through our network of regional centres, which for the Middle East, is located at Dubai Knowledge Village.

The regional team speaks the students’ languages, lives in the community, understands the region and provides the human touch. Our centre provides real, tangible human support for students based here. Many students value this and reference it as a very important factor in deciding to study with us.

The other real world reason for a physical centre is that the MBS faculty come to teach workshops regularly and we all need a central, convenient point in the region to bring students and faculty together. These face-to-face encounters between students, and between students and faculty, are the most important element in the MBS programme, creating unique interaction.

Physical business clusters in regional hubs work, and Manchester has launched its own “media city”. The free-zone concept has been highly success and is a magnet for investment.

Business education must grasp the same opportunities as business generally to transform and create models that serve students long term, create access and deliver lifelong learning and the appropriate level of personal contact. We must work alongside business to stay relevant and create knowledge through world class research.

Fiona Devine is the dean of Manchester Business School

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Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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