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Do you have a question about MBAs or another aspect of executive education? Steve Haberman, Deputy Dean and Professor of Actuarial Science at London's Cass Business School, is answering queries from Executive Education readers. Click here to e-mail us.

Q. Executive Education reader Ahmed Ilyas writes:

I have recently completed my BBA(H) bachelors of business administration in marketing in Pakistan. Now I have two option -- to either continue my education at the same college and complete my MBA in one year, or I have admission to the University of Glasgow's MSc in Management with specialization in marketing. I am confused which one to chose, keeping in mind that I can only study for one more year, since my family business, which is also related to marketing, needs me.

A. You have gained a good grounding with your undergraduate degree and if you opt to do the MSc Management at Glasgow, you will indeed gain an in-depth knowledge of marketing.

By taking this route, you can work in the family business after graduation and this will be a good opportunity to put into practice what you have learnt on the BBA and MSc. After acquiring some real-life experience, you may wish to consider an MBA programme and progress to an international career -- this is when the MBA becomes truly valuable.

It is important to understand the difference between the MBA and the MSc, and the different needs which they address.

The MBA is for candidates who would like to join a company at associate level, therefore, they possess considerable maturity and work experience. The MSc is designed for younger students who have (with a few exceptions) recently completed their first degree and are looking for a competitive edge when applying for their first job.

It is also crucial to understand that the skills you learn on an MSc and an MBA are different; while an MSc gives you in-depth knowledge of a particular subject area, the MBA is a more holistic degree. The teamwork and stimulation of an MBA make for an altogether different learning experience, and this is facilitated through interaction with fellow students, and immersion in the unique learning environment which a good MBA course will facilitate.

In answer to the second part of your question, studying abroad is certainly a good opportunity to develop your confidence.

Living in another country and learning with other cultures in your peer group will certainly inform your business practice when you re-join the family business in terms of, for example, understanding different customer needs and tailoring your communication style to different audiences.

Ask a question:

Please e-mail us. Please note that Professor Haberman can only answer one question a week and is unable to deal with queries not chosen for the Executive Education site.

Previous questions

Q. Executive Education reader Uchenna Okpalugo writes:

I am a fourth year human resource management student. I hope to apply for an MBA program sometime soon -- is it necessary to go for the MSc program before the MBA? I would like to go to a reputable institution for both programs. In relation to costs, is it better to wait for the MBA program? Have in mind that I am 29 years old with a one year work experience and 4 courses to complete the undergraduate program.

A. First of all I would say that it is important to understand the difference between the MBA and the MSc, and the different needs which they address.

The MBA is for candidates with considerable maturity and work experience and who are looking to make a career transition to be high-level leaders in global organizations. The MSc is designed for younger students who have (with a few exceptions) recently completed their first degree and are looking for a competitive edge when applying for their first job.

Secondly it is important to consider whether you wish to go to a European or an American business school to do an MBA because they demand different levels of work experience.

The practically oriented MBA, which is popular in the UK and increasingly throughout the rest of Europe, demands more experience and it is suited to candidates with lots of practical experience.

By contrast, some recruiters in business and finance want a theoretical qualification based on the American MBA model.

In Europe, this content is provided by an MSc, which should be completed as soon as possible after graduation. If you want a more practically oriented MBA, get the experience first. So, put simply, the MSc is a pre-experience qualification and the MBA is a post-experience one.

If you would like to hone your skills and knowledge in HR management, you may wish to consider completing a specialist Masters programme, gaining some work experience and then evaluating whether you would like to do an MBA in the future.

Q. Executive Education reader Salome Munyengeterwa writes:

I am a full time 3rd year undergraduate student [at Warwick University in the UK] and I am also working full-time. I am considering doing a masters degree but am stuck as I do not know the difference between MBA and MSc. I would like to do the masters around the entrepreneurship subject area as my BA is in Business Enterprise. Which one will be the best to go for, MBA or MSC or is there no difference?

A. When choosing a postgraduate route of study, it is important to understand that Masters and MBA degrees are very different as applicants have different motives when applying.

An MBA is for people with much more work experience who are looking to make a career transition, whereas the Masters appeals to a younger applicant group.

The latter usually follows an undergraduate degree and most students studying on a Masters course do so to acquire a grounding knowledge in management and business (or further specialist knowledge on Specialist Masters programs), and this acts as a 'stepping stone' to a good first job.

The added specialist knowledge gives students a competitive edge when applying for their first job. Note also that a Masters qualification focusing on business enterprise will be heavily weighted in this area, and will place less emphasis on other subject areas which come under the 'business' umbrella.

MBA students tend to have a reflective, experiential year in which group networking and case studies develop thinking, innovation, team working and entrepreneurial skills in order to make the transition to high-level business leaders in global organizations.

There is no ideal age for embarking upon an MBA because it depends on why you are doing it. The practically oriented MBA, which has gained popularity in the UK and increasingly throughout the rest of Europe, demands more experience. The benefits are that it is suited to candidates with lots of practical experience and so their learning will be greatly enhanced.

Conversely, some recruiters in business and finance want an extra, theoretical qualification based on the American model.

At Cass, we offer MSc courses, which follow on from a Bachelors degree and require little or no experience. If you want a more practical MBA, you should get work experience first. Some MBA programmes may offer an elective in entrepreneurship, but again, good MBA programmes tend to demand at least six years of work experience.

If, in the future, you would still like to do an MBA, bear in mind that, although many MBA graduates do start up their own businesses, this should not be the only objective when studying an MBA. This advanced degree aims to teach students all the different aspects of business, such as accounting and strategy, at the highest level so that they can go on to be leaders within organisations and businesses.

Q. Executive Education reader Adrian Waters writes:

I am graduating in December with a Masters in Management (MSc Management). It has been a three year course working part-time whilst working as a Project Manager in my organisation. I decided on the MSc course as it covered all the core subjects that I found interesting in my role. I am now thinking of doing an MBA in Finance, but not sure if there is any benefit - the MSc is the same level of education as the MBA and I covered Strategic Cost Management in my current studies.

The reason I was thinking of the MBA in finance is that I want to move into the M&A field. My final year paper assessed the cultural impact in the M&A process and has since been published. Do you think it would be easier to get an analyst role in an investment bank with an MBA in finance? At a holistic level, are online MBAs worth it, are they taken seriously?

A. Traditionally, the MBA is useful if you have experience and would like to be employed at associate level, and not as an analyst. You have gained a strong education with your MSc Management, and If you decide you would like to further your finance knowledge, then you could take an MSc Finance.

However, I would emphasize that if your academic background has been consistently strong, banks will consider your application anyway. In the event that you do not find an analyst position in finance, you could consider working for a blue chip firm in another sector and then do an MBA to enter at an associate level.

In answer to your other question, some of the quantitative aspects of MBAs can be learnt online, but the 'holistic' aspect cannot be taught or learnt solely through a virtual environment, as this aspect is gained through interaction with your MBA student peers, and immersion in the unique learning environment which a good MBA course will facilitate.

The 'holistic' aspect of the MBA also makes the distinction between an MSc and an MBA. The teamwork and stimulation of an MBA make for an altogether different learning experience, and companies would probably place less value on an online MBA than the conventional MBA or Executive MBA."

Q. Executive Education reader Gabriel Vinas writes:

My question is regarding international students at U.S. MBA schools. What are the prospects for international students who would like to find a competitive job in the United States? I haven't seen any studies or articles about the often difficult task for recently graduated MBA students to find a well-paid job in the United States. Many major corporations don't offer residency and visa sponsorship, closing the doors at non resident international students for US employment.

A. This is indeed an important question which needs addressing. It can be extremely difficult to find jobs in the US in industries other than banking and consulting. This is because companies are reluctant to hire international students (even though they are eligible to work legally over the summer) as they know they will probably face full-time hiring challenges.

Most students enter the U.S. on an F1 visa which allows them to work legally for a summer internship and for up to one year post-graduation. Before your post-graduation one year work entitlement visa expires, you need to have company sponsorship for an H1b visa, which usually takes a few months to process.

You may be aware that a few years ago the Hb1 visa allocation was cut to 65,000 for the entire country. Banks and consulting companies usually make their recruitment decisions early enough so that students can start almost immediately after graduating.

Such companies can start applying for the visas on their behalf and register them on a waiting list for the initial round, which usually starts in October; this should last for the entire year but is usually complete by November.

The good news is that the US government is considering a special allocation of H1b visas for MBA graduates, but this has not yet been finalized. The MBA market is also picking up again in the US, a good Web site to go to for details is http://www.h1base.com/ which makes the information on the official US government's Web site more accessible.

Q. What are the relative merits of a one year, full time MBA versus the two year Executive MBA?

A. The country in which you choose to study your MBA and whether you opt for a full time or a part time program will dictate the length of your study.

At most American business schools, the full time MBA lasts two years, has a more theoretical emphasis, and is aimed at a much younger student group, many of whom have just graduated from a Bachelors degree. Recent announcements from top US schools in fact reinforce this trend.

In Europe, we have a different academic offering -- the Masters program which is a popular choice for graduates who are looking for a competitive edge when applying for their first job after graduation.

In Europe, the full time MBA usually lasts for one year and has a more practical weighting than the US full time MBA. The European MBA is designed for people who tend to have much more work experience (than its US counterpart) and who are looking to make a career transition.

Doing an MBA is not merely a case of just choosing a qualification, as the balance between learning and teaching is different from other types of degree. MBA students tend to have a reflective, experiential year in which group networking and case studies develop thinking, innovation and entrepreneurial skills. The principal aim is to facilitate their transition to becoming high-level leaders in global organizations.

The practically oriented MBA, which has gained popularity in the UK and increasingly throughout the rest of Europe, demands more prior experience of its students as learning is greatly enhanced by this. So the message is -- if you want a more practical MBA, get experience first.

Business executives must choose whether to study for a full-time MBA, or whether they wish to study without leaving their jobs. As I have explained earlier, the full time MBA (in most European business schools) is an intensive, twelve month MBA and students attend the course five days a week.

The rise in Executive MBA applications reflects an increasing need for more flexible programs that cause minimum disruption to work, income and personal commitments such as family.

Many Executive MBA programs involve evening delivery of courses, although innovative course designs are now beginning to appear. As an illustration, in May this year, Cass launched a Modular Executive MBA which is delivered by block teaching for four days per month (Thursday-Sunday) over two years.

Therefore, students do not need to commit to a weekly schedule of learning as on conventional MBA programs. It also means that business executives outside London (for example, in mainland Europe) can live at home and study for an international Executive MBA degree."

Q. Is the growth in the Specialist Masters market adversely impacting on MBA programs?

A. It is important to understand the difference between the MBA and the MSc, and the different needs which they address.

The MBA is designed for candidates with considerable maturity and work experience and who are looking to make a career transition to be high-level leaders in global organizations. The MSc is designed for a younger student group, who have normally recently completed their first degree and are looking for a competitive edge when applying for their first job.

Thus, at Cass, we offer the largest portfolio of Specialist Masters programs in Europe, each tailored to the specific needs of businesses and career paths. The MBA and MSc are totally different qualifications, and so it is not a case of merely choosing whether to do an MBA or an MSc, as the motivations are different and hence the student profiles are different.

The practically oriented MBA, which is popular in the UK and increasingly throughout the rest of Europe, demands more experience and it is suited to candidates with lots of practical experience. Conversely, some recruiters in business and finance want a theoretical qualification based on the American MBA model.

Q. What sort of impact will the Bologna Accord have on European business education?

A. The Bologna Accord will mean different things to different schools depending on their position in the marketplace, but it will have very significant implications for business education throughout Europe, the UK and the rest of the world.

The structure and timing of degrees is to be harmonized across 41 countries in Europe, with Bachelors degrees taking 3 years to complete and Masters degrees taking 1 or 2 years to complete. As Europe prides itself on high standards in teaching and learning at all stages, the prime objective for many countries will be the preservation of quality in degree courses that will be shorter in length.

Along with the creation of a common quality assurance system, Europe is likely to see a massive increase in students crossing borders to study business, which will also have social and employment implications.

The number and variety of courses is expected to expand -- a recent expert report estimates that there will be 12,000 new degrees on offer in management education alone.

A key question is how quickly student mobility will increase, with students considering a change of subject, university and country when, on completing their first degree, they make the switch to Masters. A further change is that more postgraduate qualifications across Europe will be taught in English, a trend that, in fact, has already begun.

These changes will present challenges to employers, who will be faced with cohorts of students thinking of entering the job market after their bachelors degrees, which will now be shorter than previously. Similarly, in some countries, employers will need to adjust to students seeking employment after their masters qualifications.

Clearly, there will need to be good communication between business schools and employers to ensure that the needs of employers, in terms of the knowledge and skills acquired by graduates, for example, are reflected in the new curricula..

In some respects UK business schools have a slight advantage in that it appears that the rest of Europe, and possibly the rest of the world, will be falling in line with the UK model. However, the UK cannot afford to be complacent as access to new markets will mean increased competition, particularly in masters programs.

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