Last updated: September 19, 2011 10:24 am

Ask the Expert Q&A: Masters in Management degrees

Q&A business education

Masters in Management degrees are proving to be the most fashionable of business programmes and applications for places on MiM courses are burgeoning not only in Europe, the home of the Mim, but also in North America and Asia. According to the 2011 survey of applications trends conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 69 per cent of schools teaching MiM programmes saw an increase in applications this year.

The MiM continues to evolve, however, with a multitude of different titles and programme lengths, and often no clearly defined target audience. So can the MiM prove a credible rival to the traditional MBA? What are the differences between a MiM, an MBA and other specialised masters degree?

On Wednesday September 21, 2011, a panel of experts will answer these and other questions about studying for a Masters in Management degree.

On the panel are:

Alice Guilhon du Hellen, Directrice Générale of Skema, the French business school

Michael Frenkel, Dean of WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, in Germany

Della Bradshaw, Financial Times Business Education Editor

The Q&A session will take place between 14.00 and 15.00 GMT on Wednesday September 21, 2011. Post your questions now at ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day.

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If business and management education are doing so wonderfully, why did the graduates of our finest universities so totally fail to exercise any semblance of good judgment as they got us into the recent recession? Why have they so utterly failed to boost us out of the consequences of that recession? And why have those magnificent universities failed to take responsibility for doing such a miserable job of education and begun a comprehensive overhaul of their programme, so future graduates will not lead us into such awful messes again?

Thomas S. Johnson, PhD, USA

Alice: It is not so simple; everything is a question of time. First of all, when a crisis occurs, academics must learn about how and why it happened. This process takes longer than the economic reality. Secondly, universities and businesses, for the most part, have to change their programmes and courses regarding the evolution of the environment. If we consider that the time required to transform the culture for all students of the same generation is very long (at the very least between five and ten years), the benefit of such a change will be visible in the mid-term period. In addition, I don’t agree with the fact that universities (researchers, faculty) failed in their mission in the present case. During the subprime crisis, motivating and fruitful debate brought different ways of thinking for governments. Universities and business schools have done their job. What we need is an upfront discussion on which all parties, public and private, are agreed.

Michael: To start with the last question, I think that a number of b-schools have reviewed their curriculum with a view to making students aware of their future responsibilities - beyond their immediate workplace. Hence, b-schools have realised that some of the additional responsibility that is called for is their own. Regarding the recession and how to get out of it, many economists emphasise that regulatory frameworks have to be strengthened so that this type of crisis cannot be repeated. In this sense, it is the responsibility of the public sector to deliberately limit the possibilities of free markets.

Della: In my experience business schools fall into two categories: those who do take responsibility for some of the failures and those who don’t. And interestingly, the big brand schools fall into both those camps. Many schools are trying to address those issues, but what always frustrates me with business schools is the length of time it actually takes to change things.

I’m 22 and about to obtain three different undergraduate degrees altogether: economics, law and liberal arts. Would I benefit more from a MiM at London Business School, or from a more specialised degree such as the MSc in economics and management from London School of Economics (aiming towards investment banking or management consulting in London)?

Jonathan

Michael: Not being associated with either LBS nor LSE I would say that both a general management degree and a more specialised master degree has its virtues. None of the two would make it easier or impossible to enter the areas you have in mind for your future employment.

Della: My advice is to ask the firms that you hope will recruit you. They know which degree they favour.

I wish to apply to do a masters in international business programme in September 2012. Do you think, looking at the current market, that it is the right time to invest in education when the whole world talks about ROI?

Also, after this degree and a couple of years of work experience, can one go on to do an MBA? I fear that my masters in international business degree will become redundant while applying to the MBA programme, since the two programmes happen to be similar in nature.

Hardik Vaidya

Michael: While there is an overlap between an MSc in business and an MBA, there can be significant differences too. The best way to find out about this is to have a close look at the curriculum of both. For example, at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, we emphasise concepts and empirical work in the MSc degree which provides a more fundamental knowledge and does not require work experience, while we emphasise more business case studies and the exchange of individual experience in the MBA programme. I know that a number of our participants say that it was nevertheless useful to have gone through both an MSc (which gave them a better job at the beginning) and an MBA (which provided for more experience-oriented learning).

Della: Sadly, the whole world is also talking about unemployment. I suspect increasing your qualifications can only be beneficial in finding a job.

As to going on to study an MBA, some business schools - the Simon School at Rochester in the US, for example - count the MiM as the first year of the two-year MBA programme. I believe London Business School is also considering this. Of course, many managers might prefer to wait a while after finishing the MiM and go on to study for an EMBA a bit later in their careers.

Alice: Of course you can. Education is always a fruitful investment. Do not hesitate to do an MSc, especially one in international business. After a couple of years of work experience, you could, without any problems do an MBA; I recommend you put the emphasis on a specific region in the world to deepen your cultural knowledge and the local social codes.

I want to do an MBA in international business; can you elaborate on the opportunities available?

Laitha

Michael: The best advice I can give you is to look at the accreditation labels of schools; their ranking and the international components of the programme (e.g. international study tours or exchanges as part of the curriculum). The latter is important for you, as you are interested in international business (which should, of course, be reflected in the different courses, too).

Della: I think all MBAs these days, certainly all those outside the US, will include elements of international business. Indeed, many business schools believe that an MBA by definition has to be about international business.

Credibility of an MiM degree: The question of MiM vs MBA tends to be a common one. How does that compare when it comes to the employment scene, especially considering that typically, MiM and MBA attracts similar recruiters? Can I see myself in a post in a company, with an MiM degree that you would associate with a fresh MBA recruit, provided that I have the kind of work experience business schools normally demand for their MBA, post MiM graduation?

Rishi Joe Sanu

Michael: I think that the difference is mainly the work experience that graduates have when they go through the programme. Typically, MBAs have more work experience. Hence, the curriculum of an MBA includes more elements for which students need to have work experience in order to exchange exactly this with fellow students.

Alice: There is no competition between a MiM and an MBA. It is more a question of age and one’s professional project. You can do a MiM and after a couple of years of work experience, very often, certain companies are asking their top management to refresh their knowledge through an EMBA programme. The choice you mention is more about the difference between the pre-experience MBA or an EMBA. Today, doing the MiM followed by an EMBA is a win-win combination.

Della: I think there is a real geographical difference between how recruiters recruit in different markets. In Europe the top recruiters - the investment banks, consultancies and top industry - prefer to recruit MiM graduates for graduate trainee and junior management jobs and only a handful of MBAs for targeted jobs at higher echelons of management. India also is a pre-experience market for recruiters. In the US most bulk recruiting is at MBA level. So, I think the question is, where do you want to work?

I am a commerce graduate and currently pursuing my PG in investment and finance. I am also preparing for GMAT. When should I apply for my GMAT so that I get into the best schools? I want to go for the September 2012 intake. When are the general deadlines of entering into good business schools for MiM?

Anonymous

Michael: I do not think that there is a clear optimal time for the GMAT. Deadlines for applications are often different from school to school. This also has to do with the fact that not all schools begin their programmes in September. For example, at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management the MBA programme begins in April. Some applicants find it useful to do their GMAT relatively early, as they sometimes want to have the option of taking it a second time. Most schools accept a GMAT result that is not older than two years.

Alice: There is no best time to apply for the GMAT. It depends on your current studies and personal commitments. At Skema Business School, students usually apply for a masters degree, having already taken the GMAT, around May or June for the following year’s intake.

Della: I think the short answer is very quickly. Applications for the best programmes begin about now, and you need to be able to send your GMAT scores.

I need your help in recommending an executive masters course in energy management. Most of the courses I found were more Msc for renewable energy, like solar or wind - which were focused on the technical side rather on high level management like a specialised MBA. I have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, an MBA in general management and ten years professional work experience in construction and petrochemical industries.

Samer Al Jabi

Alice: I recommend that you apply to a business school which has executive specialised masters in sustainable development. Depending on your background, your choice should be made toward a programme in sustainable development which is more strategically oriented. Schools such as Rotterdam School of Management, HEC Paris and even Skema offer such specialisations.

Della: An executive masters usually means you would like to study while working, and for this reason the location of the programme is probably really important for you. I know there are a growing number of such programmes - I recently wrote about one being taught in London by ESCP Europe, for example.

With pervasive pessimism regarding the world economy over the next few years, I fear that graduate job opportunities will continue to decline. Should I gamble taking out another loan of over £10,000 to pay for a MiM when there could be a very good chance that I won’t find well-paid work after graduation?

Alastair Norris, Devon, UK

Alice: Education will always be a worthwhile investment. The decline you mention is not a reality in every part of the world. Look at the growth in Asia or Latin America. The employment rate for graduates at business schools has not decreased significantly. If you have an international profile, the markets of the knowledge economy are looking for such skills!

Michael: I think that even in times of economic turmoil, the need for well-educated and internationally-oriented graduates will not stop or decrease in a long-term manner. In fact, with increasing globalisation and internationalisation, competition for the most talented graduates increases too. There are some business schools which offer attractive student loan / financing models, in which you commit to making income-dependent payments after you graduate, once you hit a certain level of income, for example.

Della: That’s the real question, isn’t it? All the evidence would suggest that you would stand a better chance of getting a job with a higher level qualification. If you are looking for a programme, you might want to consider one that includes a company internship or work experience, as these would obviously help as well. Then again, if you can find a job now, why not enrol on a part-time programme - Warwick Business School, for example, is running one of these.

I’m about to graduate in economics and I have been applying for graduate traineeships in management, mainly in the retail sector. So far, no interviews. Given the gloomy economic outlook, am I better off studying for a masters degree in management, or should I just continue in my job search? Will a masters in management help me get a decent role?

And if I do get a job soon, should I get three years work experience first and then study for an EMBA / MBA?

Della: Yes, as with the previous question, it is hard to know the answer. But my advice to you would be the same: select a MiM programme that involves work experience/internships, as these are often a shoo in to a full-time job. And if you do find a job, consider studying for a MiM part-time.

As to an MBA, you would need at least three years of relevant work experience to be consider for one of these, and 10 years or more for an EMBA.

Michael: Both pursuing a masters degree or an MBA degree is supposed to advance a students’ careers and career opportunities, however, at different stages in their career. It is difficult to give general judgment if a MiM or an MBA or an EMBA is the best way to go since this truly depends upon the individuals’ educational background, their career aspirations and to a certain extent their overall future plans. As I mentioned earlier, there is a certain overlap between an MSc in business and an MBA, but the main difference is the amount of experience-oriented learning. Whichever way is the best to go for might heavily depend upon the company and kind of job you are applying for.

Alice: I recommend that you pursue a masters degree in management at a business school (I’m thinking about the French model). On the one hand, you will find expertises and specialisations which will lead you to the job market. On the other hand, the career centre and the alumni association at these business schools are very good at placing their students in internships and their graduates in employment.

Which forms of expertise are the most in demand in international companies?

Alice: Today’s business environment is the Knowledge Economy. Almost every company in every sector operates in globalised markets that feature new forms of competition. Companies must innovate continually and convert their knowledge into a competitive advantage. Obviously, the new jobs are related to the characteristics of this economy: the challenge is to recruit decision-makers with the capacity to manage innovative projects, encourage innovation, manage information and knowledge, lead in cross-cultural environments, manage virtual teams and demonstrate an analytical and critical mind.

Michael: That highly depends upon the kind of job we are talking about. In my experience, companies are either looking for highly specialised graduates (that is those who have pursued a specialised masters degree) or graduates with sound business knowledge and management capabilities (that is those who have pursued a general management programme). In any case, we find that international companies are looking for graduates who have had international exposure, thus had the opportunity to build up their intercultural skills.

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