September 19, 2011 12:48 am

Find the right fit

When Miriam Tyrangiel graduated with a degree in design from Goldsmiths College in London in 2009, she realised she needed something extra to move into a business career.

“My interest in business developed over quite a few years, especially towards the end of my undergraduate degree,” she explains.

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IN Masters in Management 2011

So, she enrolled in a masters in management course at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Unlike an MBA, arguably the most widely recognised academic brand in the world, the MiM continues to evolve, with a multitude of different titles and programme lengths, and often no clearly defined target audience. In spite of this, it has already become one of the fastest-growing segments of the business education degree market.

Although applications to MBA programmes in North America and Europe continue to decline as the economy slowly picks up after the financial crisis, the idea of a “pre-experience” masters degree in business has gained traction. Canadian business schools were the first in North America to recognise the value of teaching business to students with degrees as diverse as French, philosophy and physics before they entered the workplace. But even in the US, the backyard of the MBA, there is a growing attraction to this type of degree.

The Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester in New York state, for example, has adopted the concept of pre-experience masters degrees with gusto. “We’re evolving away from the Henry Ford approach of one colour to more diversity,” says Mark Zupan, dean, about his school’s decision to offer more than just an MBA.

Other business schools that have taken a similar stance are Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona.

In Russia, too, the market is opening. “Russia is still in transition,” says Valery Katkalo, dean of the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University, which launched its English-language MiM in 1999. “But quite a number of top universities are developing MiM programmes.”

These degrees gained currency during the recession, when those completing undergraduate programmes discovered it was almost impossible to get an appropriate job. But unlike the MBA, applications to MiMs continue to rise. At London Business School, applications are up 22 per cent this year, despite the price tag for the one-year programme of £24,000 ($39,000).

Interest is particularly strong from continental European countries such as Germany, says Julia Marsh, executive director of the programme. “Traditionally, [Germans] have [needed] five years of study. Recruiters won’t recruit them if they don’t have a masters.”

The choice of programmes can be overwhelming: some require undergraduates with a degree in business, economics or social sciences; others are designed for those with degrees as varied as the arts or pure sciences. Certain courses are one year in length, others two. Some schools even have both.

LSE, for example, offers two different one-year degrees, aimed at those with prior knowledge in economics or business, and a two-year degree for those with unrelated degrees. “The two-year degree says we welcome you whoever you are,” says Dina Dommett, associate dean for programmes in the LSE department of management. “Those people who have been a bit more quirky have gone on to get very good jobs.”

Miriam Tyrangiel, the former design student who opted for the two-year LSE programme, is a case in point. “Because I had such a different undergraduate degree, I wanted to invest two years [rather than one],” she says.

Following a summer internship at Google in Dublin, Tyrangiel, who is Swiss, studied for a term at HEC in Paris. She is now planning to start a graduate trainee scheme for a large consumer goods company.

In France, the situation is more complicated still, says Jean Charroin, vice-dean at Audencia in Nantes. There, the traditional two-year grande école masters programmes, for elite French students, are taught alongside one-year masters in science degrees, usually taught in English, and the peculiarly French specialised masters degrees, where entry is limited to students who already have masters degrees from universities or engineering schools.

Prof Charroin believes the success or failure of the various masters degrees should be left in the hands of the consumer. “The market is always right in the end,” he says.

Elsewhere, particularly in the UK and US, the MiM also has to compete with growing swathes of specialised masters degrees – in financial engineering, business economics or marketing. While the MiM has a broad-brush approach to business, a specialised masters is highly focused.

Some specialised masters and MiM degrees can even be credited towards an MBA. At the Simon school, for example, students with pre-experience masters degrees can return to study for an MBA in just one year. It is an option that is also under discussion at LBS.

However, there are big differences between the content and teaching styles. The MiM teaches more functional and technical skills, rather than “big picture” MBA topics such as strategy and leadership. MiM students have a reputation for being more analytical than MBAs and quicker to grasp some of the issues.

That said, MiM programmes are increasingly adopting many of the facets of the big-brother degree, such as international travel. At LSE, more than half of those on the one-year programmes study abroad for a term as part of their degree, as do 63 of the 103 students on the two-year programme. At St Petersburg University, every MiM student has to study overseas for a semester.

At Skema, the French business school with campuses in China, the US and France, overseas travel on three continents is de rigueur. “The thing is to think regional when you are global. You need to understand the regional and understand the global. Our challenge is to educate students to understand that,” says Alice Guilhon, dean.

Coaching and mentoring is also a growing part of MiM programmes. At LBS, for example, both MBA students and alumni coach the MiM students.

For one student, it was coaching that helped develop her business ideas.

Mei Wan Tan joined LBS with a mechanical engineering degree, specialising in food engineering. She had also completed a cookery course in Paris and started a home baking business. But one of the most influential parts of the course, she says, was getting advice from executives in the industry: the former chief executive of Cadbury and the director of pudding maker Gü.

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