Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

The Master of Science degree in Management has long been seen as the degree of choice for European corporate recruiters, particularly in the financial sector. Now business schools further afield, in India, China and the US and developing masters degrees along these lines. What does the growing appeal of these programmes mean for the MBA degree?

A panel of international experts - Ellen Miller, managing director of human capital at Lehman Brothers, London, Patrick Molle, dean at the EM Lyon Business School and Della Bradshaw, Business Education editor of Financial Times - answer your questions.

I’m about to embark on a career in investment banking. What is really more valuable - an MBA, an Msc or a good few years experience working in the banking industry?
George, UK

Della Bradshaw: All three!

Ellen Miller: Difficult answer without more information on you. If you have no experience and have already left undergraduate education but want to pursue banking, I would recommend an MSc and then an entry level programme. Your chances of getting a place at a good firm are higher, because the numbers hired at MSc levels are significantly greater than at MBA level. If you have a number of years work experience and a good (but non-business) undergrad degree, you should look at the MOA programmes, but only go for the best,

Trying to get into banking as a lateral inexperienced hire without coming from any university onto a programme is getting harder and harder. I don’t recommend it.

Patrick Molle: There are mutliple career paths.

- An Msc with an internship followed by career development

- experience + an MBA (maybe part-time) to accelerate the career

It’s particularly challenging for the vast majority of bright, young graduates of Sub-Saharan African universities who nurse dreams of attaining an MBA at the top business schools in America and Europe to fulfil that ambition. Does the Msc in Management offer a more attainable alternative? What prospects do such graduates face upon graduation?
Okey, Nigeria

Patrick Molle: The MSc is or persons without professional experience vs. the MBA which seeks persons with experience. The question is when you believe the general management competencies required through and MBA would be most relevant to your career.

Concerning your question on either being ”attainable”, I’m not sure what you mean. A good MBA or MSc should be attainable by persons from all nationalities and locations of study. What’s more, good programmes actually offer assistance (financial, etc.) to persons coming from diverse regions of the world.

Ellen Miller: We would love to find bright young graduates and expand our global pool, however we are also a business and therefore need to be mindful of economies of scale and concentrate our efforts a bit on significant sources. If it’s banking you are interested in, I would say that the MSc programmes create access for you to large scale employers. Many of whom hire large numbers and therefore would make an additional degree worthwhile as it puts you in a larger pool that attracts a cross-section of employers.

Della Bradshaw: I would love to say the answer to this is yes, but I don’t think it is. For both degrees you will need a high level of academic competence and qualification.And for an MBA degree you will usually need several years of relevant work experience. One of the advantages of the top MBA programmes is that they have very widespread scholarship schemes, particularly for students like yourself from non-traditional MBA markets. So if financing is the problem, the MBA might be

It seems that as masters level I have a choice between one-year and two-year degrees. What do you get from the two-year programmes that justify a further year living in student penury?

Ellen Miller: I would recommend that you look at the content of the master’s programmes at the universities or schools that you are considering. In France and Italy, two years is the norm and all include internships or experiential learning within them which extends the duration of the programme. Typically you are paid for these internships which may offset your student penury.

Patrick Molle: A one-year degree often builds on existing experience, allowing for a more efficient development of competencies. Without this experience, a two-year degree may be appropriate - but - make sure it includes applied and experiential opportunities such as an internship or projects.

Do you believe that there is a need to develop a Master of Leadership to give western companies a new edge? The MBA teaches how to manage, not to lead and certainly not how to challenge inherited inefficiencies in companies. The main objective must be to sharpen the ability to gain access to the purchasing power of future spenders and not how to work within an existing framework. Interesting that the Porter Value Chain is still extensively used in MBA programs, whereby most companies have realised that it is the real purchasing power that should determine resource flow.
Ase Karin Elvebakk, London

Ellen Miller: I think leadership is very important but I would argue that it is something that should be taught alongside your career. In learning about leadership on an on-going basis as you rise through the ranks is preferable to looking back on one’s MBA curriculum I think.

Patrick Molle: I don’t agree ... at least from our perspective...the EMLYON MBA as well as other leading European MBAs focus clearly on developing leaders. The quality of the learning content and process varies from one institution to the next. Always be critical in your choice of a school - just as you are. I would focus on HOW learning is one just as much as WHAT is to be learned.

What are the prospects for entering the business world with a more quantitative degree like a MA in economics (e.g. from schools like LSE, New York University, Duke University, etc.)? In particular, if the degree is supplemented with introductory MBA courses (like Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance), can a MA in economics student compete in the long run against MBA students? If not, what does the MA in economics employee primarily lack relative to the MBA employee?
Ryan Wesslen, New York

Della Bradshaw: I suspect what recruiters are looking for at an academic level is a very good degree from a good institution. But they will be looking for all sorts of other attributes as well. So, I think recruiters in finance would look favourably on such a degree - but Ellen is much better placed to answer that one.

Ellen Miller: Quantitative degrees are much in demand these days by investment banks and I would imagine by hedge funds, asset managers and private equity. I think the challenge for the non-MBA student in the US is to find the correct pool to apply within and target your post-graduate recruiting efforts to forms that will appreciate you as an individual. If you have no experience of full time work, you may find yourself within the analyst pool rather than the associate pool within banks. I would argue that you should be able to rise to the top of that and meet the MBA level soon, depending upon your performance of course.

Patrick Molle: It depends on what you want to do with your career. An MA in economics won’t give you the basic management skills and soft skills. The MA and MBA are not substitutes, but rather complements (to use a bit of economics terminology).

I had classmates at Sciences Po, Paris who had already done their master’s in management at schools like EM Lyon but joined again to do another master at Sciences Po in a similar field. I failed to get their point at the moment. Was it because they were looking for placements in Paris or was it due to other reasons? Also what If I decide to reverse the trend and join a master’s in management at some of the good schools that offer the programme. Also a question about the weighted salary. Is it necessary to do an internship before one reaches the weighted salary indicated in your rankings or just after finishing the course one can get the indicated salary given that it is a pre-experience master’s.
Sanchit Kumar

Ellen Miller: Not sure I can comment on why your Sciences Po classmates wanted to do an additional masters, maybe they were very specialised? Perhaps they were linked to internships in Paris. I don’t know about the weighted salary, I defer to Della on what she calculates. As fulltime hires irrespective of whether or not they’ve done the internship, all are hired on the same starting salary.

Della Bradshaw: On the question of weighted salaries that we use in our rankings......these refer to the salaries that alumni from the schools earn three years after graduation. They are weighted according to industry sector.The reason for this is that some sectors - notably finance and banking - pay higher salaries than others. By using a weighting system we recalculate the alumni salaries to make sure that schools which place a high proportion of their graduates in these high-paying areas do not get an unfair advantage in the rankings.

Patrick Molle: The idea of doing a similar master’s seems quite strange. A complementary MS would be logical however. Concerning the rest of the question, in Masters programmes at EMLYON, internships are part of the programme - making it more interesting for employers - which in turn helps drive the salaries after graduation.

I am just completing an undergraduate degree at a UK university and would like to take a masters degree in management before I look for my first job, which I would like to be overseas, hopefully in France. As I would want to return to work in the UK in future, should I apply to masters programmes in the UK or In France? Are the French masters degrees better recognised in the UK or the UK degrees in France?
Jamie McStay, Stroud, UK

Ellen Miller: According to the recent rankings, the French programmes are truly world class holding five out of the top seven in this week’s FT rankings. As a UK based employer responsible for European hiring, the French degrees are highly valued. UK degrees from LSE and Imperial for example are also excellent.

Della Bradshaw: That is the $64,000 question! Because the French masters degrees are usually part of the Grande Ecole system, which is very different from the traditional UK or French university system, they are often misunderstood outside France. Meanwhile, because UK degrees are usually 12 months in length - as opposed to the 24-month or longer French degrees - they may be disregarded by French employers.At the end of the day, though, I think the brand recognition of the institution at which you study will count for a lot.

Patrick Molle: Why settle for one degree? I would suggest looking for a programme that offers joint degrees through a partnership relationship. For example, EMLYON offers a new triple degree programme with Aston and Munich Business School.

Are the French masters degrees better recognised in the UK or the UK degrees in France? This depends on the employer. Again, go for a multiple reward to best manage this concern. Beyond the degree, it is the experiences and learning approaches in each country that add value. For example, would a distance based UK degree acquired by a non-UK resident be as valued in the UK as a degree obtained in the learning setting? Don’t overestimate the degree and don’t underestimate the value of the experience.

Will the MBA programs become more results focused? Frankly, the threat to the status of the MBA is not from its proliferation, as any potential qualification dilution is restricted insofar as the key 10 schools are globally recognised as super MBAs. The threat is from the quality of candidates and their performance in the workplace - all too often, they’re bright, hard-working and good with numbers, and ... that’s it. I’ve seen too many situations where they cannot make sense of the numbers, people, or relationships around them, and do not progress the business. These are graduates from Insead and other top schools, so the problem is not small. I have, however, seen willing individuals from lower tiered schools shoot through the ranks and provide much-needed oomph to businesses.So my question, and challenge, is: Does an MBA typically create a useful person, or is it simply yet another diploma for a given tranche of society to earn and wield?
Matt Lea, London

Patrick Molle: Love the question! MBAs that focus on developing useful competencies and not only technical skills are GOOD MBAs. Teaching is not the solution. Learning is. And, primarily learning through experiential practice. The best way to learn the difficulties of international team management - is to manage an international team. I would be very wary of programmes that propose that they can develop leaders - but only teach leadership in a classroom - i.e. books that tell you what you should do, etc. These key skills are leaned in what we call ”the experiential classroom”..project based learning , etc.

Look for MBAs that really develop leadership potential and competencies using effective and efficient learning processes - and - trust me - you can’t learn to be leader by reading a book!

Ellen Miller: I truly believe that an MBA can be a very useful tool for a variety of people and reasons. The quality of the pool in any given year is an unknown although broadly speaking in the super MBA pool there are always highly talented people. The challenge I think is in hiring them into the right roles. I also think that the value of the MBA comes into play over the course of one’s career and needs to enhance all the other skills, learned and innate of the individual. So no, I don’t think it’s a useless selective diploma.

There must be a significant amount of overlap between this and the MBA. What is it then that differentiates the Msc from the MBA and thus makes it preferred?
Mark Sandiforth, London

Ellen Miller:. I’m not sure I agree that the MS is preferred overall. Preferred by some, but . not by all I would say. My view is that the MSc students are still mainly pre-experience other than short stages or internships. They are by and large happy to enter full time roles as part of a junior entourage and use their academics, skills and whatever experience they have in a variety of roles. In most cases, they have good grounding in the business basics and the hunger to learn and apply their talents broadly. This is in contrast to MBAs who often have a pre-conceived idea of what they would like to do and how they wish to progress their careers. In many ways, the MBAs are excellent selective hires rather than as part of a huge cohort. In the right seats, both MBAs and MScs can flourish in similar organisations.

Patrick Molle: The MS and MSc are for persons without prior experience. Initial and continuing education each have their respective value. The MS and MSc help develop knowledge and skills necessary to enter the job market and have a first experience. The MBA builds on relevant experiences and enhances competencies though shared learning.

The MSc in France always has experiential learning (internships, etc.) Would you trust a Doctor that never had practical learning (and that only learned what he should/should not do in books and lectures?) Be wary of an MSc that is purely passive in its learning approach. France has been and will continue to be a leader in developing future managers using a blend of practical and academic learning approaches.

Della Bradshaw: I think the MSc graduate is attractive to one employer, the MBA graduate to another to another.MBAs have traditionally more work experience and therefore would be able to re-enter the job market at a higher level than an MSc, often managing teams of people. MScs would traditionally enter near the bottom of the job ladder but would have the potential to catch up their MBA counterparts more quickly than those with no management degree.

How do the recruiters in Europe feel about the programs in Hong Kong and how do they evaluate these students against European or American business school grads?
Vamsi, India

Ellen Miller: Sadly I don’t have much experience with the Asian programmes. I am aware of Insead in Singapore for the MBA and some of the Chinese universities are well-ranked and have active exchange programmes with US and European top universities and business school. Our recruiting efforts in Asia are for Asia thus far as well. I am sure that we and employers generally will be moving to global sourcing at some stage but we are not quite there yet.

Is MBA still worth pursuing nowadays? What do you see are the advantages for a MBA over the CFA certificate in the banking industry?

Della Bradshaw: The CFA is a highly-regarded qualification, which is why many business schools build in many elements of the programme into their finance-specific degrees - the Said school at Oxford was the first to do this. But it is a qualification in a relatively narrow area of expertise.The MBA and the MSc degree are both more general and cover a wider range of topics, such as marketing, strategy of HR.

Patrick Molle: The MBA has been and will always be a DOUBLE competency - that adds management breadth to existing competencies. A GOOD MBA also focuses the development of key leadership competencies that are ”soft” in nature that will complement technical expertise.

Ellen Miller: I would need to know a little more about your background and your ambitions before making a specific recommendation for you. I believe an MBA is still worth pursuing for the right people for the right reasons. I think the globally recognised two year programmes offer a great peer group of experienced professionals many of whom are looking to make career changes. They also offer a great opportunity for internships after the first year.

A CFA certificate is just that, a certificate of a completion of the CFA course. It is more narrowly defined and if you want to be an investment analyst or a research analyst, can be very useful.

I’ve just started my MBA in Glasgow. Do you think the MBA is still valued by UK employers or do graduates need to do more academically to differentiate themselves - perhaps a more specialist higher degree?
John Paul Fitzpatrick, Glasgow

Patrick Molle: What is valued is not the MBA but rather what YOU can do with your MBA. Focus on yourself, your competencies not necessarily on the MBA. Employers are looking for experience and proof of competence - a degree or diploma is only part of the formula that has to be balanced with practical and relevant experience - keep it balanced!

For the specialisation, it depends upon the career that your seek. General management careers require breadth - not specialisation. If you want to focus your career, then specialise. Also the specialisation is good for your training right before a first employment in a specific domain. It is a career starter. It is also good if you want to become a super specialist.

Thank you or that pertinent question.

Ellen Miller: I think the MBA is beginning to get a lot of recognition in the UK and its value is growing with UK employers. I think as employers, we are always looking for key differentiators. Having said that, higher degrees beyond an MBA or the MSc is not necessary for most roles.

What are the main difference between the MS and MBA? It is the latter more beneficial for prospective students in the long run?
Armando Cruz, US

Della Bradshaw: That’s a great question. The answer is: nobody knows.The move by US business schools to reduce the age at which they matriculate MBA students shows there is a growing belief in the US that managers need to learn the tools of their trade earlier in their careers, largely because able managers are being given higher levels of responsibility at a younger age. So it looks as if there will be an increasingly overlap between MSc and MBA programmes.The answer at the end of the day might centre on which degree has the stronger brand image. At the moment that is certainly the MBA.

Patrick Molle: The MS recruits without experience - contrary to the MBA. Which is more beneficial depends upon your career.

Ellen Miller: There are many differences between an MS and an MBA. The MBA though is defined by being a post-experience degree. It typically draws a broad student population with an average of 3-5 years work experience. The curriculum is balanced across management disciplines and can offer concentrations in finance, marketing etc. it is typically done on a full time basis with an internship opportunity in the summer between years.

Many employers also take advantage of the MBA through creating links to executive education programmes whereby their employees can take a part time MBA often called an Executive MBA. The Masters programmes are typically pre-experience and can be general or specialised. Their duration varies by school and country. They have gained in stature considerably and are more European in origin.

It’s hard to say what is more beneficial. It really depends on where you are headed with your career and what your background and experience to date have been.

What are the options should I consider in terms of collages and courses for my post graduation in finance other than an MBA in finance?
Anshuman Thakur, India

Patrick Molle: Simple, acquire relevant experience.

Ellen Miller: I would need more information to guide you better but you can concentrate in Finance through an MBA, you can do a specialised masters in all kinds of finance and you can do a phd in finance as well.

Della Bradshaw: There are lots of excellent one-year Masters in Finance programmes out there. The degree first became popular in Europe but top American schools - MIT Sloan, Stern NYU - are now running these programmes too.

Is the MBA really only relevant to North America. It seems to me that in North America an undergraduate degree is more of a general education and professional qualifications such as law, medicine and an MBA are studied at graduate school. This differs to the European system where professional qualifications are generally obtained at undergraduate level.
Mark Hatcher, Canberra, Australia

Patrick Molle: In Europe, the MBA allows people to acquire general management knowledge after a specialised degree and career in engineering, etc. It is complementary. Also, Europeans tend to take an MBA later in their career...this provides for a richer learning of soft skills - such as leadership, HR management, etc. These soft skills are hard to develop without prior experience.

Ellen Miller: An MBA is relevant globally and should teach you and prepare you for a senior management role. It should be undertaken after some experience to gain its full benefit and have some perspective. The MSc programmes in Europe are excellent but different to an MBA.

Della Bradshaw: I agree with your assessment of the different education markets, but not of the MBA degree. What an MBA allows people to do is gain additional qualifications which will help them change careers or leapfrog their peers in their existing profession.When we compile our MBA rankings we ask alumni why they decided to study for an MBA and whether they achieved this goal. The four top answers are always to change careers, earn more money, get a better job in their sector and to learn more about management. They almost always achieve all four of those.

Do you think that the business schools have to be concentrated on education programs which are valued for the students, e.g. the development of creative collateral unconventional thinking in combination with practical decision making skills, to be able to compete for young talents globally?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

Patrick Molle: Business schools focus on programmes that create value for the participants, businesses and society. The competencies you mention are typical of ”entrepreneurial leaders” and should be the target of development as more and more companies are seeking people that think and act out of the box.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.