New horizons: (left to right) Fairmond Mbungela, Safietou Seydi Ep Wane and Olutosin Bakare © FT

Accompanying your spouse on an overseas posting can leave you with time on your hands. But one group of women have decided to put this unexpected period of leisure to good use and have enrolled on an MBA programme.

While their husbands work in central London in the oil, tobacco and telecoms sectors, Olutosin Bakare, Safietou Seydi Ep Wane and Fairmond Mbungela, all in their late thirties, are learning the intricacies of international operations management, leadership and organisational behaviour at the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, in Surrey.

Ms Bakare was the first to join RHUL in September 2011. Born in Nigeria, she was a telecoms marketing executive before she came to the UK and she was keen to develop her business experience.

Ms Seydi, a retail buyer and jewellery designer from Senegal and Ms Mbungela, an HR professional from South Africa, both enrolled on the one-year programme in September 2012.

Ms Seydi is eager to develop her marketing and communication skills, which she noticed were lacking when she began selling her jewellery in Asia. Ms Mbungela hopes that her MBA qualification will improve her finance and accounting skills.

The three women met through their children’s schools. They have all been eager to take advantage of the intensity of the full-time MBA being offered by RHUL as it ensures they will graduate before moving on again. Ms Seydi had wanted to study for an MBA since her husband’s job took them to Texas, but could only find two-year programmes in the US.

Ms Mbungela will graduate from RHUL just before the family returns to South Africa.

Justin O’Brien, MBA director at RHUL, says: “For a female professional thrust in a foreign land away from friends and family, where it can be difficult to find work, there is often a desire to use the time profitably.”

But he is impressed by the women’s decision to study on the programme. “It’s very demanding, I’m not sure how they do it,” he says.

Indeed, Ms Bakare, who has deferred her MBA dissertation to balance home life better, now warns others about the heavy workload, starting with Ms Seydi.

“But I said, if you can do it, so can I,” the latter says, describing how she enrolled the very same day.

Three months into the programme, Ms Seydi acknowledges that it is surprisingly intense.

“It’s a huge decision for mature students [like us] to go back to school,” she says. “But there is great support from staff [and] I can see I learn every day; my business vocabulary is improving and I am more comfortable talking to clients.”

This is Ms Mbungela’s first move overseas and she is enjoying the culture mix. “The best thing is being able to work with people from diverse backgrounds – all my life I’ve [only] worked with South Africans,” she says.

The class is a diverse one with 21 nationalities represented, including people from Columbia, Sweden and Mexico. The trio’s participation has also tipped the gender balance in favour of women for the first time: 54 per cent of the 35-strong cohort are female, a fitting milestone considering the university’s history as one of the UK’s first women-only colleges – it became fully co-educational in 1965.

Mr O’Brien emphasises the determination and focus that the three women have displayed.

“This is a big deal to them,” he says. “They have to juggle hard [so] their presence is testament to their tremendous commitment.”

In spite of her reservations, Ms Bakare is convinced that the intensity of the programme will be worth it in the long run.

“The sky is my limit. I don’t want to lose out and I don’t think I will.”

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