School profile: University of Edinburgh Management School

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Nick Oliver has been head of the University of Edinburgh Management School for close to a year. Before he arrived to do his new job in the Scottish capital, he spent 14 years at Cambridge university’s Judge Business School.

He describes himself as a bit of a new broom and feels there is a “huge amount of opportunity” at Edinburgh that he wants to help realise. Prof Oliver is quick to say that the management school does not want to trade unduly on the good name of Edinburgh university but he does note the importance of its “intellectual assets”.

On the part of the university, there seems to be a growing recognition that more could be made of the management school and last year it committed £17m of its capital expenditure budget to re-housing the school.

If all goes to plan, the school will be moving in 2010 to much larger, purpose-fitted premises a block away from its current main building.

At the moment, the school’s executive is heavily involved in talks with architects and designers.

But as it contemplates a physical make-over, it is also undergoing strategic change to the way its curriculum is organised.

Prof Oliver explains that teaching and research will be broadly focused on five thematic areas: financial services, public management, innovation, carbon management and economic theory.

This is not to say that all degree programmes will henceforth concentrate exclusively on one of these topics.

Prof Oliver explains they should be seen rather as “complementary and deep, specialist knowledge areas” that the school wishes to highlight in order to differentiate its educational approach from what he describes as “vanilla
wherever you look” or “firing randomly into the air”.

The idea is to connect degrees, teaching and research into areas felt to be particularly relevant to the business community.

The school also hopes this approach will help them to build up their portfolio of executive education programmes – short non-degree courses for company employees.

This is an area that the management school has been “less strong in, historically”, says Prof Oliver.

At the moment the school offers an MBA degree that can be completed full- or part-time, or on a modular basis whereby students can choose to do one or more semesters of the degree per year.

Those wishing to study part-time have to commit to three years of two evenings per week at the school.

This year’s entering full-time class contains 67 students and 13 of these are following the International Business track.

Students on this track spend an extra three months completing their studies, with the time spent on an exchange programme abroad and a work placement.

The figure of 67 seems surprisingly low considering that this is a school that has attracted around 90 PhDs students in total and recruits undergraduate students to 21 single and joint undergraduate degree programmes.

However, according
to Simon Earp, the school’s MBA director, this has
been the expected result of a reassessment of the relationship between price and
quality.

He says enrolment peaked at the 107 mark in 2001, when the fees were £13,900. Thereafter a strategic decision was made to increase the fees.

This year’s full-timers will pay £22,700 and enrolment numbers are in what he calls a “steady state”.

In addition to the MBA degree, the school offers four specialised masters programmes in subjects including management and economics.

The run-away success story of the group has been the Masters in Finance and Investment which has grown from just 28 students in its first intake in 2004-05, to 85 students this year. It now generates more profit for the school than any other programme.

Another specialised masters programme in Carbon Management will be added next year.

This will be offered in collaboration with the geosciences department and which will, in fact, be the school’s first joint masters programme, in its current portfolio, with another department at Edinburgh university.

On a chilly Friday morning in November, there seemed to be few students from any of the above programmes in evidence at the school.

However at lunch-time a group of MBAs came in to chat. All have completed the course this year except one who is finishing the remaining few weeks of the International Business track.

All had very different academic backgrounds and work experience but everyone agreed that the strong team-working aspect and relatively small size of the Edinburgh MBA had brought them together and been one of its strengths.

One noted in particular that Scotland’s capital city has a reputation for being a friendly, cosmopolitan and sociable place and that this undoubtedly feeds through into the atmosphere of the full-time course.

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