Weighing up the costs of an MBA

Postgraduate study can open doors to new careers and higher earnings which, in turn, benefit both the individual and the wider economy. And the cost of study is usually considered a worthwhile investment. At present, eligible students can apply for a combined loan of up to £7,900 to help with fees and living costs but that's set to rise this year, with financial support of up to £10,000 available for 2017/2018 taught postgraduate courses at any Scottish higher education institution '“ including MBAs.

Given the price of an MBA – most courses in the UK cost between £15,000 and £30,000 – the additional funding will likely be welcomed by ambitious executives and managers looking to boost their skills and enhance their CV.

Andrew Main Wilson, chief executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA), says the global qualification is worth the spend.

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The average UK percentage change in earnings between a year post-MBA compared to earnings before completing the qualification is 20 per cent.

“You have to look at it as a return on investment,” says Main Wilson. “All our research shows that the salary increase one year on from completing an MBA at a good MBA school is exponential.

“If you are looking at the best all-round qualification, the MBA still is – and I believe will be for a very long time – the most respected, coveted and recognised senior management business qualification in the world.”

It’s a qualification that certainly earns its status with companies searching the global talent pool for the best of the best.

“It’s like the Scottish and English Premier Leagues,” says Main Wilson. “Companies now are looking all the time to buy better and better players for their team.

“Just like the world of football, foreign imports are coming in and taking a higher and higher market share of jobs.

“If you are really thinking about your career and are succeeding in your company or planning a career move, you probably need to dedicate more time to your management education than you perhaps realise.”

From a recruiter’s perspective however, an MBA is not as highly sought after by employers as it once was although Chris Logue, director at Eden Scott, the recruitment agency, says he has never met anyone who has regretted completing one.

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“MBAs were a relatively new concept at the start of my career in the 1980s but it seems to be a qualification which we are not maybe seeing as much of in the UK,” says Logue.

“It’s certainly not as prevalent in the conversations I’m having as it once was.”

Another option is to specialise with an 
industry-specific masters degree such as HR, journalism or marketing.

Logue says most job descriptions that cross his desk are looking for a sector-
specific postgraduate qualification rather than singling out an MBA as a requirement.

That’s not to say he hasn’t seen any correlation between completing an MBA and taking a step up the career ladder.

“Some people feel they have reached a stage where they can’t go further in their 
career without a business qualification,” says Logue.

“Other people feel it will help them move into a more senior role with an improved salary and bonus.

“Others want to engage with a different community and network of people from different backgrounds.”

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It’s something that people tend to come to once they have taken the time to get to know their industry with the top business schools only taking applications from those with at least three years’ work experience – although the average student has five to six years on the job under their belt.

“We find the typical age of our MBA students ranges from 28 to 41,” says Main Wilson. “The average age would be 31 to 32 on graduation.

“Today, whether you are an ambitious graduate or a 30 to 40-year-old executive, you are up against international competition for jobs and you are also up against international competition to grow your business at a corporate level.

“Really what you should be looking for is the best and smartest global business education you can possibly afford and have the time to dedicate to.”

Certainly studying for an MBA does take time and for those considering part-time programmes, there will be an extra workload to consider.

“The big advantage of doing a part-time MBA is you retain your job and in about 40 per cent of cases your company will pay something towards it,” Main Wilson explains.

“You will have an increased workload because you will be attending courses and lectures at your chosen business school but it is really worth it.”

The skills developed on an MBA can be broken down into three categories: core skills, hard skills and softer skills. Roughly 90 per cent of business schools will focus on compulsory modules in leadership, strategy, marketing, operations and finance.

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Then there are optional modules which allow students to specialise in areas such as IT, big data or HR. Robert Gordon University’s AMBA-accredited business school in Aberdeen offers MBAs with an oil and gas focus.

Finally, it’s a case of fine tuning the softer skills such as listening to people and working well as a team.

“I have never yet met – myself included – any even high-flying manager who is naturally, at the age of 30, a highly proficient expert in all those areas,” says Main Wilson, who completed his own MBA at Harvard Business School in the United States.

“One of the great advantages of an MBA is it rounds off the knowledge you need as a manager in all the key areas of the business mix.”

And whether you study in Scotland or further afield, the outlook from these programmes is global.

“You will be with a lot of like-minded, talented people going through your programme from a rich and culturally diverse background of different industries and nationalities.

“If you can afford it, the best MBA programme to do in the UK would be one with an international placement.

“That gives you great insight into what’s going on in Asia, the US, continental Europe. You are getting some global case studies, global faculties teaching you and, quite possibly, some global visits at a partner business school elsewhere in the world.

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“Of the 243 AMBA accredited schools worldwide, 30 schools are in China and Hong Kong and 32 are in Latin America. There has been remarkable growth over the last five years and that shows how the MBA is incredibly prestigious in some of the main emerging markets.

“If there was ever a time where you need to try and take advantage of the very best management education learning you can get hold of, it’s now.”

This article appears in the SPRING 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.