Choosing the right MBA: brand, quality and content

Thursday 26 May, 2016

As organisations grow in size, it becomes more difficult for business owners to adequately supervise staff and attend to the strategic plans of the business.

CQUniversity Associate Professor and MBA Director Michael Segon says they need to employ managers to manage the work of others and to translate strategic goals into operational and achievable tasks.

CCIQ corporate partners CQUniversity believe the importance of selecting the right managers comes down to devising effective selection criteria and insuring good HR practice are adhered to.

The more senior the appointment the greater the importance of selecting the candidate with not only the right skill set, but the right qualifications.

Experience vs qualifications

Historically Australian businesses have placed more emphasis on a proven track record of performance rather than qualifications (i.e. experience over degrees).

The problem is that many people equate experience with capability and expertise. This is not always the case. Just having experience does not mean people have learnt anything or have understood why things happen as they do, and or how they can adapt this information to different contexts. That’s the benefit of structured learning programs like MBAs.

Many students who have entered MBA programs with a wealth of experience but little formal management training have often commented on the benefit of being introduced to the models, structures and background to many of their practices, i.e. theory. Knowing how and why something works actually helps them to do it better.

The challenges when appointing managers when a qualification is required or advantageous are twofold: firstly which qualification is best, and secondly which University provides the better quality qualification?

When the need is linked to a functional area like IT, HR, Tourism or Hospitality appointing managers with experience and a specialist qualification such as a Masters in HR, is best. However, it is critical to keep in mind that the more the position moves from being specialist HR or IT practitioner based to managing people and function, then the greater the need for broader management, leadership and strategic knowledge and capabilities. Unfortunately many of these specialist degrees lack basic management, leadership and strategic content: enter the MBA.

When a position calls for a person to manage a group of people or function then a generalist qualification like an MBA becomes more important.  MBAs are designed to give people an overview of a business, from strategic issues to financial to people management. A key aspect of an MBA is the ability to integrate these functions and to work with the specialists to achieve corporate objectives.

Of course not every MBA necessarily does this.

Choosing the right MBA: brand, quality and content

The majority of Australian Universities offer MBAs and many more are available online and through private providers and from overseas universities. But a key question many selection panellists ask is:

“How do I know if this is a quality MBA?”

Typically people rely on the reputation of the offering University and that’s fine, for the handful of Australian Universities that most know by name. But what about the others and the non-university and overseas MBAs?

Luckily there are an increasing number of indicators that the business community can, and is using to distinguish amongst MBA qualifications.

International accreditation as an indicator of quality

International accreditation is like the ISO of business education. Business Schools with one or more accreditation have met defined international standards of management education content and quality. But which one is best? Is two or three better than one, and if so which one? Certainly the absence of any international accreditation for an MBA should raise questions.

Association of MBAs (UK)

This is, arguably, the most focused and demanding of MBA accreditations - arguably the best to have because it focuses on the content and structure of the MBA. This includes things like minimum entry requirement, work experience, class attendance and the type of content that must be addressed for a quality program.   It is widely recognised in the UK, Europe and increasingly so in Asia and Australia.

EQUIS - the European quality framework

This system accredits Schools or Faculties - not programs like the MBA. It is a highly regarded accreditation but it is more about the quality of the system that provides the MBA rather than the program itself. It makes suggestions about issue of content,  structure and requirements but is not as prescriptive as AMBA. It is recognised throughout Europe and Australasia.

AASCB - The US accreditation system

Similar to EQUIS this system accredits Schools or Faculties - not programs like the MBA. It is a demanding and highly regarded accreditation in North America and is increasingly pursued by Universities in Australia and Asia.

PRME- United Nations Responsible Management Principles

PRME is a certification rather than accreditation system that emphasises ethics, integrity in management education. Having these qualities in a manager is becoming increasingly important, particularly given the international legislation around bribery and corruption, an issue we deal with in our next webinar.


Ranking MBA programs is of increasing importance and recognition. But ranking surveys are  also somewhat questionable being mostly subjective in nature.

There are a number of International ranking systems by noted magazines such as the Economist, the Financial Times. While they are important, the reality is that only a few Australian MBAs will enter the top 100 - it’s not a necessarily good indicator of a quality MBA from an Australian Institution.  Domestic ranking by the AFR Boss, GMAA and CEO Magazine are more relevant and a better indicator of quality in the Australian market.

What is also increasingly apparent is that many MBAs look and feel pretty much the same. The problem is that this is more about following the pack rather than making sure we are heading in the right direction.

Numerous studies have highlighted that many MBAs fail to deliver the type of capabilities that employers seek - even accredited ones. These findings suggest that MBAs that balance the content of economics, finance, strategy and operations, the mainstay of most MBAs, with the soft skills of management better meet the needs of business.

Courses that address leadership, emotional intelligence, ethics, people management, influence and change are seen as just as important as the traditional functional skills.

Look for an MBA that has balance in its content and structure - one like CQU’s MBA that is well ranked by the Australian Financial Review and CEO Magazine, rising in the GMAA ranking, certified by the United Nations PRME system and is pursuing AMBA.

CCIQ and CQUniversity have a series of webinars on June 3, 10, 17 and 24. For more information:  Register here


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