More than ever before, executive education has a crucial role to play

Every day is a school day, so the saying goes. However in reality once people get on the career ladder there can be a tendency to become wrapped up in a busy job, leaving little time or energy to continue learning.

In the modern world, technology is rapidly changing how things are done. Covid-19 has, of course, also impacted how people work. Doing business remotely is the new enforced norm, and it seems likely that the use of platforms such as Zoom to interact is here to stay.

To keep pace with evolution and stay relevant in the workplace, experts say it is vital to learn new skills and be able to adapt to trends and new demands. Executive education, including Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses, therefore have a vital role to play.

Scotland has an excellent reputation for academia and its universities offer a choice of executive education options, including a plethora of MBAs. Jenny Britton, head of executive development at the University of Edinburgh Business School, explains why she thinks executive education is important, describingit as providing a “catalyst for change”.

She says: “Managers, whether they’re in the private or public sector, working for large multinational companies or local charities, must remain current in their thinking and maintain best practices in their organisations.

“CEOs and CFOs are not the only ones who need good management skills. Teams at all levels of the organisation can benefit from programmes and courses that develop a more holistic understanding of how organisations work and succeed. The MBA degree is unique in taking this holistic, general approach.

“Our intention is not to create accountants or economists or financiers, it is to give each student a functional literacy in each of these areas so that they can communicate effectively with and within those teams.”

The University of Edinburgh Business School offers three options on the MBA side – the MBA, the MBA with International Exchange and the Executive MBA (EMBA).

It recommends the EMBA for anyone who needs to continue working while they study. It is a two-year, part-time programme with most modules delivered in once-per-month sessions on a Friday and Saturday. Britton says: “Many of our EMBAs are sponsored by their employers, who see value in the MBA, not only for expanding the knowledge of their employees, but as an incentive for employee retention.”

The University of Edinburgh Business School has also been active in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, working with the Centre for Business, Climate Change and Sustainability on a range of executive education, research and engagement activities.

And it has supported the development of the E2 Scale Up Programme, a collaboration of 16 Scottish universities focused on upskilling entrepreneurs.

John Storm, senior lecturer (scholarship) in management and EMBA programmes director at the University of Aberdeen’s Business School, brings a global perspective to the discussion.

He returned to the UK recently having spent 10 years in mainland China where he was involved in corporate training programmes and worked closely with a range of educational institutions worldwide.

He now oversees the university’s EMBA programme that includes courses delivered in London, predominantly attracting people from the Middle East, and an offering in Shanghai that launched in January 2020.

Storm says: “In mainland China, we’re very Shanghai-centric and get a lot of interest from hospitality, finance and emerging technologies, such as renewables. We have strong presence from Fortune 500 companies, so we attract a lot of big-name hitters.”

The average age of the cohort tends to be in the 40s and participants have usually reached a relatively senior level in their careers, having gained about 15 or 20 years of experience.

Storm says there are more diverse reasons for deciding to do an EMBA than just career enhancement. “We’re typically attracting people who are already near the peak of their careers. They are starting to consider life-meaning and life-purpose and thinking about what comes next in terms of personal fulfilment. There is that degree of stepping back and looking at things more broadly.”

“Also in the business world we say it is not what you know, not who you know, but it’s about who knows you. On our Shanghai programme we usually get between 25 to 30 participants and they become a close knit group of people, so that determines business relationships.

“On executive programmes it’s not unusual for participants and their companies to be doing multi-million dollar contracts with each other. The expansion of networks is of tremendous value.”

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) offers a range of qualifications for business, ranging from risk management to its MBA and Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA). Its Glasgow School for Business and Society executive education offerings are available in distance learning formats, as well as part-time, full-time and hybrid options. Distance learning can be a real benefit for part-time professional learners, allowing flexible study that accommodates employment demands.

Professor John Lennon, Dean at GCU’s Glasgow School for Business and Society, says: “Our DBA attracts candidates from the private, public and third sector and provides an innovative route to doctoral qualifications in business. The DBA allows executives from a range of organisations to build knowledge and experience whilst providing the potential to engage in in-depth and meaningful applied research in a specific area that is relevant to them or their organisation.”

Is now a good time to do an MBA?

David Mackay, MBA programme director and professor of practice at the Hunter Centre of Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, gives his views

Is it a good time to do an MBA? Now more than ever before I would say. During disrupted times, leadership capabilities are required more than ever to set vision, deal with complexities and help colleagues navigate through the fog. We need people who are confident in dealing with difficult situations – the MBA builds your capabilities and confidence in decision making in these conditions.

We’ve seen many people over the past year turn businesses round and create new opportunities to face the challenges Covid has brought. What the MBA does is it allows you to see the whole picture and react accordingly. The MBA gives you confidence when others are freezing in the face of new challenges. You will also be gaining a network of associates. Both your MBA peers and Strathclyde alumni are all addressing the Covid circumstances in different industries.

It’s easy to find leaders and managers in organisations who agree that learning is crucial for employees; what’s more interesting is when you ask them: how are you investing in your own learning?

Leaders should ask themselves: what do I need, what would help me to improve my personal effectiveness? For many, the answer to that lies with the MBA.

In my opinion, there’s not much more you could do than to upskill to face this crisis head on, so the MBA is more important than ever. It’s incumbent on us – MBA providers – to keep developing, to innovate what we offer so our students are business literate in the right ways and to ensure the MBA is of value.

In the current climate areas such as innovation, digital, sustainability are more important than ever. This year, we’ve introduced new electives and ‘put our money where our mouth is’ in terms of innovation, and to ensure all routes of our MBA are still receiving the MBA experience they would expect from Strathclyde.

‘Digital Transformation and Technological Innovation’ was offered as an MBA elective for the first time in summer 2020, building on a heritage of digital leadership electives run in the marketing department in the past. We’ve enhanced our economic options to make full use of the Fraser of Allander Institute.

We’re offering an elective in ‘managing organisational mental health & Wellbeing’ this summer in response to the challenge facing leaders across sectors. Finally, we’re increasing our leadership and strategy offerings, as well as improving our technology offering – that’s where our Digital Transformation and Technological Innovation elective came in.