By the time Rhys Burton finished his online MBA, he was running his own business, travelling globally, and juggling three children and a marriage.
A need for flexibility drew him to the digital format, which has grown in popularity as young mangers begin to question the time and monetary cost of a campus course.
The entrepreneur enrolled in the University of Wales’ online MBA through RDI, a UK distance learning specialist, in 2009. He graduated in 2014.
Since then, Rhys has become a more marketable commodity, and the MBA has allowed him to increase the amount he charges clients for engineering services.
Previously, he worked in project management for engineering groups Network Rail, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Babcock International.
When and why did you decide to begin an MBA?
I decided to enrol in the spring of 2009.
Firstly, I had needed to leave a previous full-time degree due to family ill health. And whilst I had partial accreditation, I had never managed to finish a complete degree. The next step seemed to be for me to complete a masters of some description.
Secondly, I needed a masters degree that would support my aspirations in the future as I become a leader in my industry; to support my career; to make me a marketable commodity in the field that I am in.
Thirdly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete such a course — it is an intellectual challenge.
When I was looking at MBA programs, I found that many part-time and full-time courses required extended residential visits. My work and other commitments prevented me from sparing the time to follow one of these routes.
Very few schools offered a complete distance learning program. But RDI offered a number of distance learning course options with accredited British universities, and they were financially competitive.
I researched student experiences with online courses and found that the feedback for RDI was very positive.
What flexibility did online study afford you?
I was running my own business, managing multiple clients, travelling around the UK and abroad, and my wife and I have had three children whilst I have been doing the course.
It took me a long time to complete the program (five years), but it gave me the chance to choose the order I did the modules in, which meant I could choose to learn in my own way.
I took breaks for a term or two when my children arrived, and managed to fit in learning sessions around my work day, and particularly when I travelled or at weekends. All I needed was a computer.
The online forums that allowed me to communicate with tutors and students were of great benefit. They can’t quite compete with the face-to-face experience, but it was a good substitute.
What are the challenges of distance learning?
It can be a lonely experience as there is no one with whom to converse. I was lucky that my wife had also done a masters degree and therefore could empathise with my plight, if not assist with the workload.
There is a real need to manage yourself and your time. It is far too easy to leave submissions to the last minute, only to realize you have misunderstood the criteria altogether. There were a few late night panics.
I set aside one day a week (Sunday) to lock myself away and do nothing else but study.
What has the MBA done for your career? What are you doing now?
I continue to run a business providing specialist project and program control services within the engineering industry. I had struggled to be recognized as anything other than a niche service provider. But the MBA has given me a much wider understanding of business operations. It has also made me a more marketable commodity, and allowed me to increase the amount I charge for my services.
Since the MBA, my business has expanded. We are now offering system and process solutions to our clients.
Would you be where you are now without the degree?
The degree has given me the confidence to progress in my career.