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An MBA Your Way: Flexible And Online Programs Beat The Clock

There are plenty of ways to fit MBA training into a harried schedule. Business schools are rolling out a raft of flexible, part-time and online MBAs for the busy manager.

Sun Oct 5 2014

Time was not on Nic Lee’s side. Like many executives, he did not have the luxury of taking a break from his business analyst’s role at Terra Firma, one of Australia’s leading management consulting firms. He wanted to further his education, but could not put the brakes on his life in the fast lane.

“Working full-time has always been the priority. The luxury of taking a break from work did not present itself,” says Nic. So, he enrolled on a part-time MBA program at Melbourne Business School, one of a new breed of flexible courses designed for the busy manager.

The program was split over three years. “I would have classes from Friday to Sunday, once every three or four weeks,” says Nic. He graduated last year and has been promoted to a senior role at Terra Firma. “Combining the complementary nature of my studies to my existing work has been a great career enhancement. Long-term, the MBA has opened new doors and opportunities,” he says.

The increasing pressures of management and fuller work schedules means many executives can no longer afford to take one or two years out of work to obtain a traditional MBA degree.

The business education market has had to adapt to meet the needs of today’s business world, according to Federico Frattini, director of the Flex EMBA program at MIP Politecnico di Milano, the Italian business school.

“These factors together conspire to make it extremely difficult to attend face-to-face MBAs and executive MBAs,” he says.

An obvious alternative is the EMBA, designed for more senior workers and spread out over a longer period. But these programs are also risky. “In the case of our EMBA participants, leaving their job carries a risk, given their seniority and what they have accomplished in their careers,” says Paula Robles associate director of marketing at INSEAD.

The rise of flexible and distance learning, where students use online platforms to study from the comfort of their work desks or even at home on the sofa, means there is now a wealth of choice available.

“Flexible study can be very attractive for some, especially those who do not want to leave their full-time employment to avoid losing momentum,” says Paula.

There are plenty of ways to fit MBA training into a harried schedule. According to the latest GMAC data, 60% of full-time one-year MBA programs reported a decrease in applications in 2014. But applications to part-time MBA programs and flexible MBA programs increased, while outside of the US, EMBA programs are also gaining in popularity.

A flexible MBA allows working students to load up on courses over a long period of time. The Modular MBA program at Cass Business School in London caters for this by holding classes once a month, over a weekend.

But EMBA programs can be pricey. The two-year program at Wharton School costs $181,500 – including tuition, books, and program-related housing and meals.

“Some companies can’t fund executive MBAs. Companies are also more reluctant to give up their employees in terms of time,” says Ashley Arnold, director of MBA recruitment at the UK’s Henley Business School.

This problem has aided the growth in provision of distance learning programs, which are often cheaper and do not require much travel time. Henley’s Flexible Executive MBA can be taught almost entirely through an online learning environment, according to Ashley, although there are some face-to-face meetings.

The online method of delivery relies on technology and many programs are developed by outside providers such as Coursera and FutureLearn.

For multinational companies, there is increasing pressure to develop global teams who can work together on specific projects – virtually. Experts say that virtual team meetings can break biases in thinking and spur innovation.

Flexible MBA programs delivered online mirror these practices. “Some do email, some might do Skype, [and] some might setup some great whizzy bit of kit that allows them to work virtually,” Ashley says of the Henley executives.

But a constant criticism of these programs is that it is harder to connect with peers from a distance. Henley offers an online platform for its students to network, but executives often use independent communication systems developed by their companies, says Ashley.

He adds: “Although we have facilities, most step outside of that. If you force them into some channel of virtual communication, they won’t use it.”

MIP’s Flex EMBA has developed an online platform with Microsoft. About 80% of the program is taught via distance learning and 20% is delivered in face-to-face lessons.

“This allows users to personalize their distance learning experience, and communicate with their peers by email, chat and social networks,” says Federico. “These activities definitely teach students to work and communicate virtually with global teams,” he adds.

But with such flexibility of study, there are concerns that students may lack the focus of someone on a full-time MBA – programs that are known for their intensity.

Some think that the rise of distance and flexible learning poses a threat to the traditional MBA. But Federico believes they are targeting different demographics – the programs are “very different and not overlapping”.

Ashley adds that technology is shifting so wonderfully that both sets of MBAs will now have a similar experience. “That’s what business schools have realized – as tech evolves, there are other ways to present a program just as effectively with the same outcome.”

For Nic, networking on his part-time MBA program has proved to be a powerful asset that will continue to grow in value. “The value of my MBA will grow over the long term,” he says. 

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society