How valuable is the OU MBA?
August 14, 2006 5:17 PM   Subscribe

How valuable is the Open University MBA?

This question has been touched on a little before.

My employer's paying for me to do this course over the next couple of years. I've done about three months so far and it's pretty easy - my last assignment scored over 90% on little work. (I know you get out of these things what you put in, but there's a limit.)

Now I know it's not Harvard or Wharton, and lacks the whole networking side of an MBA, but how far below are we talking? Is it anywhere near a "proper" MBA? Does having it attract any premium / kudos in the job market?

(My background is economics to Masters level from very good British universities.)
posted by TrashyRambo to Education (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not really. Any value comes not from the line on your resume but from what you actually learn, so work to learn as much as you can to maximize your value. With Harvard and the like the employer is getting the selection process as much as they are getting the benefit of your education. The calculus goes kind of like "if they were good enough for Harvard they are good enough for me," valid or not. Some employers just drool over that stuff. From a relatively unknown and unproven program (perhaps I am wrong but that would be my impression of OU) potential employers can't really assume much. A school like this can be valuable, but it is about the self enrichment, not the resume.
posted by caddis at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2006

(Full disclosure: I am in a part-time classroom-based MBA program at an AACSB-accredited school in the US. I grew up on a university campus and still spend a lot of time on one with school, etc, which probably influences this response.)

I see that the MBA from OU is accredited by AACSB International (the main accrediting body for b-schools in the US, though AACSB is international). This is a very good thing and frankly, I was really surprised to see that. I think accreditation is incredibly important because I grew up around academics and higher-ed administrators, but employers might not (for example, Johns Hopkins' MBA is not accredited by AACSB, but the Hopkins name attracts students and impresses employers regardless).

From the AACSB website: AACSB International accreditation assures stakeholders that business schools:
* Manage resources to achieve a vibrant and relevant mission.
* Advance business and management knowledge through faculty scholarship.
* Provide high-caliber teaching of quality and current curricula.
* Cultivate meaningful interaction between students and a qualified faculty.
* Produce graduates who have achieved specified learning goals.

So right off the bat, academically you're in good shape. However, if you continue to find it to be "pretty easy" you're not getting enough out of it. You need to ask yourself why you want the MBA. If you want it for the resume line item and the promise of a better job/more money, then maybe you're okay. However, Caddis raises some excellent points and you will not see much additional value if you don't have self-enrichment with your line item. If you want real knowledge that can eventually translate into a better job/more money, you'd have to evaluate if this will give you that given your current experiences. If you want to meet people that you can network with to get a better job/more money, this might not be good for you. If you want more than a better job/more money, what do you want and will this get you there or will a classroom-based program better suit your needs?

Though classroom-based has its fair share of powerpoints and boring lectures, the best learning in the classroom-based programs comes from diverging into a real-time discussion on real-life situations and past experiences. Learning doesn't always come from the textbook and coursework. It's a different kind of learning that goes beyond the textbook to the practical application of the material. I had a class last semester that got off track every single class, which led to some amazing discussions where we debated various approaches to solving a problem or discussed our own experiences with the topics we were covering. We also had guest speakers each week who were known in the areas we covered and contributed their thoughts to the discussions. We still learned the material of course and it was without a doubt the best class I have ever taken. To me, that discussion and interaction is the best/most useful part of my MBA and for me personally, the fact that it appears to be lacking from an online program makes me wary. This response in the thread you reference is also useful.

Also, you're missing out on a lot of "extras" - namely solid career counseling (useful even if you have a job), the networking mentioned above (with students, faculty, and alumni), camaraderie with your classmates, international travel or conference opportunities, guest speakers (CEO's, etc), the chance to do research or special projects and the opportunity for leadership at your school. I do see that there is a chance to spend time with your classmates in person, which is neat.

To actually answer your question, the fact that it is accredited means you're probably getting a good education. But you may face a lot of bias against the fact that it's online. Online-only education has come a long way, but still has a ways to go in terms of not being seen as "second tier." My guess is that a lot of employers are still of a generation/mindset where online education isn't considered as "real" as a classroom-based program, though that opinion will probably change within the next few years as more and more traditional universities offer online certificates and degrees and technology improves. Perhaps you'd consider asking your employer to sponsor your completing an online-based program from a traditional university? Then you'd get the convenience of online with the "prestige" of a traditional university on your resume since your question indicates that is a concern.

In the end, I know you're probably doing as much work as a classroom-based student, and you may be learning similar material, but there is the real possibility that not all employers will see it that way. However, OU may have some cachet in the UK that I am not familiar with as a US citizen. You may want to try and talk to your classmates or any alums to see if they have any insight on some of these questions, since they can probably speak from experience.
posted by ml98tu at 11:47 PM on August 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

Disclaimer: Junior UK academic here, but nothing to do with business or MBA programs.

The OU is widely respected in academia. Academic prejudices are rarely voiced openly, but from what I can gather an OU degree is worth at least as much as a degree from a good pre-1992 (that is not-ex-polytechnic) institution.

That said, and probably more so than with a face to face course, you do get out what you put in. It is possible to be a strategic student who works out the minimum effort for maximum marks gain in any program. This is not the best learning strategy, even if there is a chance it might result in the best final mark.
posted by handee at 1:18 AM on August 15, 2006

As handee says the OU is well respected and their degrees are, in general, seen as valid as those from good universities. However, MBAs do differ from other degrees in important ways. The large fees attached to them mean their is a more competitive market than is the case for most degrees in the UK. The result is that the high quality UK institutions can ask for very high entry criteria, for example, some will insist on 5 years of senior management experience before you will be considered for handing over your £20,000+. There are multiple results of this, one is that you get to hang out with a 'better class' of fellow students, better in the sense that they are better connected, have more experience and more developed business skills. The higher funding and better reputation of top class institutions may also mean better guest lecturers and better opportunities to access industry.
The OU's MBA does not rate among the best available in the UK but that does not make them worthless, it is likely that it will provide some benefits to your career, but they won't be on a par with a 1st or 2nd tier institution. It may be less likely to enable access to really high flying jobs. However, it may be that it is easier and cheaper for you to get one and it will still provide a worthwhile investment on your time.

If you google for rankings then make sure you get a result which includes the OU, many don't as they don't offer a full time course.

Disclosure: I have a non-business PhD from the OU and have worked at a leading UK business school.
posted by biffa at 3:05 AM on August 15, 2006

Seconding biffa. MBAs are about networking, not academics. I am an OU grad, and think it was a great undergrad degree, but I know from when my wife did an MBA a pretty good US school that while the full-time MBAs got a good deal out of it, the part-timers/night schoolers got a raw deal. Difficult to make many of the mixers, often left of planning for events, and tended to do less well on internships and placements.

It seems to me that without the networking benefits, all that academic work you could put into the MBA might be a little... futile. In that case economics might be a better bet.
posted by meehawl at 5:31 AM on August 15, 2006

I just completed a full-time classroom based MBA this past spring. I think the value of the degree depends on what direction you want to take it. My concentration was marketing and new product development. I feel that in that type of work, your experiences count for much more than your education. The MBA merely shows that you will pick up the context for gaining experience more quickly than someone without one. Bottom line is that no matter what school it comes from, the MBA helps, but it is no silver bullet.

On the other end of the spectrum, finance and investment positions live and die by what school they received their MBA from. Some of my classmates were shut out of many opportunities because our school wasn't on the short list. I think supply chain / operations positions are in the middle of that spectrum.

As for the learning, the lectures and texts were by far the least useful part of the degree. Working in groups, learning about my personality and work style, listening to guest speakers, having a personal connection with a career center, and just going through the experience with a group of people were way more valuable than the "book learning".

I guess what I'm getting at is that the MBA will give you leverage, but it is still up to you to use that leverage. Those kind of life skills are not as easy to learn online as they are to learn through experience.
posted by Sasquatch at 11:19 AM on August 15, 2006

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