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Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Express Route to Experience: most MBAs want you to have worked for years before applying, but now you can get exposure to business while you study

Published By: The Independent - 12 Apr 2012

Imagine a high-quality MBA that not only offers the usual exploration of all aspects of business, but also gives you a year’s work experience at a top employer in New York, and then four months studying in the Far East.

It sounds almost too good to be true, but that’s what’s on offer to UK students who get accepted onto the Mountbatten Institute’s innovative MBA.

And that’s not all. Because with a whole year to build your work experience and show your worth to an employer you stand a very good chance afterwards of either getting a job offer from the company you’ve been working for, or a similar offer somewhere else.

Even better, it doesn’t even cost that much. Because for an overall cost of about $36,000 students not only get tuition, but also accommodation and a monthly stipend to live on -- a package which, the Institute estimates, returns about $20,000 dollars directly to them.

The MBA was launched five years ago by the New York-based Mountbatten Institute, named after Lord Mountbatten, which was founded to foster international understanding and personal growth through education, training and living abroad. For nearly 30 years this charity has offered young graduates the chance to study for a postgraduate certificate through work placements. Then it decided this work was of such high quality that it linked up with St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, to offer an MBA.

About 50 students a year currently take the 16-month programme. Those recruited in New York come to work in London for a year. Then all the USA and UK students meet together at Naresuan University, in Bangkok, to spend four months studying, doing fieldwork and writing their dissertations.

“The core of our whole programme is the work experience, with all the advantages of cultural exchange,” says Paul Beresford-Hill, director-general of the Institute. “They develop a broader perspective, and by going to Thailand for four months they are also extending their range of knowledge into the emerging markets of Asia. At the end of it our students are confident, open and willing to embrace change and we have developed culturally adept and sensitive young managers who understand more of the world.”

“They are like different people from the start to the finish,” agrees Sonia ElKahal MacLean. “They grow up like they are five years older than when they started. You can see it happening almost from the beginning.”

“I chose it because I really wanted to work in New York,” says Tom Green, 26, who started his MBA last September and is currently working in advertising and brand management with Thomson Reuters. “And so far it’s the best experience I’ve ever had. It isn’t like work experience. You aren’t an intern. I have my own programme and I’m very much part of the team. And the study programme is so applicable to what I’m doing in the day that it’s amazing. We do consulting and strategy, and finance courses.”

He found the MBA online, after doing a masters in international business management at Newcastle University and working for Apple, and is looking forward to his time in Thailand at the end of the course “because it’ll be another cultural experience again. Although at the end of it all, I really want to end up back in NYC.”

For employers, the programme offers a chance to take on board youngsters who are bright, keen and motivated, so leading companies such as Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch are keen to come on board.

“We’ve been involved since 2008 taking four ‘Mountbatteners’ a year and this year we’ve got six,” says Clive Richards, head of development at M&G. “We’re very happy with what it provides to us. Most of them have two to three years’ work experience after graduating and they are very bright, very high-worth young people, full of enthusiasm and energy, who can hit the ground running. The work we give them does not require any pre-existing experience of asset management so they can pick it up quickly and make improvements. They get real jobs with real experience and we get some very bright talents for 12 months.”

Students study in the evenings and at weekends, using their daytime experience as the basis for case studies, seminars and discussions. “What we are doing now is where more and more business schools are seeking to go in terms of the way we give our students a context for learning,” says Dennis Garritan, Associate Dean, who runs the study programme in New York. “We are creating a situation where the classroom and the boardroom merge, and giving students the kind of work-ready skills that mean they can create value from day one. And they are able to leverage the experience of the people they work with to bring a real collective wisdom to the discussions.”

Garritan has held tenure at New York University and is an adjunct professor at Harvard University and teaches using the same immersion model of strategic management with his Mountbatten students as he does to those at Harvard. “So they’re getting a Harvard course for about a tenth of the price!” And with high-level experience in McKinsey’s, UBS and Goldman Sachs, he embodies the “experiential education” that lies at the heart of the MBA. “What we are doing is skill-building in a context. Business schools always like to add more dots to their programmes. We help our students join the dots.”

“We are so different from other MBAs,” emphasises Sonia ElKahal MacLean. “First of all we offer young people the opportunity to go straight to work. They don’t have to wait five years to get that experience and then do an MBA. Also so many get a job soon afterwards. And how else these days can a young person get their foot in the door with the kind of big companies we are working with?”