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Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Hull Business School

Published By: The Independent - 19 May 2007

Hull has always suffered from its geography. Stuck out on the windswept east coast, cut off from the south by the mouth of the Humber, and on the road to nowhere much except the Spurn Head peninsula, it has inevitably been nudged to the edge of the national consciousness.

But all that is changing fast. Catch a Hull Train – new, clean and comfortable -- from London and you emerge into a city where £1b is being spent on regeneration. and the business school is proud to announce that its MBA is now firmly on the international map.

This February it got accreditation from AMBA, and says the external recognition will help the programme to be seen for what it is worth. It certainly adds to the sense that the business school is on a roll. Last year it won EQUIS accreditation, from the European Foundation for Management Development, and is now in the process of developing a new £20m Logistics Institute, designed to support the region’s all-important transport and distribution industries.

To get AMBA accreditation the MBA had to off-load an historic tie with a south London college, and increase the face-to-face teaching hours on its overseas programmes. “But there was fundamentally no problem with our standards or delivery,” says dean of the business school, Mike Jackson. “It’s taken us three years, and now that we’ve got it, it leaves us free to be a bit more ambitious and exciting. When you are going through the accrediting process you have to make sure you are ticking all the boxes, but once you’ve done that you can start to do things more your own way.”

However Hull has always done a lot of things its own way. The business school was established in 1999, and from the beginning delivered its MBA overseas, using the same teachers, and virtually the same amount of face-to-face teaching, as it did in Hull. “We were very close to being the first people providing an MBA programme in Singapore and Hong Kong, and certainly the first in the way that we taught it,” says Jackson. “We now have 3,000 Hong Kong graduates and 1,500 in Singapore, and lots of them are now people in high positions who recommend us. It can be complicated to get staff out to everywhere to deliver the programme, it means more than a hundred trips a year, but it gives them the chance to meet students and get involved in consultancy over there.” The university also runs programmes in Bahrain and Oman, and overall has about 120 students a year going through its four centres overseas.

“Which also gives our students here an international option,” points out Susan Miller, professor of organizational behaviour and academic director for the MBA, “because they can elect to do a module overseas.”

The MBA also emphasises a systems approach to management decision-making, a perspective that views problem-solving as an holistic process. “That particular perspective and set of tools, which allows students to try and integrate their thinking about decisions, is a core module on the course,” says Miller.

Jackson is a leading specialist in this field, and points out that while critics such as Henry Mintzberg accuse MBAs of teaching management theory in an unrealistically segmented way, “the systems thinking stuff has been in Hull right from the beginning. We’ve always taken that kind of helicopter view of organisations.”

The school also has strong links with its 21 corporate partners, many of them big names such as Arco, BAe Systems and Kimberly Clark, who offer support, provide guest speakers and sit on an advisory board. “It means we are consistently listening to what business is wanting, and using real life case studies, and doing good research which builds on the relationship between theory and practice,” says Miller.

There are currently 26 full-time MBA students, drawn from a dozen countries, and 21 on the two-year, part-time executive programme. The school requires a minimum of three years’ work experience, although in practise most students have considerably more.

The school sits on the Hull University campus, a few miles from the city centre, and has invested more than £8.5million in modern facilities, including a mock boardroom and fully-equipped teaching and seminar rooms. The facilities are light, bright and appealing, and once the new Logistics Institute is finished, will form a substantial new hub for business education.

At present the MBA draws its UK students primarily from the immediate area, and sees its current competitors as the programmes offered by other business schools in the north, such as those at Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham. But horizons are expanding rapidly. A quarter of the staff teaching on Hull’s programme were born and educated overseas, and their research profile is rising fast in national rankings.

Jackson’s vision is for Hull to become leading UK business school, recognised around the world. And it is already planning one move that will put it in that frame. “We do expect to be putting something significant on the price in the next couple of years,” says Jackson, “not least to reflect the standard of teaching that we offer.”

When 30-year-old James Young thought about doing an MBA, he would have been a prime candidate for any of the country’s leading business schools.

He has a degree in chemistry from Oxford, six years’ experience with Proctor and Gamble, and now works in product development for Reckitt Benckiser, the global manufacturer of cleaning and personal care products.

“It has been in my career plan since I was an undergraduate to do an MBA,” he says. “I did my research on all kinds of schools, from the London Business School to non-AMBA schools, and to be honest I couldn’t see a great deal of difference between what they offered. I came here because my company’s a supporter of the business school, and wanted me to, and so far it’s very good. There’s a buzz about the place, and I’m really enjoying getting back into the academic groove.

“It’s delivered in four-day sessions, from Thursday to Sunday, which works out quite well for me, and I am forcing myself to work in the evenings to keep on top of things. It helps that it’s local, so I come in and use the library here. My fellow students are a mixed bag, with five or six from the public sector – which is a very different thing from the private one! A lot of what you learn is common sense, but when I stand back and analyse some of the situations I’ve been in, I can see that I haven’t always seen the bigger picture.”