As traditional business schools face increasing competition from for-profit and online providers, they also sometimes look to those providers for ways to revamp their own programs. One of the most successful online management education programs is run by The Open University Business School (OUBS). While headquartered in the U.K., it boasts students from more than 100 countries.
The Open University was founded by royal charter in 1969 with the mission of making university education available to everyone through progressive technology. The Business School was launched in 1983 and the MBA program five years late. Currently, one out of five BA students in the U.K. studies at OUBS.
In January, Rebecca Taylor took over as dean of OUBS after spending five years as head of economics and one year as associate dean at Nottingham Business School in the U.K. She is also an associate director of the Economic p for the Committee of Heads of University Departments of Economics.
The move to The Open University appealed to her, she says, partly because she was inspired by its mission of making higher education accessible to all—and partly because she relished the challenge of leading one of the biggest business schools in Europe.
Many in the traditional academic community are skeptical about the quality and content of online delivery models. What would you tell them about OUBS?
We believe that OUBS is the only school that specializes in online learning that also has been accredited by AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA. These hallmarks, and our commitment to delivering exceptional pedagogy, can reassure people about the standard of programs we deliver.
We develop our multidisciplinary courses with teams that include academics, education and media experts, and external assessors. We also offer high-quality support systems, which include financial assistance, tutoring from associate lecturers, access to an online library, and a thriving online com-munity. We also invest in the best technology to support our students wherever they are in the world.
What advantages does OUBS offer over more traditional brick-and-mortar schools?
Our students have a totally different experience from those at traditional universities. We have a flexible model of teaching supported by 40 years of experience in delivering distance learning through cutting-edge technology.
Many of our students are working while they attend school, so they not only learn theory, but also how to put it into practice. This means that their return on investment is immediate. Seventy-one percent of our MBA graduates say that they, their organizations, and their colleagues benefit from the program while they’re studying.
Our model allows us to deliver cost-effectively and at scale. At OUBS, an MBA costs about £16,000 for U.K. students and £19,000 for overseas students, which in U.S. dollars is approximately $25,000 and $29,500, respectively.
In a recent dean’s message you mentioned some of your priorities for the coming year, such as boosting OUBS’ international presence and strengthening its alumni network. How do you plan to go about these tasks?
The international ambition is not just a priority for the business school, but also for the university, so the strategy is already under way.
The vision for alumni stems from the fact that we have more than 84,000 graduates from our management programs. Our alumni are a great resource for the school as well as each other, so we are continually looking for more ways that we can improve and develop this network. For instance, we plan to launch an alumni program that offers more post-graduate career support.
What specific challenges do you see ahead?
One of our biggest challenges is deter-mining how we can stand out in an increasingly crowded market. It is also vital that we remain relevant to our stu-dents and their needs, as well as the needs of businesses.
Traditional business schools have adopted many of the characteristics of online providers, such as digital delivery, shorter programs, and customized education. How will OUBS respond to make sure it stays competitive?
Other higher education providers are looking to our model because more busi-nesses and employees require a flexibleapproach to management education. This means we need to continue to invest in our programs.
This year, for example, we are launching a new MBA curriculum. Because we wanted to offer a program with maximum flexibility, we reduced the completion time to two-and-a-half years. We also completely revised the elective modules. This allows us to offer a more relevant curriculum that reflects current manag-ment themes, such as sustainable creative management. It also enables our students to align their MBAs with their interests and career ambitions.
We also constantly invest in our sup-port services, our technology, our infra-structure, and our people.
In this issue, Daniel Szpiro quotes Peter Drucker, who said that “Thirty years from now, big university campuses will be relics.” Do you agree with that prediction?
I agree that the higher education sector is seeing a shift from traditional, class-room-based programs to more flexible programs that can integrate learning into the workplace. This is particularly true for postgraduate qualifications suh as the MBA. I think students want the content and the community at their fingertips, andsee the tutor or lecturer as the enabler rather than the expert.
If you were choosing a business school program to attend today, what factors would you consider?
Any potential student should investigate the options, because any program comes with a cost investment as well as a time investment.
I would look for quality markers such as accreditation, and I would consider an institution’s reputation and level of research. I would find out whih schools offered programs that matched my inter-ests and that allowed me to study in a way that worked for me.
Finally, I would find out what th people who study at a school are saying about it. At OUBS, our most passionate advocates are our alumni. In a recent alumni survey, 96 percent said that they would recommend us to employees and colleagues; of these, 83 percent said they had already done so within the past two years. I think that speaks for itself.