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How can online MBAs work in practice?

Online MBAs have come of age in recent years. IE Business School in Spain has established itself as a leader in the field over recent year. In this year’s ranking of online MBA programmes by the Financial Times, the school achieved the highest ranking worldwide. According to FT, IE Business School’s “Global MBA Blended” programme took the top spot for the international mobility of its participants and their international diversity. Its programme came in third place for both the average salary of its alumni three years after graduation ($136,000) and the salary increase since graduation (42 per cent).


Picture: Ignacio Gafo

MBA Channel has spoken to Ignacio Gafo, Vice Dean of Blended Programmes at IE Business School in Spain, as well as with one of their graduates who is based in Melbourne in Australia.


Ignacio Gafo, Vice Dean of Blended Programmes, IE Business School, Spain

If you compare a full-time MBA with an online MBA, the latter had a kind of lukewarm reputation in previous years. Has this changed in your opinion?

I think this is indeed changing. But you can’t forget that the online MBA is still young compared to the traditional MBA. The momentum has maybe started seven to eight years ago. The question is still how we can educate the market: Employers realize step by step that some schools provide excellent online programmes and others do not. You definitely need a good brand behind. To run a high-quality online MBA you need know-how and experience over the years. At IE Business School we started developing blended programmes in 2001 already. I think eventually 90 per cent will be at least blended programmes with some sort of online part. I think this trend is unstoppable not only for MBA education but for corporate education in general.

Especially employers from the financial industry and the headhunting industry have been reluctant hiring graduates with an online MBA saying the programmes are not rigorous enough… 

Yes, people have claimed that face-to-face was harder and you could relax online. But actually it is the other way around. In online you can deepen topics much more. People think about answers, they can do research, so you can achieve a much deeper level of discussion for example.

Why is IE’s online MBA so successful? What are your stand-out points?

First of all: we don’t like the word “online”. What others call online, we call a blended MBA. For us the methodology of this type of MBA is essential. Here at IE Business School there is no 100 per cent online version. We insist on a minimum of sessions. This would be 20 per cent face-to-face and 80 per cent online. Or 40 per cent face-to-face and 60 per cent online. I don’t think a pure online MBA is working. But if you combine methodologies - face-to-face teaching, video conferences and online discussions, it does work very well. 

Career services and networking are often cited as the negatives of an online or as you call it blended MBA. What is your view on this?

I agree that networking and career services are a challenge. But in terms of networking you have to go beyond face-to-face anyway. In our case we are doing a good job in my opinion. We are actively coaching our MBAs how to look for jobs. We have offices around the world. For example we have a physical office in Sydney, Australia, despite us being based in Spain. This office helps not only with admissions, but also helps students find jobs. On top of that we have our alumni network and again offices for alumni around the world that students organize themselves. We make sure that people support each other. We also run IE clubs. These are groups of students organised according to their industry and topic and these are based all over the world as well. We have participants from 50 nationalities, and this is very powerful networking. 

Where are the decisive advantages of an online MBA in your opinion?

An online MBA is for people who need flexibility, who travel extensively and could not take up a traditional MBA. It is for people who need a good balance of life and work and don’t want to do their work at a specific time of day but rather when the kids are sleeping for example. This is also an important factor for multinationals who work globally and need to travel a lot. Another aspect is social media. Online MBA students are used to working online and using social networks like Skype, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They are maintaining their discussions there themselves after we have established the platforms. This makes them the ideal 21st century workers who might need to work in virtual and digital teams.


Picture:Mathew TurnerAn interview with Matthew Turner, IE Business School Graduate based in Melbourne

Matthew, you are Australian, but took up the Spanish blended MBA programme that IE Business School offers.

I am an engineer and had been looking for an MBA to expand my business knowledge for a couple of years. I couldn’t commit to a full-time or part-time MBA because of the time requirements and then I read an article on IE and their blended programme in the Economist. This convinced me despite the fact that I had this stigma of less quality of an online MBA in my head.

Did you benefit by the course in the end?

I really used the benefits from online. As I never knew if I would be at one city at a given time, I am very pleased I took up the online programme. I could go home after work, have dinner, play with the kids and then sit down later and work at my own pace. 

You graduated last year. Has the MBA helped you in your career?

I haven’t changed industry or company as I work for a very good company, but the programme gave me a broader outlook and what we could potentially improve in my own company. I am still in a similar position but in talks about a different position. I personally wasn’t looking for the big change – it was more about learning the new skills.

If you wanted a career change, would you have done it differently?

Yes, I think so. As I am based in Australia, I probably would have taken up an MBA offer here to get the networking and contacts from business schools in the area. IE Business School has connections here and helps you setting up your CV and finding a job, but most offers and all the job fairs are in Europe, of course. So for me it was all about the learning experience.

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