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After the financial crisis: Online MBA providers experience sharp increase in applications

MBA providers need to be flexible and adjust to the ever changing economy and its innovations. One necessary offer was to introduce an online MBA, where students study off-campus via the Internet. Those programmes have now had a few years of experience and MBA Channel wanted to see what the benefits and downsides of those programmes are.

Our correspondent Barbara Barkhausen spoke to Dr. David Costa, the Dean of Robert Kennedy College (RKC) in Switzerland. RKC is a partner College of the University of Cumbria and joint higher-education centre with the University of Wales in Great Britain. The college has repeatedly been listed among the top programme providers of online MBAs by the Financial Times.

How do you manage to maintain a high standard of education when students study independently and without an actual teacher?

All our programmes replicate as closely as possible the classroom experience. Our MBA is not by exam and requires active online participation. That includes case study analysis and online debates, closely led and moderated by a faculty member. This is fairly unique in our programmes. Another unique feature is that we combine online studies with a compulsory residency at the University in Cumbria in Great Britain. So essentially we offer the best of both worlds: You do have the flexibility to study online combined with face to face interaction.

What are the advantages of your online solution?

An MBA delivered mostly online provides with unique flexibility not available in a part time or full time programme. In this regard I can say that the programme doesn't really compete with any full time/part time options. It is simply another way for busy executives to achieve the same MBA degree that they would receive on campus but with enhanced flexibility. Another very important advantage is the uniqueness of our programmes. Our MBA in Leadership and Sustainability, offered in partnership with the University of Cumbria, is the only one in the World to specialise in this field.

Many take up an MBA study for its great networking resources and the international feeling. That doesn't work the same way if you get your degree online without meeting the other students. Is that a limitation of your offer?

In terms of international feeling with students of over 110 countries we are certainly a very international college. While we don't claim that study online will give you the same networking opportunities all our students use the compulsory residency as a way to consolidate and enhance their network: they have the chance to meet classmates that they got to know online first.

For whom is an online MBA a suitable solution?

For all working managers who are not in a position to leave their job and personal life commitment to a full time MBA.

Is an online MBA valued as highly as a normal MBA study?

Yes. There is no difference between our graduates and these attending the full time MBA on campus in Cumbria or Wales. It is the same rigorous programme but offered in a flexible learning environment. Given that all programmes require a residency this is very much accepted and encouraged by employers all around the world.

Many top B-schools in the US have reported a significant decline in applications in 2010. Does your programme experience the same in the aftermath of the financial crisis?

We actually experienced a sharp increase. This is mostly thanks to our cost efficient tuition fees and for the global reach of our MBA.

An online MBA was one of the necessary innovations of the MBA programme. What will be other aspects where the MBA needs to be flexible and cutting edge?

In the aftermath of the financial crisis MBA programmes need to be more contemporary and relevant. I feel that our MBA in Leadership and Sustainability addresses many of the issues that will make future managers more efficient and careful about sustainability in business.

Facts and Figures Robert Kennedy College (RKC)
Students: 1,853 (40 % female, 60 % male students)
International students: 95%
Cost of MBA programme: 11,500 Swiss Francs
Accreditation: The College operates under the roof of the University of Cumbria that received awarding powers by the British Privy Council. The University is a member of the Association of Business Schools (ABS)

Picture: Dr. David Costa, Dean of Robert Kennedy College (RKC)

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