IDM INSIGHT: Direct Data Digital - IDM Viewpoint on... MBAs - MBAs continue to cut it

The proliferation of degree-level educated entrants joining the direct marketing profession has done much to improve our industry. It has created academic parity amongst new entrants and has undoubtedly raised the game at the lower rungs of the career ladder. Indeed, many of those who recognise that additional qualifications will help them advance in the crucial early stages of their careers do so by attaining the IDM Diploma and this effort is rewarded with prompt promotion to middle management.

But as the more ambitious graduates already have their eyes firmly fixed on more senior roles, the trickier path to negotiate is the one to general management.

The route to further professional development in marketing is increasingly well supported, both directly by the IDM through specific technical programmes and by MA courses informed and supported by the IDM - not least by Kingston University, my own institution. Moreover, to ascend the corporate ladder increasing numbers of marketing professionals are taking the MBA option.

But, we must pause here and reflect. Do those individuals know enough about these qualifications to make the right choice? And are employers themselves educated about the courses and institutions offering them to understand the benefits their for business of having MBA qualified staff?

The MBA is certainly a contentious qualification, and it frequently suffers a bad press. This is partly historic: leftover associations with the red braced brashness of the 1980s City traders. It was also often the whipping boy of the older generation of senior managers, who prized amateurism and the self-reinforcing culture of the corporate giants above the analytic, self-critical, technique-led approach of MBA graduates.

But it's also contentious present day: human resource directors still voice concerns about sponsoring staff through such a highly priced qualification, which invariably triggers new ambitions, restless behaviour and an almost inevitable job change.

So who's right? Factors like delivery method, course duration, the success of previous graduates, the reputation of the academic institution and cost (from £10,000 to over £40,000) invariably have some influence.

But, when you look at the arguments for and against properly, it is reality that belies mythology. Goldman Sachs, Colgate Palmolive and The Home Office all hire MBA graduates at premium salaries, and use the MBA as a major criterion for promotion.

Little wonder then that the Association of MBAs (AMBA), an organisation established by MBA graduates to promote the development of the MBA qualification and assure the quality of provision, estimates that over ten thousand people a year now graduate with an MBA in the United Kingdom alone.

In fact the number of students has grown by almost 40 per cent between 1995-2003. And, while this sometimes means that the resulting supply of MBA programmes has grown andchoosing between them has become more difficult, thankfully British universities have a rigorous system of quality assurance, the threshold level is high and the general quality is good.

Above this threshold level there is the accreditation provided by the various specialist bodies. Accreditation by AMBA is good evidence that an MBA programme is delivered by a reputable institution, is properly resourced, is taught by a competent, well-qualified faculty and recruits students with good prior business experience and intellectual calibre.

So, despite being more commonplace, the MBA continues to present a great opportunity for the promotion-hungry. An MBA offers people the chance to make a statement about their potential to lead and direct operations.

It eases the move into general management and gives access to like-minded people. Added to which there is strong evidence that the possession of an MBA has a very positive impact on salary levels.

Professor David Miles is Pro Vice-Chancellor External Affairs, Kingston University and an IDM Trustee

To find out more visit: Kingston University: www.kingston.ac.uk/business. The Association of MBAs: www.mbaworld.com

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