A review article which describes the difference between MBA, Executive MBA, DBA and Mini-MBA programs. The author of the article is Andrey Kolyada, Rector of Eurasian Management & Administration School (EMAS Business School).
Nowadays business community is seriously thinking about drivers of growth. The drivers of economic growth, which have become habitual over recent years, in general and for particular companies, have been already exhausted. The devaluation of currencies and the growing inflation lead to significant reduction of citizens' real income. This tendency is turned into a long-term trend. For small and medium-sized businesses it means only one thing – the years of progress are over, the decade of depressive market is ahead.
Factors of company's growth.
Each enterprise has got 3 possible factors of growth in this case.
The first factor – is an administrative resource, good working relationships with authorities. It has been used in many countries for many years already, and there is little point to say that it will bring something more that it has already brought to one or another company. Yes, you can count at budget flows and make money, but the problem is that these flows are rapidly disappearing. There is less and less money in the budget with each passing year. It will be even worse in the future. That is why this factor of growth is exhausted for many enterprises, in the best case they will maintain the previous volumes.
The second factor – growth due to entering new markets. The problem is that the majority of markets are occupied by other enterprises. That is why this method cannot be implemented without the third factor.
The third factor – enhancement of business efficiency, competitiveness, modernization and organization of business processes of enterprises. It is the whole range of works which should be conducted by managers of enterprises. Their goal is to get as much profit from each coin, invested in business, as possible, in order to become more efficient, then competitors. This is rise in profitability, labor productivity and other similar projects. Projects, which are based on the idea of improvement of company's business processes. It is precisely this factor of growth, that is the most viable for enterprises of small and medium-sized businesses nowadays and within the next decade. Its perspective is justified by the fact that the majority of companies haven't started to create effective business processes, at the appropriate level, that means that significant improvements are possible in this case. It is not a secret that efficiency of an average company is far away from what it could be.
The knowledge which managers possess lies in the core of any project aimed at increasing efficiency of business processes of the company. If you don't know how to upgrade this or that business process, then you can't do it. Here the issue of sound business education arises, because you can't gain this knowledge at University – higher education institutions solve other issues.
MBA programs are the most suitable programs, which managers need in order to ensure growth of their enterprises due to enhancing the efficiency of business processes. In many countries the image of these programs has been a little spoilt by improper work of some educational institutions, but it doesn't change the fact that only a good MBA course will give managers the necessary knowledge which will help to improve their enterprises and their own career development.
There are 4 types of programs in the world. They significantly differ from each other and they are targeted at absolutely different audiences. Incorrect choice of a format results in disappointment, because in this case a person won't obtain the desired result. This is the main reason why people complain about the quality of programs.
Types of MBA programs.
The first type of a program is an MBA program or an MBA program with specialization in some topic. Many people think that it is the only existing type of MBA courses. It is not true. The content of these programs includes certain theoretical knowledge with relatively little practice. In the majority of schools students practice on cases (specially developed examples), but there is no real practice based on the examples of enterprises where participants of programs work. One exception is implementation MBA programs, which we are going to discuss further.
The target audience of MBA programs in the world are young people who have recently graduated from universities (2 – 5 years ago). These people occupy junior managerial posts, or they are mid-level managers. They don't have managerial experience at the highest level and don't have mandates for making significant business decisions. The described specificity of the audience explains the content of these programs.
The purpose of MBA programs is to give a good theoretical base for future development. As a rule, there is no deep practice, the purpose of which is immediate solution of tasks, which are significant for enterprises where participants of programs work. Low content of practical tasks in these programs is not a drawback. That means the audience who study these programs are not prepared to a different approach – they don't possess neither significant managerial experience nor decision-making power. Such people need theory, because it will help them to make wise solutions when they occupy high managerial positions. Top managers, as a rule, mustn't' study these programs, these programs are not intended for them. But it is the right choice for young managers.
The second type of a program – an Executive MBA program (or an Executive MBA program with specialization) is a more prestigious and more practical program than an MBA program. These are programs of a higher level. They are aimed at owners, top managers and staff reserve, who are eligible for senior leadership positions. These are people with real managerial experience and mandates to immediately implement changes at their enterprises. There are no managers of junior level who study this program. For a business school it is more complicated to offer an Executive MBA program than an MBA program because it is more practical. In proper Executive MBAs the material, which students study, is practiced at their own enterprises, but not with the help of abstract cases and it is often immediately implemented at work. Consequently, the level of teachers must be higher than the level of students, because the requirements for the teacher are rather high. That is why not a big number of business schools offer an Executive MBA program, the majority offer only standard MBAs. Unfortunately, there is a number of Executive MBAs of low quality which are just variants of standard MBAs – there is no deep practice with the usage of participants' own cases instead of abstract cases. Such fakes are typical of those educational establishments, who don't possess enough qualified teaching staff, able to meet the EMBA format, but they still try to occupy a share of the market, offering a product of low quality. Unfortunately, such deplorable practice takes place in some state and private business schools.
Degrees of such fake Executive MBAs issued by such schools are not valued among employers, because low quality of education and non-conformity with standards in such schools are commonly known and easily identified with the help of feedback on the Internet.
It is important to emphasize that an Executive MBA program of good quality, as well as an MBA program, is a comprehensive degree course, which meets international requirements, but not a random set of different courses. Unfortunately, some incomprehensible mixture of seminars and trainings appear under this brand. It is unacceptable and it is wrong.
The third type of a program is a DBA program: Doctor of Business Administration. It is the most prestigious type among MBAs, ultra-premium class. These are programs of the highest level. In comparison with the number of business schools who offer MBAs and Executive MBAs, the number of schools who offer a DBA program is minimal. The reason is that the requirements for quality and depth in a DBA program are higher than the requirements for an Executive MBA program. As a rule, such programs are chosen by owners or top managers (or those who are going to take such a post in the short run) who possess significant life and managerial experience. Consequently, a DBA program, as well as an Executive MBA program, offers a full practical immersion into the issues of a participant's enterprise, the absence of abstract cases and so on. Speaking about the level of prestige, a DBA program is considered to be a kind of analogue of PhD (though they are not equal, and in principle, these things are not compared).
The fourth type of a program is a Mini-MBA program. It is the shortest and the least expensive program, it is also known as a Starter MBA or Pre-MBA program. This program is aimed at managers of junior level, but in general they cannot be seen as an analogue of an MBA program, not to mention an Executive MBA or a DBA program. Those, who choose this program, often view them as the first step in their future MBA, Executive MBA or DBA education. Meanwhile, according to international standards, Mini-MBAs are not recognized as full value MBAs, only MBAs, Executive MBAs and DBAs are considered as such. In other words, if you want to have a full value MBA program, but you can't afford it now for some reasons, you can view a Mini-MBA program as the first step to the desired goal. This variant is chosen by those people who are loaded with work or for some financial reasons can't afford to enroll for full value programs.
Some business schools which offer a full range of MBA programs, EMAS is among them, give their graduates of Mini-MBAs the opportunity to study additional courses and get full value MBA degrees, without having to study this program entirely. A similar variant is possible with an MBA program → an Executive MBA program → a DBA program. Though not all business schools offer this variant, but only those, who provide educational process of high quality and where Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA and DBA programs are interconnected. It is convenient for those who plan their education for a long-term period and want to have an opportunity to get a higher degree without having to study the whole program, learning the same modules again and paying for them, when they have already studied this material successfully and paid for it.
Final projects which participants of programs present at EMAS visually demonstrate the difference in depth of Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA and DBA programs.
- EMAS Mini-MBA (Starter MBA) – The final project "Basic elements of strategic management of a company (a separate business unit) where planning horizons are 3 – 5 years".
- EMAS MBA – The final project "Key elements of strategic management of a company (a separate business unit) where planning horizons are 3 – 5 years".
- EMAS Executive MBA – The final project "Development strategy of a company (a separate business unit) where planning horizons are 3-5 years (for a key product category)".
- EMAS DBA – The final project "Development strategy of a company (a separate business unit) where planning horizons are 3-5 years (comprehensive – for all product categories)".
Academic or Implementation MBA programs?
In addition to differences in the content of Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs, there is a significant difference in formats of programs, and also the nature of schools, which conduct these programs. Each of them can be Academic or Implementation. The majority of programs are Academic, it is connected with the fact that the majority of business schools are divisions of universities, they follow their philosophy and to a great extent use university approaches and teaching staff, thus they are academic educational institutions.
Within the frames of Academic Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs participants study courses which are obligatory from the point of view of some academic standard. Academic program is continuation of higher education, that is often clear judging by its content. Such programs provide courses on macroeconomics, theory of management and so on – those courses which are not directly related to business practices, but they provide some general educational basis.
Academic programs don't provide any elements of practical implementation of the received knowledge in work/activities of participants. Quality control of the knowledge gained during a program is carried out through standard exams or sometimes control abstract cases which participants must do. The mentioned information is true not only for Academic Mini-MBA or MBA programs, but also for Executive MBA and DBA programs, though practical content in the last mentioned programs is higher than in others (as it is required according to the format – see the description above). Academic business schools don't control the fact and the quality of implementation of gained knowledge by participants of their programs, considering that it goes beyond the scope of educational process. Academic programs are a good choice for those who are not interested in implementation of the gained knowledge in practice during the process of education or during the short period after graduation (for example, women, who are on maternity leave; men, who haven't decided what they want to achieve in career when beginning education and so on).
There are less Implementation Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA and DBA programs in the whole world, than Academic, because their realization is much more difficult for business schools. Speaking about Europe, we can claim that among the leading business schools, only 10 or 15 schools offer such programs, EMAS is among them. Implementation programs in comparison with Academic, have a different kind of philosophy, which directly influences the content of a program and the way it is conducted. Implementation MBA programs hardly include general theoretical academic courses (macroeconomics, theory of something and so on). They focus on those courses which possess direct practical and implementation value for companies where participants work and plan to work in the future.
The difference between the content of Academic and Implementation Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA and DBA programs is perfectly reflected in the following example, which shows the way issues, connected with macroeconomics, are given in such programs:
- Academic program – includes a separate course on macroeconomics and/or economic theory, which is of general theoretical character.
- Implementation program, for example, the program which is provided by EMAS – the course "Strategic management. Business modeling. Business analysis. Market and company's forecast". The course is of purely practical character, participants study the issues of macroeconomics inseparable from other issues, which are important to know in combination in order to solve the most important business task – Development of an efficient business-model and the system of forecasting of target market dynamics.
Similar examples are clearly seen when you compare other courses. The content of Academic programs, as a rule, is of a general educational character, whereas the content of Implementation programs is of practical character, aimed at direct practical implementation in practice of a participant.
In addition to the content the significant difference between Implementation and Academic Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs is the way a school controls the quality of knowledge of participants. As it has been already mentioned, Academic business schools use standard exams as the instrument of control (we speak about schools which provide education of high quality, those schools which work differently, sometimes even don't have such elements....). Implementation schools, in addition to exams, demand their participants to prepare and execute projects in practice on the basis of enterprises where they work. They demand introduction of obtained knowledge into practice; they control how exactly a participant implements the knowledge, that was received during the process of education. Experience shows that in terms of control of quality of knowledge Implementation approach helps to achieve better results than the Academic one – when a participant starts preparing a project required by the school, anyway he / she faces many issues, which he / she missed during the course and which couldn't be checked with the help of an exam. This advantage in quality of knowledge has got another side – it is more difficult to study Implementation programs than Academic programs and it is necessary to take this fact into account when you choose a program. For example, within Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs at EMAS participants implement from 10 to 20 implementation projects on the basis of their real work, the final grade for the course is counted the following way: 50% of the grade is the grade for the project + 50% is the grade for the examination. When you choose an implementation MBA program, you must realize that the process of education requires serious attitude to it – you will have to do many real implementation projects.
So, what kind of an MBA program is it better to choose?
To sum up, speaking about Academic and Implementation Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs it can be stated that:
- Academic programs are more suitable for those people who need more theoretical knowledge and don't want to implement it immediately, and also are not ready to devote a lot of time to studies.
- Implementation programs are suitable for those who want to obtain more profound practical knowledge and who want their learning to be controlled through real implementation projects. It is necessary to be ready to devote a lot of time to these projects.
There is no difference between the degree value of Academic and Implementation Mini-MBA, MBA, Executive MBA и DBA programs. – If we speak about a strong business school, then the degree, issued by this school is valued by employers. If you want to be confident in the value of the degree, it is recommended to choose programs which hold high positions not only in national, but also in global worldwide rankings. Nowadays, in the year 2018, there are only 200 schools in the World, which offer MBA programs and which are listed in national and global worldwide MBA rankings, one of them is EMAS (EMAS MBA TOP-18 in Central and Eastern Europe, The Best Masters and MBAs worldwide ranking, 2018).