Edinburgh Business School MBA program FAQ

Since returning from Edinburgh, I have been serving as the EBS Alumni Ambassador for the Edinburgh Business School. As alumni ambassador, I often get questions from potential students about Heriot-Watt, the EBS program, or just studying in the UK in general. Rather than repeat myself over and over, I have decided to post the common questions I get here, as well as my answers.

Disclamer: My opinions here are mine alone do not reflect those of Heriot-Watt University, or the Edinburgh Business School. As alumni ambassador, I am a volunteer, and have no say in how the program operates. Any direct program questions like, "How do I change my exam date" or "When is graduation", you will have to contact the university directly.

First, a little bit about the program....

The EBS MBA program has been around as a distance learning (DL) program since 1991. This makes it one of the first programs where you could earn an MBA entirely through distance learning. Unlike other MBA programs that started as an on-campus program, and then went online, this program was designed from the ground up as a distance learning program. It is not a "cohort" program where you start and stop with a group of people. There is no groupwork, no video lectures, no required discussion boards, no homework that is turned in. Everything (except exams) is controlled at your own pace. Courses are contained in massive, custom designed textbooks using programmed learning. In addition to the texts, you have an online tool called the "Profiler" used to asses your strengths and weaknesses, as well as a faculty board for Q&A. Each course has only one long three hour, closed book, final exam. And yes, they are very difficult.   

There is very little interaction with other students, and you don't even need to speak with a professor if you don't want to. Because of this, the way it is structured is not for everyone. I find this program works best for people who are busy professionals who are pretty well situated in their career, and just need an MBA to move up. It is also well suited for the entrepreneur, who maybe never had a chance to attend university because they were too busy working, and need an MBA as a missing credential. 

If you are looking for an MBA to change careers, this is probably not the program for you. Really for career changers, I wouldn't recommend any online MBA program. An on-campus program with a lot of networking possibilities would be more suited for you.

UPDATE: Here is a great video of Professor Lumsden talking about the history of the EBS MBA program: http://vimeo.com/12020689

Now that is out of the way, on to the questions......

Question 1 (my most common question): Why did you choose the EBS MBA?

I first considered doing an MBA while I was working in Japan. Moving up from my position required an MBA. Programs in Japan at the time were few and would require me to quit my job to attend courses full time, so I started looking into distance learning. After spending about 6 months researching various programs, one program really stood out for quality and flexibility, and that was the EBS program. 

What attracted me most about this program, it was built from the ground up as a distance learning program based on research in management education. This is quite different from other universities that take an on-campus program, and try to make it "online" by throwing some PowerPoint slides on a website.  

About a year and half into the program, I left the company I was working for. Since I was no longer working full-time, and needed a change of scenery, I decided this would be a good opportunity to finish the MBA on campus. In 2002, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. So, I'm familiar with the program both as a DL student, and as a full time on-campus student.

Question 2: Is it a reputable program?

Yes, Heriot-Watt University is a Royal Chartered university and has origins back to 1821. Edinburgh Business School is the graduate business school of Heriot-Watt. The faculty of the business school have also taught at Stanford, INSEAD, London Business School, and other top schools. It doesn't get any more reputable. 

Question 3: How is an MBA program from a British university like EBS perceived by US employers?

That really depends on the employer. My experience with large multinational companies have been that employers have generally impressed with someone from the US completing a program from a non-US school. My experience with small and medium firms has been that they really didn't care what country the degree was from, or if you had an MBA at all. They just cared if you could do the job.

Question 4: How is Heriot-Watt specifically perceived by US employers?

Once again, that really depends on the employer. For the most part, people in the US still haven't heard of Heriot-Watt. Keep in mind, most people in the US wouldn't be able to find Scotland on a map, don't know the difference between the United Kingdom and England, and have no clue to what a Commonwealth country is. If you are in an industry where many of your colleagues come from a Commonwealth country, they probably have at least heard of Heriot-Watt  (even if only because of their rugby team) and are very familiar with UK higher education standards. Being an American that has gone through such a program carries a bit of prestige in of itself, or at the very least some "street cred" with my British colleagues. If you work with people from the UK, they certainly have heard of Heriot-Watt, especially since they have been climbing very high in The Guardian newspaper ratings. Essentially, if you are trying to impress people in the US with a university name, rather than your abilities, you should probably look for another university. 

Question 5: What about other accreditations, like AMBA, AACSB, EQUIS, etc? Does the EBS MBA program have any of these? Why not?

In a nutshell, no. As I mentioned before, the EBS program was the first to offer an MBA completely through distance learning, built from the ground up based on years of research in management education. EBS took that research and realized they could develop a high-quality, effective MBA program, and the student wouldn't have to be in a classroom. Organizations like AMBA and AACSB outright ridiculed the concept of distance learning, and said it would never work.

Fast forward to today, the EBS MBA is highly successful, everyone and their brother now offers an online MBA, and AACSB/AMBA and the like are singing the sweet praises of distance learning. After years of success, EBS sees no reason to bring them into the picture now. In my opinion, there is still a lot of bad blood between them. The Scots don't forget the past so easily.

Question 6: I was told AACSB is the "gold standard." Will not having AACSB accreditation affect my ability to get a job or into a PhD/DBA program?

First of all, don't believe the hype. I have never heard of a case where someone was not offered a job because their program was not AACSB. Most employers and universities require regional accreditation (not AACSB) or the foreign equivalent. The foreign equivalent to regional accreditation in the UK is the Royal Charter, which Heriot-Watt has. I haven't heard of any employer that requires AACSB accreditation for employment. Some employers might use it as a hurdle for employees to claim tuition reimbursement, but I don't know of any.

As for doctorate programs, some AACSB doctorate programs might require taking additional "leveling" courses if your MBA wasn't from an AACSB program. Some might not. I had no programs getting into my program at University of Florida with the Heriot-Watt MBA. In fact, they allowed me to transfer 30 credit hours from the EBS MBA towards my PhD, which is the max allowed.

Question 7: So in terms of accreditation, how does the EBS MBA compare to the US?

As I pointed out in the question above, Heriot-Watt has a Royal Charter, which is equivalent to US regional accreditation. I've had my EBS MBA transcript evaluated by WES, and IERF. They both evaluated the EBS MBA as being equivalent to US regional accreditation. By the way, these are the only two foreign evaluation services I would recommend.

Question 8: How have you benefited from the EBS MBA?

Everyone's situation is different depending on industry, career goals, level of experience, etc. Specifically in my case:

- It has helped in get into, with a full stipend, and graduate, from a PhD program. Although a masters degree is not required for most US PhD programs, having one makes you more competitive, even if it is a "non-research" masters. The level of work required to pass the rigorous EBS exams helped me get through my PhD 'comps'. As I mentioned before, UF applied 30 credit hours from my EBS MBA towards the PhD, saving money and about a year of coursework. I applied the saved time and money towards a second master's degree while I was in my PhD program.  
- It has made me more competitive than people without an MBA (though these days, it seems like everyone has an MBA, so it certainly has allowed me to keep up.)
- In my daily work, most of the skills I use (particularly finance, economic thinking, quantitative methods, and accounting), I acquired through the EBS MBA. Sure, my undergraduate degree exposed me to these subjects also, but the EBS MBA program provided more depth and really helped me refine these skills and apply them to business problems. 
- I got to live in Edinburgh. To many, this may not be much of a benefit, but to me not having been to Edinburgh before I transferred on-campus, this turned out to be a great benefit. Edinburgh is a wonderful city to live in. The EBS program is the only one I'm aware of that makes it flexible enough to transfer on-campus, even if you just want to take 1 course or seminar.
- I can taste the difference between Highland, Lowland, Speyside, and Islay Scotches. (Although this is not so much because of the EBS program, but more from living in downtown Edinburgh. DL students probably won't pick this skill up unless you really put in the extra effort.) In all seriousness though, Heriot-Watt is the one of the few universities in the world that offers a masters degree in brewing and distilling. And yes, it is now offered through distance learning! (You might want to reconsider your major.)
- As a graduate from a Scottish university, I am legally authorized to wear formal Scottish National Dress, including kilt. (Just kidding again. There is no such law that says you have to graduate from a Scottish university, or even be Scottish, to wear a kilt.)    

Question 9: I heard the EBA MBA program doesn't require a bachelors degree. Is that true? 

Yes, it is true. EBS has long felt that their MBA should be awarded based on the student's ability to learn the material and apply that knowledge to solve business problems as demonstrated by passing their difficult exams. When you think of it that way, what does having an unrelated undergraduate degree, or having a degree at all matter? Not having a prior degree one should not limit your opportunity to learn, and based on years of management education research, made almost no difference anyway. This concept is an anathema to many people and so-called "HR Experts." However, I have never heard of anyone in the private sector not get a job because of it. 

That being said, not having a bachelors degree might affect you in some situations. If you plan on applying to a doctorate program in the US, all of them require a bachelors degree, even if you already have a masters. Also, some government jobs may require a bachelors degree, regardless if you already have a masters. There are a few EBS MBA grads who went back to school of a bachelors because of this. 

Question 10: Any discussion boards where I can talk to more students from the program?

My first recommendation is the EBS Watercooler. It is the unofficial website of the EBS MBA program. Although not so popular anymore since EBS has started their own student forums, it has been around for a long time, so you might be able to search for some information, or find some old-timers there who could offer advice. It is at http://sites.google.com/site/ebswatercooler/ .

Another is DegreeInfo. It is the oldest and largest online forum for distance learning on the internet. You can find it at http://www.degreeinfo.com/content/

Then there is Facebook. EBS has an official page at http://www.facebook.com/EdinburghBusinessSchool . Many current students follow that, and you can post questions.

Both Heriot-Watt University and the Edinburgh Business School has groups on LinkedIn also.

Question 11: What is the connection between Edinburgh Business School and the University of Edinburgh?

Other than geographic proximity, none really. Some faculty teach courses at both places from time to time. Edinburgh Business School is the graduate business school at Heriot-Watt University. University of Edinburgh is a separate institution. Just like University of Florida is not the same as Florida State University.