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Universities churning out half-baked MBAs

By By PETERSON MAGUTU | August 8th 2013 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300


Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most popular degree programmes in Kenyan universities.

Most faculties of commerce have now reinvented themselves to schools of business for them to accommodate the B.Com and MBA degree programmes, given that the faculty of commerce could only accommodate B.Com and not business administration.

The practice is that the Schools of Business offers the Master of Business Administration degree. The students may select a specialisation in Finance, Accounting, Operations, Strategic, Human resources, Marketing, International Business, Information systems, Health Care Administration and many more. The biggest question is: are these specialisations or options?

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Most MBA degree requirements are course work and a research thesis/project. The course is expected to cover a number of issues in economics, business strategy, finance, accounting and many more foundations of management theory.

After course work, the students proceed to the development of their research proposals which will be eventually compiled into a thesis/project report. Upon completion of the degree requirements, the graduate are presumably prepared for progressively challenging and rewarding careers in business, industry, government, health and some many other fields. Then where is the specialisation?

Based on three global objectives of any MBA degree program, the graduate is first expected to learn and internalise the theory, principles, and knowledge required for effective management in today’s dynamic environment.  Secondly, the learner is expected to develop techniques for basing decision and action on careful analysis of pertinent data; and lastly the learner should develop a philosophy of responsible leadership and an appreciation of business ethics.

Most of the MBA programmes in Kenya have not embraced the best practices that can enable learners acquire techniques for basing their decisions and action on careful analysed pertinent data, rendering them without any leadership philosophy for any future responsibilities that require strong ethical appreciations.

Most MBA degree programmes don’t have a course unit in Business Ethics as it should be the case. Ethics goes hand-in-hand with practice. Most of the MBA graduates are hardly twenty years, do they go for attachment or they are treated as those who are already working as they study?

The specialisation should be in the MBA Research Project/Thesis. Most MBA graduates are “theorists” and not “specialists” who can practice in their thematic areas. A student comes out in an interview claiming that he/she is for example a specialist in Operations Management.

This is wrong since operations management has ten key decision areas which may include: Goods & service design, Quality, Process & capacity design, Location selection, Layout design, Human resource and job design, Supply-chain management, Inventory, Scheduling and Maintenance. Given the short semester hours available for student to take their core courses and other graduate business courses in the selected area, the student is expected to choose a specific area of interest where he/she can conduct a practical research on for example “location selection” which will be the area of specialisation within operations management option.

The supervisors should assist the students’ effort of narrowing the gap between the theory taught in class and best practices in business.

The research efforts gives students a chance to focus in a specific area of interest where they can learn and internalise the theory, principles, and knowledge required for effective management through literature review and in line with the last objective any MBA degree program to inculcate techniques for basing decision/action based on careful analyses of pertinent data.

So the MBA graduates should stop specializing on “MBA Options” but on “specific decision areas” within their options. For example we need a specialized in “Quality Management” and not “Operations Management” or a specialist in “Green Marketing” and not “Marketing Management”. In one of the Public universities in Kenya, some ten students who graduated in 2011 with MBA (Finance) had their topics focused on marketing without any relevant concept and contribution to financial management. These students cannot handle pressing current research issues in finance, they cannot supervise other young scholars in finance, they cannot publish their papers in the right journals and they lack proper attitudes and techniques of handling financial data.

A good MBA Research Project/Thesis topic should test on two concepts to show some relationship between them. The undergraduate Management Research Project (MRP) can test on a single concept without necessarily showing any relationship.

But in most cases, most MBA students are doing MRPs using very simplistic data analysis techniques.

Many MBA theses/project reports in most universities have been archived since they are of poor quality, or a replica of previous research.

The University of Nairobi’s School of Business made available in print and electronically (on its website) all MBA projects archived since 1978. This is aimed at reducing chances of a student replicating other people’s work and to help lecturers.

All faculties/schools should circulate to their students/lecturers a list of faculty approved journals where those papers can be published. The same list — as proof of quality — should be used to promote faculty members.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Management Science, School of Business,  University of Nairobi.

Master of Business Administration degrees university
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