Saturday, January 26, 2008

Henley distance learning MBA in the Economist ranking

For the first time, the well-known Economist Intelligence Unit has produced a ranking of distance learning MBAs. You can read the extended report here. Henley is placed at number 6, which means that we are the only European school in the top ten of both EIU MBA rankings. We are number two in the UK, behind Warwick. To be honest, I'd much rather we were number one!

DL is often hard to categorise and define, so although there are occasionally attempts to list programmes (usually ranked by reported numbers of registered students), until now no-one has successfully collated a coherent and transparent ranking. Though I welcome it, I'm not sure how successful this one is because they are not actually comparing like with like.

The first thing that struck me was that the EIU ranking extends only to 10 schools. This is somewhat baffling since there must be at least twice that number of recognised DL MBA programmes, or shades of DL, around the world. Did they not ask certain schools to participate? Did they ask but some schools declined? How did they identify their target list?

The second thing is the criteria used to define their formula for the final list, via the three sub-categories of "Programme Content", "Quality of Fellow Students" and "Distance Learning elements" (this last one might contain a number of different things). The Florida and IE programmes use distance learning aspects to deliver what is in fact a regular part-time MBA curriculum to a regular part-time MBA sized cohort. Henley, Warwick and OU deliver to a much more geographically spread and perhaps more experienced set of students. The consortium programme offered via Nantes (which includes Maastricht and EADE) is more interesting as a model.

If only some of the schools on the list are competing with each other, then the overall comparison seems less useful. Having looked, for example, at the web sites for Florida (ranked number 1) and Curtin (ranked number 4) they are both clearly solid schools, but ones that deliver to a localised market.

Nevertheless, there is value for the education provider to look closely at what goes on in other schools, and I'm sure there are interest points for all 10 schools on the list. Understanding the mechanics behind the ranking will probably be useful in knowing where to work on for next year. Though we did ok in the third category, I would like to report then that we our current and past students have a more favourable opinion of Henley's learning materials, sense of connection with the school and value for money.

However, we will no doubt still be in competition with the part-time MBA delivered using DL methodology, and with some schools where the cultural norm is to grade/evaluate at the top end of the scale (the US). In the UK, not only do we need to deliver an excellent service, you the programme member need to be happy to acknowledge it on the Likert scale in the questionnaire.


boyd said...


The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

Methods Section
Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

Results Section
Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the methods and results section of their dissertation.
This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formating and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggest the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandible language by telephone and e-mail.

Distance learning, and the avaiability of programs, has increased exponetially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

When their defense is successful, the question of "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may email me at:


Reference sites:

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