AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE MOTIVATIONS OF STUDENTS UNDERTAKING MBA STUDY
This paper investigates motivations of students undertaking a MBA. Historically, focus has been on financial and hierarchical gains which can be achieved through the attainment of a MBA, (Hay, 2006) however it was unclear whether this suggestion was prevalent for students in today’s economic climate. Despite criticism aimed at MBA education, (Pfeffer & Fong, 2002; Mintzberg, 2004; Bennis & O’Toole, 2005) applications continue to increase, especially for Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes, delivered on a part-time basis (Siegert, 2008).
It has been argued that intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors are increasingly becoming significant for MBA students, with a focus on personal development, increased self-confidence, and career development being prioritised above increased salary and status (Simpson, 2000; Hay & Hodgkinson, 2005; Baruch, 2009).
A review of the literature demonstrates that whilst criticism is aimed at the MBAs failures to prepare graduates for management roles in terms of academic content, the benefits that an MBA education can achieve is not focused solely on the attainment of knowledge academically (Baruch, 2009; Barker, 2010; Phillips, 2011). Typically, it is the application and reflection of this knowledge which is benefiting graduates, along with confidence to apply theoretical knowledge practically within the workplace (Roglio & Light, 2009; Yeaple, Johnson & Whittingham, 2010). Two focus groups were conducted consisting of current MBA students from one university located in the UK. The first group were in the final stage of the programme, whilst the second group had just completed their first year. The focus group discussions followed very similar paths, and the key themes which emerged were discussed during both focus groups. These key themes had also been recognised during the literature review namely; personal achievement/development, developing greater/broader business understanding, career development/progression, the MBA “badge”, a recognised qualification, and self confidence.
Evidence from the two focus groups demonstrates that the motivation of MBA students is varied and overlaps different themes; it is rarely one dominant factor which motivates students. It is a complex web of interwining personal motivations and anticipated outcomes and goals which drives students to undertake the MBA.
It is essential for providers to recognise how significant these motivating factors are for prospective students, and therefore the importance of the marketing message will become a critical tool in the development of the programmes (Donaldson & McNicholas, 2004). Whilst module content, selection and delivery are inevitably critical, it is also the “added value” which is of increasing importance to individuals. Whilst it cannot be argued that ultimately the acquisition of knowledge is the essential and critical element of the programme, it is the subsequent additional factors which appear to be key elements in terms of enhancing people’s career (Hay & Hodgkinson, 2005; Baruch, 2009).
Universities need to consider the “added value” of their programme in order to attract students to the EMBA, and in order to distinguish themselves from their competitors (Donaldson & McNicholas, 2004). Being able to identify key motivating factors for students considering the EMBA programme will place these universities at a distinct advantage and will aid in the development of a unique programme for unique students.