The World Through Our Door

Murray MacTavish | BCBusiness
Murray MacTavish believes taking Trinity Western’s MBA to China will have a positive impact.

Local universities are targeting students around the globe, both physically and virtually. And the competition has never been more fierce

It seems a lot of schools are eager to deliver graduate business degrees in B.C., as a glance at applications listed on the website of the Ministry of Advanced Education indicates: Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey, New York Institute of Technology and, closer to home, Queen’s University. But institutions based in B.C. are equally keen to think outside the province when it comes to courting new students. Many recruit internationally; others reach beyond our borders with distance learning options.

The directors of some of the province’s innovative offerings spoke with BCBusiness to give their take on the pulse of graduate business education in the globally connected world.

Schools Abroad Arrive in B.C.

New York Institute of Technology MBA
Despite an affiliate campus on West Georgia St. (and others in China, Abu Dhabi and… Long Island) you’re more or less paying to have New York scribbled on your resumé. The 14- to 18-month program starts with general classes in Vancouver, and specialization in New York, and costs US$26,100 to $41,760, upon NYIT’s discretion.

Queen’s School of Business Executive MBA
The most expensive MBA of the bunch, the big sell for Queen’s is its illustrious alumni network and in-person conference centre classes in Vancouver. Tuition for the 16-month program is $95,000, which includes costs for a once-a-semester retreat to the business school’s complex in Kingston, Ontario.

Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre HR Seminar
If HR isn’t your gambit, look away. The Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre’s three-day seminar devising a talent strategy for your company is specifically targeted at HR professionals. The $3,395 program will be offered June 4 to 6, 2014, at the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria.

University of Fredericton MBA in Social Enterprise Leadership
The University of Fredericton’s MBA in social enterprise leadership is aimed at professionals in the emerging business space that isn’t quite government, for-profit or even non-profit. Targeted at early-career professionals and managers with their eyes on senior leadership positions, the program was co-designed by 2010 Winter Games CEO John Furlong’s former business manager, Sandra Hamilton. Tuition for the three-and-a-half-year program is $19,000.

Dalhousie Executive MBA
Another East Coast college with its sights set on West Coast professionals, Dalhousie complements its online (but one-on-one) courseware with on-site elements available in Vancouver. Tuition for the two-and-a-half- to seven-year program (yes, you read that correctly) is $36,610.

Great Wall, Great Hope

While the figures vary, it’s not unusual for as many as two-thirds of students in any given MBA program in B.C. to be international students. “North American schools are very much seen as great learning environments, so there’s a huge demand, particularly from India and China,” says Ian Robertson, associate director of MBA programs at UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business.

The same application criteria apply to domestic and international students, and with the number of foreign applicants increasing, some domestic students get squeezed out. “The demographic reality of the world right now is that we just have that many more applicants coming from those countries,” Robertson explains. “There are so many great students coming from all over the world and we want good students. It’s an international market and it is a competitive market.”

Small wonder, then, that when Trinity Western University in Langley was invited this year to partner with Tianjin University of Finance and Economics to offer a version of TWU’s MBA program in China, it embraced the opportunity. An exchange program had long seen students from Tianjin come to TWU for MBA studies; now, TWU could offer its curriculum directly to students in China.

“We already have another program that’s delivered online into the Chinese market, but it’s exciting to have an opportunity to be in the second-largest economy in the world, fast-growing as it is,” says Murray MacTavish, an associate professor and director of the MBA program at TWU.

Western education is valued highly in China, which is partly why many students come to North America. TWU provides that kind of curriculum to students without their having to leave home. “There’s a market in China for business professionals, and young business professionals, looking for an opportunity to have a foreign degree or Western degree,” MacTavish explains.

With its strong values-based curriculum—the school is a private Christian institution, though it doesn’t talk faith in the classroom—MacTavish believes it can make a difference in China. “We believe we’ll have an impact on the business community in Tianjin and beyond,” he says. “If you believe in your product and you want more and more people to have exposure to it, then this is obviously a great opportunity to expand and develop your market.”

Looking to the future, MacTavish hopes to attract international expats (a student from Kenya is the sole non- Chinese student in the Tianjin program at present), and possibly open up opportunities for exchange programs between Tianjin and TWU. “Hopefully there will be some cross-fertilization,” he says.

Too Open Learning?

Bringing the best of on-campus learning to the online environment is an ongoing challenge for schools, and as with international students, competition is increasing. The past decade has seen distance learning evolve rapidly alongside other media, but for Lindsay Redpath, academic vice-president at University Canada West, the rise of new forms of online learning comes with risks.

Redpath joined UCW from Athabasca University, where she served as director of its Centre for Innovative Management. An environment that encouraged collaboration and interaction was one of the goals she saw for Athabasca’s distance education offerings—something she doesn’t believe all online courses necessarily offer.

UCW is one of the few schools that give students the opportunity to complete an MBA entirely online, without an on-campus residency, and Redpath is aware of a lingering bias among more traditional educators. “In some of the more traditional schools it’s a very ingrained preference,” she says. “Even though they have adopted online teaching or courses to a certain extent, they still believe teaching and learning face-to-face is superior to online learning.”

Redpath believes the reputation of online learning may have suffered further in recent years by association with what are commonly referred to as massive open online courses (MOOCs). These have caught the fancy of university administrators seeking new channels for delivering courses and engaging non-traditional students. Registration in these courses is free, grading is computerized and completion typically doesn’t garner students credit; the reward is often just the experience of receiving brand-name university education. Many students never complete courses offered as MOOCs, Redpath contends, and many of those who do don’t receive credit for the effort they’ve put in. Meanwhile, faculty often receive no recognition, professional or pecuniary, for staging the courses.

“It’s a catchy acronym, it’s interesting in terms of the masses of people that can access the courses in higher education from the top universities, but what is the quality of the educational experience?” she asks. Online learning “can be done in a very collaborative learning environment, with smaller groups, and the outcomes are extremely effective.”

Making Connections

Online students have the opportunity to experience a refreshing combination of online and real-life experience through the Thompson Rivers University MBA program. Originally offered in 2005, the MBA curriculum was completely overhauled in September 2013 to allow a more flexible completion schedule and allow students with little work experience to have a chance to pursue management studies.

A career development component supplements the online and classroom experiences. Online students have access to activities within a “Career Development” program that brings in speakers and offers networking sessions. TRU MBA program director Victoria Baker says these are helpful for younger students with little work experience, who gain a foundation for their future executive career. “It’s an entire series of workshops, seminars and guest speakers,” she explains.