Spotlight on MBAs

Many HR professionals sharpening their pencils for further study this autumn will be contemplating the following question: to MBA, or not to MBA?

A Masters in Business Administration has been hailed as the defining qualification in the business community. Its proponents claim it propels would-be senior managers into the high-earning stratosphere, and helps broaden their understanding of the commercial world.

Stand out in a crowd

For HR practitioners, it could not only mark you out as highly ambitious – three in five MBA graduates go on to become board directors or senior managers – but adds potency to what may be an otherwise unremarkable CV.

But given the time and expense you could devote to an MBA – £10,000 minimum for a two-year, part-time course and far more at a top business school – is it really worth it?


The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues, for example, that its own postgraduate qualification, the Professional Development Scheme (PDS), is suitable enough to open doors at management level.

However, Clare Kelliher, senior lecturer in strategic HR management at the Cranfield School of Management, believes that people who are looking to move into strategic HR or board-level positions are simply “taken more seriously with an MBA”.

“While the CIPD’s own development scheme is valued, people looking to move into senior roles need to be able to speak the language of other functions,” she argues.

There are other further study routes. For example, Cranfield runs an MSc in International HR Management, which could prove useful for ambitious HR professionals in global organisations.


For Richard McBain, director of specialist masters and doctoral programmes at Henley Management College, specialism is increasingly the name of the game.

“The MBA is first and foremost a general business qualification,” he says. “While it is useful to help HR professionals gain credence, the market is moving towards specialist qualifications rather than generalist ones.”

From next January, Henley will offer a new MSc in Advanced Human Relations Management, which McBain describes as a course “for professionals looking to gain an even deeper understanding of their work”. But the CIPD fails to see what useful extras an MBA or MSc can offer.

“Our PDS programme leading to chartered status is a postgraduate qualification itself, and equips people with highly transferable management skills,” says a spokesman. “If you are doing an MBA for personal development, then fine. But for the vast majority, it simply isn’t necessary.”

However, with pressure on HR to become more business-savvy, the MBA is increasingly viewed as the fast-track to the top.

Facts about MBAs

  • More than 15% of MBA students are HR professionals, and many more have direct experience of people management.
  • Only one of the core modules on a typical MBA covers people management, while the remaining eight or nine subjects include financial management, IT and marketing.
  • MBA courses attract people from a variety of functional backgrounds and no detailed prior knowledge is assumed.
  • Students looking to stay and develop in their current organisations tend to opt for employer sponsorship, while those looking to make major changes to their working lives tend to finance themselves.
  • HR professionals with an MBA qualification usually move into strategic HR, general management or consultancy work.

For details of further HR qualifications, visit the careers section on


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