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MBA: Offering a 'more rounded perspective' to postgraduates

  • Date: Tue, May 24, 2016

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Original Article with Prof. Karan Sonpar: Irish Times 13.06.16

An MBA can assist with career advancement, prepare people for entire new careers, and expose them to the experiences and expertise of an international network of fellow graduates. These are just a few of the benefits of an MBA qualification, according to Prof Karan Sonpar, academic director of MBA Programmes at UCD Smurfit School.

“An MBA gives people an opportunity to step back from their careers and gain better and more rounded skillsets as well as develop their leadership qualities and problem solving abilities,” says Sonpar. “It is also highly valued in business. It shows a willingness to learn, a level of energy and ambition – it is a very positive signal to employers. It also offers access to an international network of alumni from both within and outside a graduate’s own industry and this can be very important, particularly for those graduates thinking of a career change.”

Especially important is the wider view the qualification offers. “People gain very specialist skills over time during their careers but an MBA offers them the opportunity to develop the more generalist skills which are required to lead an organisation. The fundamental purpose of the Smurfit MBA programmes is to give a more well-rounded perspective to graduates.”

The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School has a proud track record when it comes to its MBA programmes. The school’s part-time Executive MBA (EMBA) programme has just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first set of graduates in 1966 while the full-time one-year MBA programme was established 25 years ago in 1991.

Triple crown

Quality is at the heart of both programmes. The Smurfit School MBA is the only one in Ireland to hold the “triple crown” accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB), RQUIS, and the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

The AACSB is the US-based body which awards accreditation following a review of the quality of degree programmes; EQUIS is the quality improvement system administered by the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development) throughout Europe. EQUIS is awarded on the basis of quality controls on the entire range of activities within an institution; and AMBA is a British-based organisation which concentrates specifically on MBA programmes and accredits those which reach its standards.

In addition, UCD is the only Irish business school to feature in the prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit and Financial Times rankings. The Economist Intelligence Unit rates the full-time MBA 56th in the world’s top 100 and 17th in Europe. The school has consistently maintained its presence in the top 100 in the Financial Times’ highly competitive global full-time MBA rankings and is currently ranked as 79th in the world and 24th in Europe. The Executive MBA is ranked 82nd in the world and 23rd in Europe for such programmes.

“The Smurfit MBA is a truly global qualification,” says Sonpar. “Our faculty comes from all over the world including the US, the UK, India, and South Korea. This brings a global perspective in the coursework as well as through access to the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM). This is a consortium of 28 schools that includes UCD Smurfit, Yale, the University of California Berkeley, IIM Bangalore, London School of Economics, Asian Institute of Management in Philippines, and ESMT Germany.”

Students get the opportunity to visit GNAM colleges during the programme. In the first semester of the full-time course, students have the option of visiting one school for a global network immersion week and in the second semester they visit another college for an international study trip which involves a mix of classroom and practical work with companies. EMBA students have the option of an international study trip as well.

“Some of this year’s students went to Yale to do a course while some others went to Mumbai in March where they looked at public and private sector organisations and got the opportunity to see at first hand some of the social problems in the city. Other students went to Hong Kong where they are looking at companies in real estate and other important sectors.”

The Smurfit School also plays host to students from other GNAM colleges on specially organised courses. The Future of Food MBA Course is being run this week by Professor Damien McLoughlin, the Anthony C. Cunningham Professor of Marketing. Twenty MBA students from other GNAM partner universities including Yale, IE Spain, ESMT Germany, and AIM Philippines are attending the course alongside Smurfit MBA students.

October will see The Three Pillars of Innovation in Ireland: Technology, Food and Culture being presented by Professor Pat Gibbons, the Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Strategic Management. Students from various GNAM partner universities are expected to attend the course. “Our students will have an opportunity to attend one of the 14 courses being offered by our GNAM partners in their campuses during the same week,” says Sonpar.

Another GNAM initiative is known as Global Virtual Teams. This allows students from up to four of the partner universities to come together as a virtual team to solve real world business problems.

“We take globalisation very seriously,” he says. “Our students value and benefit from this dimension of the programme. Equally important is the contribution we can make to the other schools in the network. We have a lot to offer them.”

The leadership development element of the programmes is of critical importance, according to Sonpar. “We take people out of their comfort zones and make team players out of them. We help them develop the soft skills which are a requirement for good leadership.”

The other key aspect of the Smurfit MBA that Sonpar points to is rigour and relevance. “We ensure that the training and education we deliver impacts on practices and are capable of being applied in real settings. Practical application is central to everything we teach. Overall, we try to make the programmes as challenging, enriching and rewarding as possible.”

For further information on the MBA at UCD Smurfit School, visit



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