“Why Cambridge?” asked a prospective candidate at the QS MBA fair in London. I was so mad that, without thinking, I snapped back, “Tell me why I should answer that question.” My more diplomatic colleague, probably seeing that this could get ugly, quickly interjected by asking the candidate, “Why you?”.
It was not my best 5 minutes and while I should have responded in a more tactful manner, I won’t make any apologies for my response. Increasingly, I see more and more of such candidates at fairs. These are people who regard their relationship with an MBA as a transactional one, where they are the customers and schools are suppliers that they can choose from. Maybe it is the format of such fairs, where candidates walk from one school’s stand to another, that reinforces such perceptions.
I am not saying that schools do not have a responsibility to provide students with the necessary tools to achieve their goals. The fees that many MBA programs charge will naturally lead to a closer scrutiny of the returns from an MBA. But I feel that the relationship between a school and its students goes beyond a simple buyer-seller transactional model.
At its core, a school is an educational institution with a commitment to nurturing and developing their students. It is not a degree mill or placement service, where students obtain a degree and get placed in a top job in return for paying tuition fees.
As an educational institution, there will be times when faculty or staff have to tell students that they are behaving inappropriately, or that their ideas about certain topics is just plain wrong. And unlike a buyer-seller transaction, students have to accept such criticism if they are going to get the best out of their considerable investment. This acceptance that they are not all-knowing is sometimes the most difficult adjustment for MBAs, largely because good MBA candidates usually have near spotless academic and work records. Yet, it is one of the most important lessons that they will learn during their MBA.
I feel that a student in an MBA is joining a network of partnerships. At one level, this means that students have to work with faculty and staff to make their experience a fufilling one. At a basic level for students, it would mean turning up to class/career events on time, submitting high-quality assignments on time, dressing appropriately etc. For faculty/staff, it would mean preparing material for lectures, making sure we get a good roster of speakers, and getting a strong group of companies interested to work with the school whether through recruiting our students or in offering projects for our students.
At a deeper level, it also means that everyone in the business school has a responsibility to leave some form of legacy that would help the entire community grow. For faculty, it could be new research. For students, it could be sharing new concepts or introducing companies that our Careers staff could work with. At Cambridge, I have been fortunate to see some exceptional students launch voluntary projects that have benefits beyond the Cambridge network.
At Cambridge, we are part of an 800-year tradition of excellence and we have to make sure that each and every one of our graduates can hold their own amongst our distinguished alums. This means that we have to be extra vigilant about the quality of the academic and work experience of our candidates. But it also means that we have to look extra hard for people who can contribute to the Cambridge network. We don’t want people who will only take from the Cambridge MBA. Instead we want people who can also contribute to the Cambridge network and make it a joy for faculty and staff to teach and to work with.