Achievement by refugee living in Tripoli camp highlights impact of Scottish MBA courses

While there may be nothing unusual about distance learning for an MBA in these post-Covid days, the news that Nahed Mansour took only two years to complete the four-year MBA at Heriot-Watt University by studying remotely from the Beddawi Refugee Camp in Tripoli, where she lives, highlights just how far-reaching and accessible Scotland’s internationally renowned MBA courses have become.

It was while she was working for Association Des Jeunes Islamiques, a local non-governmental, humanitarian organisation, that Mansour was encouraged by a friend to apply for the Lebanese Refugee Scholarship, run in a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and children’s charity, Theirworld, which provides fully-funded places for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, as well as vulnerable Lebanese nationals.

She joined a virtual study group with other students, where they dedicated two to three hours a day to learning. The university also provided an online platform offering support.

The Lebanese Refugee Scholarship recently won first place in the Going BEYOND Awards hosted by the Global Business School Network for its positive impact on society. 

Professor Angus Laing, Executive Dean of the Edinburgh Business School and School of Social Sciences, said: “The alumni of our MBA programme spread across the globe and include senior political and business leaders in developing economies.

“The Lebanese Refugee MBA programme epitomises that commitment to delivering educational opportunities to learners in the most challenging circumstances.”

The scholarship was launched in 2020 amidst the pandemic and during difficult economic conditions in Lebanon. Such has been its success that the Edinburgh Business School has already recruited a second cohort of scholarship students.

Aside from switched-on refugees, distance learning is becoming a popular option with Scottish businesses with the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU), offering training up to the value of £5,000 for small and medium-sized enterprises through the Scottish Government’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund.

Larger employers that are apprenticeship levy payers in the private, public and third sectors can also tap into training up to the value of £15,000.

The fund was set up to help Scottish businesses build a skills base that supports growth, efficiency and profitability and the array of training provision on offer is flexible, from bite-size courses to deeper learning with study options from ten hours to ten weeks, including a globally recognised MBA.

The growing popularity of remote learning suggests that the life-saving lessons about the importance of keeping our distance in those years when the pandemic was rife appear to have stayed with many of us, with technology facilitating flexible learning experiences and widening opportunities for students to earn while they learn.

Professor Elizabeth Gammie, Dean of Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University, said that the university’s data shows that individuals with mid-management experience are less likely to opt for full-time on-campus MBA programmes because that would require taking a 12-month break from work.

“Responding to this change in demand, we are now focusing more on our distance learning courses which are offered through a variety of different flexible routes and can therefore be aligned with other work-based responsibilities,” she said.

And Dr Phil Considine, Director of Executive Education at Strathclyde Business School, is of the firm view that higher education should be personalised, offering students an individualised learning agenda with flexibility in delivery and framework of micro-credentials. 

“The benefits of displacement during the pandemic accelerated digitalisation, remote learning and pace of innovation. This should be a continuum,” he said.

And with April heralding the start of the two-year part-time Executive MBA programme – a new way of studying for Strathclyde’s MBA programme while continuing with a full-time career – there seems little doubt that the pace of change in higher education has accelerated, disrupting traditional operating models and driving innovation in the design and experience of the learning journey.

With flexibility at the heart of the latest ways to study for an MBA, the world is shrinking as more and more students choose not only to earn while they learn but learn the benefits of keeping their distance.