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Cambridge MBA curriculum – Harvard’s moving closer to it

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It’s only after experiencing the Cambridge MBA, talking to my professors and doing a little research recently that I really learned exactly how unique the Cambridge MBA curriculum actually is compared to other top schools. It comes down to two simple differentiators: our small-group “soft skills” classes and the projects incorporated into the curriculum. As I’ve read a little more about it, it appears that Harvard Business School is trying to move more towards the Cambridge MBA way of doing things… fancy that!

Soft skills

If you look at Cambridge’s required first-term curriculum you see a rather bland title: Management Practice. But this course is a very in-depth soft skills class, and not very bland at all!

Management Practice is a course that runs from 9am-12:30pm and 2-3:30pm one day each week in the Michaelmas (first) Term. The morning involves a highly interactive lecture/discussion and a group activity/game; a game that’s always highly competitive! The afternoon session reviews what happened in the activity/game, and follows that up with how those principles can be applied to the real-life situations we’ve already experienced and those we will experience in the future. The games, by the way, are always fun and make for interesting learning.

The Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) is also a unique part of the Cambridge MBA. For about four weeks, teams of five students work part-time with small, local entrepreneurial companies on consulting projects. This is far more challenging than it sounds; our class of 150 people come from ~50 different countries and a wide variety of backgrounds. Everyone is very accomplished, and most are highly competitive Type A personalities, but everyone approaches problems from their own perspectives. I mention this now because in the latter weeks of Management Practice, the afternoon session is a small group “therapy” session, where our teams discuss with our instructors on how we’re working in our groups.

Management Practice been described by many Cambridge MBA graduates as one of the main courses they’ve been able to use long after they graduate, no matter what field of work they go into. After last term, I have to say that I completely believe it.

What’s interesting is that Harvard is looking at doing more of this, but they’re having issues because their school is so damn big! (900 new students/year vs. 150-180/year at Cambridge) From the Harvard Business School article:

  • In an increasingly globalized world, deans and recruiters generally believe that business schools have not gotten globalization right. They want students with heightened cultural awareness and a more refined global outlook. [Like 150 students from ~50 countries?–ahem]
  • Notwithstanding mission statements to the contrary, many deans and recruiters complain that MBAs don’t understand the practice of leadership or have sufficient awareness of their impact on others.

and this:

Deans and recruiters told Datar and Garvin that MBAs in general need more soft skills, such as self-awareness and the capacity for introspection and empathy. They also found MBAs lacking in critical and creative thinking, as well as communication skills. “These skills lie much more on the ‘doing’ side of the scale than the ‘knowing’ side,” says Datar.

Such soft-skills development by its very nature involves labor-intensive small groups and requires “high-touch” faculty involvement with students.

[…]

For example, adding small-group, soft-skill development may sound simple, but doing so for some 900 students would have a significant impact on faculty teaching assignments, recruitment, and research, as well as on the School’s facilities.

I’m very happy and encouraged that instead of trying to bolt on key soft-skills classes onto a mature program, the Cambridge MBA has begun their development with them as a core part of the curriculum.

Projects

There are three main projects as part of the Cambridge MBA. They are here (with descriptions from the Cambridge MBA Handbook):

Cambridge Venture Project – For the CVP, you will work in designated teams of 5-6 with a local entrepreneurial company on a real management issue related to marketing.

Global Consulting Project – The Global Consulting Project is the culmination of the core courses and it will allow you to apply the knowledge and skills gained throughout the programme in a real world context. It is undertaken in teams of your choice with 5-6 students and lasts one month.

Individual Project – The Cambridge MBA concludes with an individually supervised project for which a 12,000-word report is submitted. This project allows you to make an in-depth exploration of subjects of specific interest to you, which will typically be of direct relevance to your career objectives.

I would contrast this to Harvard’s programme, where there are no mandatory projects as part of the curriculum, though they note about half the class completes optional projects as electives. Does this really matter? Perhaps not. But I’m trying to take advantage of these projects to get some experience and contacts in fields/industries/companies that I may never work in again, and also those that I might want to try applying to in just a few short months. I’m always a fan of doing new things over learning new things. (Create >> Consume)

Summary

If you’re reading this post in the hope of getting a little more perspective on the Cambridge MBA program, I hope you’ve gotten a little better sense for it. While a one-year versus two-year MBA program is a big decision, top-tier programs like the Cambridge MBA do have some advantages over better known schools like HBS.

  • AnthonyMatthews

    Jed: thanks for your post. Even as a Cambridge graduate (a Brit now living in Los Angles, the reverse of your path) I was not aware of the details of the MBA program. This has proved very insightful and I hope it encourages others to check out the program. Anthony Matthews

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  • Thanks, Anthony. I'm glad you liked it!

  • Ron

    Hi Jed, very useful information on the Cambridge MBA program… I was impressed with the MBA curriculum as well and just applied for the 2009 MBA program. Looks like my decision is correct.

  • Hi, Ron. I'm glad you found it useful, and good luck with your application!

  • Ron

    Hi Jed, very useful information on the Cambridge MBA program… I was impressed with the MBA curriculum as well and just applied for the 2009 MBA program. Looks like my decision is correct.

  • Hi, Ron. I'm glad you found it useful, and good luck with your application!

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