UCD: Delivering the next generation of global minds

The MBA extends beyond a pure business focus and includes personal and professional development


UCD’s business faculty celebrates not just one but two very significant anniversaries this year; the centenary of the first B Comm graduates in 2014 and the 50th anniversary of the university’s first MBA course which was introduced in 1964. Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, Dean UCD Business believes the timing of the anniversaries is more than a little appropriate.

“In both cases we are looking back at inflection points in Irish history,” he says. “In 1914 the country was moving towards statehood while in 1964 Ireland was beginning to open up to foreign direct investment and new markets. It was the beginning of a process of internationalisation. I think we are now at another inflection point where we are recovering from the crisis of the past few years and internationalisation is becoming even more important. I believe the UCD MBA is an important resource for students who want to be part of that.”

The age of the programme also says something about UCD. The MBA programme was barely known in Irish business circles before the 1980s yet it was being pioneered by the university for two decades before that. “That speaks to the really interesting ambition of UCD back then,” says Prof Ó hÓgartaigh. “We have always sent faculty overseas to gain an international perspective on business education and the establishment of the MBA programme so long ago is a reflection of that. Today, more than half of our faculty either come from abroad or were trained there.”

The core objective of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA programme hasn’t changed much over the years in that it aims to prepare students to be better managers and businesspeople. It deepens students’ understanding of all aspects of business and demystifies how decisions are made in the corporate world.

The programme can be taken either on a full-time or part-time basis over one or two years. The part-time Smurfit Executive MBA is designed to facilitate busy executives who cannot take a year off work and is aimed at accelerating their journey up the career ladder.

Core subjects
The programme comprises a mix of the practical and theoretical with core subjects including financial reporting, supply chain management and information systems. These are coupled with optional subjects such as strategic marketing, project management, entrepreneurship, and design and artist-like thinking in business.

The course goes beyond a pure business focus and includes a personal and professional development programme which runs in conjunction with the academic curriculum. This identifies students’ strengths in terms of soft skills and explores areas for improvement with the overall aim of helping them become better leaders.

It is the combination of all of these things which is most important, according to Ó hÓgartaigh.

“The main thing that an MBA can do is transform the students’ way of thinking and bring it to another level in a way that supports their leadership ability”, he says. “A lot of leadership is about self-reflection and knowledge as well as teamwork and the breadth of knowledge a student gains from an MBA is a great help with that.”

Part of this comes from the diversity of the student body they encounter in the programme. Participants come from a wide variety of academic disciplines and professional backgrounds. “We have accountants, artists, engineers, doctors, marketing professionals, architects and people from a more business-focused background on the programmes. This allows participants to share experiences and learn from others to get a broader perspective both on leadership and business.”

The programme also attracts large numbers of international participants with more than 50 per cent of students coming from overseas and this offers an additional international dimension from which students also benefit. Ó hÓgartaigh believes this is due to the quality of the programme.

“We are the only business school in Ireland with the triple crown of international accreditations from EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA. We are also the only business school in Ireland whose degrees are consistently ranked amongst the top 100 in the world. This helps us attract overseas students who are looking for those accreditations from the institutions where they choose to study. This helps create a virtuous circle where we have really good students, faculty, and excellent international partners.”

One of the principal benefits of the programme only really kicks in after the students graduate, however, and that is the networks they build not only with their fellow students but with the alumni who have come through the programme over the past 50 years.

“These networks are very valuable both for support during the programme and afterwards. We have a very active MBA Alumni Association which meets regularly for breakfast events and this is very effective for networking. We also have an association in New York while alumni regularly come to give guest lectures and talks.”

Key aspects
Innovation remains at the heart of the programme with faculty research leading changes to it over the years. This is also reflected in the course content. “We have modules such as Leading Innovative Enterprises and Sustainable Business Management. Areas like these are very important aspects of the programme. Also, innovation is both about the idea and its implementation and our students find the Managing the Negotiation Process module very useful in this respect.”

Looking to the future he believes that the programme can play a role in dealing with some of the deficiencies of the past. “We are at an inflection point and part of what we have learnt about the Irish experience over the past 10 years is partly about innovation but mainly about sustainability. We need to build for the long term and take a closer look at the role of business in society in that respect and we can play a role there. And we can do this by combining tradition and progress on the one step – they are not incompatible.”