Helping MBA students around the world achieve more

Published 28 Apr 2021 8 minute read

The challenge

To gain a deep understanding of the MBA study experience for ACCA members, in order to improve student progression and increase their uptake of resources.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a professional body for professional accountants. It has rigorous qualifications as you might expect, which are run in conjunction with a network of approved learning partners and are recognised and respected around the world.

When they wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of members undertaking its global MBA, they turned to Further for help. The aim was to improve MBA students’ progression and increase the quality and uptake of the ACCA’s student resources.

With students based around the world, in-person research was cost and time prohibitive so we elected to use an online qual methodology to supplement and add depth to the ACCA’s student surveys, polls and website analytics, and to provide a more nuanced understanding of students' real-world experiences.

ACCA’s research team needed a research technology platform that would keep them connected to their students over time, enabling them to gather data both about the day-to-day challenges faced by students and of the impact of the global pandemic.

This contextual and in-the-moment human insight approach would provide new learnings into students’ needs, concerns and experiences.

The Goal

The objective of ACCA’s study was to:

  • Get a rich understanding of the everyday behaviours, rituals and challenges faced by their MBA students.
  • Probe the realities of MBA study: the highs and the lows.
  • Use the data to identify opportunities to improve the communication and support offered by ACCA.

The research involved 60 participating MBA students from around the world completing digital diaries over 10 days. Participants were divided into five groups of 12, with the diaries happening over five fortnightly sprints. Each sprint’s activities focused on one group.

This approach enabled the research team to engage with students on an ongoing basis, closely observing what they were doing as they studied and allowing them to capture rich, textured data.

Following an initial ice breaker activity, students logged into the platform daily and completed a short questionnaire about what they were doing and how they were feeling. Part way through the project students participated in a more detailed questionnaire. This looked deeper into their feelings and experiences. At the end of the project, everyone was brought together for a final wrap-up activity to allow the students to reflect on their experiences

The support

Further’s support team provided initial guidance on the format of the study and advised on the most effective mix of activities. The team also:

  • Helped to onboard participants
  • Customised the platform
  • Uploaded and programmed the guide.

"Our internal research capability at ACCA is really strong, but working with Further gave us additional experts on tap. They fed in their experience and their knowledge of the best tools for the research we wanted to do. It meant we could get from our initial ideas to a working platform, really, really quickly. That speed of turnaround is great.

Plus, the platform has so many built-in features. It gave us lots of different tools to tackle the work and enabled us to think about and approach it in different ways

Richard Baillie, Customer Experience Workstream Lead, ACCA

The takeaways

For the ACCA, the project laid bare an aspect of MBA students’ lives which needed to be reflected in ACCA’s communication and in the resources they offer. Namely, the sheer volume of demands being made on their students’ time, from their jobs to their families and their daily lives. And that was before the demands of the MBA itself were fed into the equation.

It also highlighted the impact of the pandemic. Students weren’t able to spend a couple of hours at the office, studying after work. They weren’t able to go to the library at the weekend. Those restrictions were having a considerable effect on their study experience.

But the benefits the project delivered to ACCA went beyond the insights and data that the research delivered. ACCA found that the process itself delivered unexpected benefits. The relationships and rapport established between the research team and the students meant that even standard questions – the type that ACCA would include in one of their regular surveys - were eliciting much richer insight than answers to a survey would deliver.

The act of engaging with the students, and helping them to reflect on their experience, made the students feel more supported and happier. So much so, that ACCA are discussing feeding this two-way reflection into the way they engage with students in the future.

Yours to keep

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