No classes, no professors: A way out to business schools


When Magnus Blikeng finished a bachelors degree in marketing management at Manchester Metropolitan University he was eager to gain a masters qualification that would help him get a management job in the creative sector.

He considered several traditional courses but opted for an institution with just 127 students worldwide that is not even a university. Hyper Island (the name is taken from a coding term) is an “alternative degree provider”, established in 1996 in a former military prison building on Stumholmen island, Sweden. It has since expanded to offer courses in New York, Singapore, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, São Paulo and Manchester, with a focus on masters degrees for professionals in the creative sector who see the need to be digitally savvy.

The institution is part of a growing number of entrants to the business education market. They includes start-ups such as Denmark’s Kaospilot and internal “corporate universities”, for instance the ArcelorMittal leadership school in Luxembourg and Apple University at the US tech company’s Cupertino headquarters. Hyper Island offers executive and online courses with titles such as “Agile ways of working” and “Human centred design”. Many students see it as an alternative to established business schools. Masters degrees cost £12,000- £24,000 at Hyper Island, depending on location. This is significantly less than a masters in management degree at a top business school.

At London Business School, for example, tuition fees are £31,400. Hyper Island’s teaching methods are unconventional. Degrees are ratified by Teesside University in the UK, but Hyper Island does not employ academic teaching staff and there are no lectures. Instead students are given live briefs from industry experts, then set deadlines for written work.

Students work with major brands, such as Adidas and Unilever, on corporate briefs rather than the hypothetical case studies they might encounter in traditional business schools. Mr Blikeng credits Hyper Island with helping him to secure a senior strategist role at Evolver Strategic Services, a London-based digital consultancy, shortly after graduation. “In the creative industries, the name of a school only goes so far,” Mr Blikeng says. “The skill set I could gain was far more important.”

This course focused on “strategic forensics” based on structuring problems to find better outcomes for the customer or end user. Lessons included so-called “soft skills”, such as chairing debates. “It is about learning how to facilitate discussion and give other people space,” he says. “This is important in the corporate world, but it is not a skill that many people have.”

The market for business masters degree courses is growing, and so is the number of providers, according to David Asch, director of quality services at accreditation body EFMD. Upstarts like Hyper Islandare unlikely to compete with the most prestigious business schools, which focus on preparing students for large corporations.

But they represent a “significant challenge” for a long tail of lower-tier schools, whose graduates head for smaller companies, Mr Asch says. Angus Laing, dean of Lancaster University Management School in the north of England, ranked 73rd in the FT global list of top masters in management courses, points out schools such as his offer unique benefits. “Hyper Island might be able to come into the SME space but what they cannot do is match the really strong networks we have with local businesses here.”

Sofia Wingren, Hyper Island’s chief executive, would like to double the number of masters students her organisation teaches over the next three to five years. It is now offering shorter, on-site executive education programmes, positioning it in competition with business schools, she adds. Hyper Island has signed up 712 students to online-only courses in the past year.

Aimee Tasker, a former documentary and music video producer, now operations director at Manchester-based digital design agency Common Good, tried a Hyper Island three-day course in 2012 about emerging technologies. She was impressed with the quality of industry practitioners Hyper Island had hired to run the course, and later signed up for a masters degree in digital media management, which she completed in 2015.

She found Hyper Island’s emphasis on sharing knowledge with classmates rather than being taught by a professor to be “a bit uncomfortable”. However, she says there is value in learning this way because the skills that employers demand are changing. “For the past 50 years we have been learning in a very passive way, with the teacher telling you things and you writing them down,” she says.

“The world now is much more dynamic.”

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