Orsolya Szekely


Diploma in Global Business




International Development



By Orsolya Szekely

The Oxford Experience

We are not in it for the grades, or are we?

I am a student at the Saïd Business School at the Diploma in Global Business programme. I am also many other things, but it is irrelevant from this blog’s point of view. When you enter the gates of the University of Oxford as a student, no matter what background you come from you immediately feel drawn in. However, it is important to highlight here that most of us joined the course mid-career and that our substantial achievements and experiences add an extra dimension to the University’s rich diversity. We also signed up to the course voluntarily out of an interest to learn for our professional and personal development. Many of us have made important sacrifices to be able to find time to attend the course and to study, and have allocated finances to it instead of going on a holiday or upgrading an old car.

Because we share a common feature, no matter what background we come from, we are driven towards excellence – just like the University itself, which we are now part of. This has been clear in our class from day one (thanks to the amazing work of the Selection Committee). The exchanges were respectful of differences in opinion, well substantiated and primarily so diverse, intense and innovative that the professors themselves have been happy to sit in and listen. Learning about global business is a lot easier of course when you have representatives from 30-plus different countries, but it is equally challenging to understand the depth of cultural differences. So far we have been coping well and, as a community, quite quickly. Interactions within the group have even expanded beyond the classroom, making the whole experience fun as well. After Module One a WhatsApp group was formed to enable everyone to keep in touch (though no one anticipated that it would be on a daily basis) and a social media site was opened to share additional reading materials. Many would say that this in itself has probably had a great impact on the course: networks and connections matter immensely in our profession. My latest assignment in China would not have been so well prepared if it wasn’t for the help of a classmate who happens to be a cross-cultural management consultant. But this is just one of the many examples of help which members of the group have been happy to offer each other.

The lively exchanges within the group were temporarily disturbed, however, following the receipt of the grades of the first exam, just before intense preparations began for the next exam. Enquiries about who got the best grade suggested that some people were measuring their own achievements against the others, despite the fact that the University has never encouraged this. Yes, it is true that the Oxford experience also includes a strict examination system, set up independently from the course, which differentiates between various levels of grades. However, this has been done with the intention of giving students a transparent set of guidelines to help them improve. Nevertheless, it would be a waste of our studies, and of the whole Oxford experience, to think we are here only to get good grades. On the other hand, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that grades do not matter.

Oxford offers us the elements to excel, both in terms of our grades and in life. How we make use of these elements is entirely up to us. Let’s take the exam as an example with Oxford University (specifically, the stern-faced examiners) as the client. For most of us the exam day itself can be described as a moment of high stress equal to a small crisis. It is at this moment and within the limited timeframe that an act needs to be carried out, namely writing the exam. Following the three-step method of Hannah Arendt helps: think (What would be the different points of your answer?), judge (What is your statement and how do the main points of your arguments support that?), act (write), and all within two hours. It therefore helps to rely on a broad range of knowledge, and an expanded and free mind where different plausible scenarios are played out in advance, in order to act quickly. For the scenario planning, besides the internal ingredients (professors, the library, access to a broad range of materials) we were also given external ingredients (a diverse group of experts from a broad range of fields, access to previous alumni) enhanced by the communication tools to carry out broad consultations and exchanges. Scenario planning carried out in groups can also mitigate the risk of missing something, remembering the non-market discussions the day before the exam. In addition, the University offers us the chance to improve the examination process as a whole through our feedback.

If we ride the new wave of global business, taking on board the fact that a common shared value is integral to competing and to profit maximization, then we should realise that reading as much as possible and trying to guess the questions alone would exclude the large pool of possibilities that Oxford has to offer and the advantages an increasingly professional community would add to our individual aspirations. The shared value thinking helps us to improve both the exam results and the overall goal; namely, aiming for excellence in a broader context.

The ability to critique underlying issues, to dive to the depth of things, and apply them concretely and quickly to a given situation is one of the most challenging tasks in an exam, as well as in an increasingly broadening global world. This seems to be the fine line between ‘pass’ and ‘distinction’ and can make a difference between helping a leader to make a great judgement or a poor decision.  The critique will only be heard if it is communicated well enough; in this case, drawing in the group of examiners. Therefore, our preparations are only enhanced if we do it together, cross checking the thesis and anti thesis with a group of listeners, and challenge arguments beyond the frameworks.

Looking beyond the grades and understanding that exploring the underlying issues enhances our chances of achieving excellence also makes the journey more fun. After all, we are here to enjoy the experience.




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