UCD MBA Coaching Programme


This year the MBA at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School (UCD Smurfit School) is celebrating its’ 50th anniversary. It has evolved significantly over this time and it is the only MBA in Ireland to be consistently ranked amongst the global top 100 by The Financial Times and The Economist Intelligence Unit. It is a programme with a considerable international reputation and reach, with more than half the students on the Full-time MBA are from outside Ireland.

Coaching has become a key part of the UCD Smurfit School MBA, and it is a feature of all the leading MBA programmes. According to a GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council) survey, of the 169 top MBA schools surveyed, coaching is used extensively for ‘self-development’, ‘developing leadership skills’ and ‘team development’.

Six years ago, Orla Nugent (then Executive MBA programme Director) had the opportunity to train as a coach in UCD. As her coaching class sought clients to gain coaching experience, there was an obvious fit, and a pilot evolved with Executive MBA students as pro-bono clients. Based on feedback received, this pilot developed and broadened, and so far 851 MBA students from 30 different countries have experienced coaching through the programme. The purpose of the MBA coaching programme is to provide a space for reflection in the lives of MBA participants to enable them to work on a personalised agenda thereby maximising the value of the MBA as they transition back into the work-place.

Coaching Programme Overview

The coaching programme forms part of the Leadership Development Programme (LDP) for Executive MBA (EMBA) and Full-time MBA (FTMBA) participants. The LDP sits alongside and complements the academic curriculum, helping participants tackle specific, real challenges they face. The coaching programme comprises of up to four 1-hour coaching sessions during the academic year and enrolment is optional.

The Process

The coaching programme is in its’ sixth year now and the process has evolved during this time. At this point, it is structured as follows:

Due to the scale of the programme, we have fine-tuned the process over the years to be efficient but also to take into account the individual needs and experience of the students. Coaches and coachees are matched by the LDP Manager using his intuition and knowledge of the coaches and coachees as well as their suggested coaching topics whilst trying to balance the diversity of each group in terms of gender and nationality.

Information is then shared as part of the contracting phase, so that students and coaches are better prepared as they enter into the coaching process. Coaches are sent the CV’s of MBA participants as well their indication of coaching topics. MBA participants are sent:

  • A coaching code of ethics
  • Coach Profile
  • And a reflective diary template for use during the year.

Continuous improvement is informed by bi-annual programme reviews with coaches, survey feedback from participants as well as ongoing informal communication between all parties. Every year adjustments are made to provide the best possible service to the MBA participants.

Some Programme Evolutions

As a result of the various forms of feedback received we have implemented a number of changes. These include:

  1. Changing the full-time coaching programme from ‘opt-out’ to ‘opt-in’ which resulted in a significant mind-set shift in terms of engagement. This was the most important change since the inception of the programme as it has had a significant positive affect on the commitment of participants.
  2. Raising awareness of the wider support network for participants including student counselling service and mentoring.
  3. Proactive encouragement of coaching evaluation responses so we can get good data to review the programme in a meaningful way.

What does the feedback look like?

In 2012/13 the FTMBA’s rated the coaching programme at 4.64 out of a maximum of 5.0. The equivalent statistic for the EMBA’s was 4.61. Both have shown a steady increase since the programme started as we tweak and improve it. The challenge now is maintaining this experience.

Another measure of the success of the programme is the up-take. This is at 100% for the FTMBA’s (who are on-site all the time). The corresponding number for EMBA’s (who juggle the MBA with work and life commitments) is 75% having started at 25% five years ago. 72% of these EMBA’s have stated that they will seek coaching again in the future.

It is clear that participants have gained a positive first impression of coaching through this programme and it has been a truly transformational experience for many.

Future Developments:

There are a number of themes that we are currently reviewing based on feedback received from coaches and participants:

  • Team coaching - A team coaching pilot commenced in the academic year (2013/2014) with the FTMBA class. This will be developed further in 2014.
  • Group Supervision: We are currently assessing the possibility of introducing group supervision for participating coaches.
  • Diversity and culture: we acknowledge potential challenges in coaching across cultures. We have not identified specific actions here; however this is a space that we reflect on regularly.

We are committed to continuing this programme and developing it to provide the best possible coaching service to our MBA students to enable them to fulfil their potential in this ever-changing and demanding world.


Orla Nugent (MBA Programme Director,

Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business)




Eadine Hickey 

(Executive Coach at Eadine Hickey Coaching and Interim MBA Careers Manager 2009)



Michael Mc Donnell

(LDP Manager, Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business)