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Is the MBA Degree Losing Its Luster?

Professor Chris Bones

Professor Chris Bones

Is the MBA Losing Its Luster?


Sometimes, reading The Financial Times reminds me of an adage from American philosopher Yogi Berra: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Yes, the “Soapbox” is back with another doom-and-gloom essay that’s long on insightful observations and short on examples.

In an essay rife with blanket statements, Chris Bones, former dean of the Henley Business School, decries a business school culture that has grown commoditized, stagnant, and increasingly reliant on packaging over innovation. Which schools are guilty? And which ones are bucking these trends? Well, Professor Bones is careful not to point fingers. And he fails to provide even one solution to these maladies (maybe there’s a sequel in the works). Instead, he calls for the same “radical response” that’s marked every forgotten academic manifesto since Alexandria started stacking scrolls.

So what ails business schools – and how are they shortchanging students (and society at large)? Here are some excerpts from Professor Bones’ couch session:

“Business school marketing does not seem to have moved on…Depressingly, it has stuck with appealing to self-interest or assuming that potential students just want to be associated with a “glamour brand”.”

“The main selling points for the top schools in the FT’s full-time global MBA rankings are virtually all the same… What is striking about all of these schools, however, is how they fail to talk about their customers and instead focus on the features, advantages and benefits of buying their education.”

“There are, after all, probably tens if not hundreds of schools across the world where employers would see little if any differentiation in the qualification outcome. Yes there is a pecking order and yes some brands have a more immediate recognition, but can any of them really show that their students add significantly more value to the enterprises they lead than others?”

“…the core product of an MBA has hardly moved on at all. Whatever the puff around the programme, at heart it is often the same people teaching the same core subjects in ways that would not seem too far away from how the programme was delivered 10 or even 20 years ago.”

“Really premium brands can speak to their market through their product – the fact that even the most prestigious MBAs are having to “sell” themselves, rather like mid-priced family saloons as opposed to luxury limousines, suggests that despite the branding, the market as a whole is losing its lustre. This in my opinion reflects the failure of the sector to create new products and services that can make a real difference to business in the 21st century. Innovation in the past 10 years has come from location, globe-trotting, greater choice in modules etc. But this is not real innovation: it is the educational equivalent of changing the packaging. Even a Mooc – massive open online course – is a channel rather than product innovation.”

“It is a real shame that [business schools] do not appear to want to tell us and show through differentiation that there is more to an MBA than the letters after your name.”

Do you agree with Professor Bones? And how would you go about fixing the problems he outlined? Share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

Source: The Financial Times