Global MBA Programs See A Resurgence

The Association of MBAs, an accrediting agency of 236 schools worldwide, saw an increase of 5% in applications from 2014 to 2015, though enrollments were static

A new survey of hundreds of global business schools found that a four-year decline in applications to MBA programs was reversed in 2014-2015. Global B-schools saw a 5% increase in MBA apps in those years, according to the historical trends study in the Association of MBAs‘ 2016 Application and Enrollment Report.

The AMBA, an international accreditation body based in London marking its 50th year in 2017, gleaned its information between March and August 2016 from 218 AMBA-accredited B-schools in 70 countries on six continents. Schools with AMBA accreditation are typically smaller, less-known schools. And while the organization found global net growth in applications to MBA programs at AMBA-accredited schools, competition to make it into the programs remained stiff, with enrollments worldwide largely static in 2014 and 2015.

Still, with applications having decreased by 14% between 2011 and 2014 and enrollment having fallen by 13% between 2011 and 2015, the new developments were an encouraging sign that the MBA is still a desirable qualification, says Andrew Main Wilson, AMBA chief executive. “The boost to applications proves that high-quality postgraduate management education is still desirable in a world that is more competitive, global and uncertain than ever.

“Whichever country you’re living and working in, you’re facing global competition, and the need to be a more professional manager. The need for the best possible business education you can afford has never been more important or desirable.”


Andrew Main Wilson

The AMBA’s report found that B-schools in Western Europe paced the rise in applications with a 29% increase between 2014 and 2015; meanwhile, showing that not all regions experienced the same plateau in enrollment, B-schools in Africa and Oceania reported an increase in those years of 4% and 21%, respectively. Overall, with a study participation rate of 92%, the picture of a rebounding MBA is clear, Wilson says.

“With a record number of participating institutions, this report has enabled us to provide an accurate analysis of global intake figures for the AMBA-accredited MBA in 2015,” Wilson says. “People realise the world is not going to suddenly get a lot easier. There’s no point in waiting two or three years to see if the climate might be more favourable. Business Schools cannot rest on their laurels and have to keep evolving.”

The report also revealed that part-time MBA programs continue to be the most popular format of studying AMBA-accredited MBA courses worldwide, with 34% of all part-time enrollments to AMBA-accredited MBA programs in China, and 23% in Latin America.


The study looked at regional preferences for MBA study and found that in Latin America, 73% of all AMBA-accredited program are part-time, while in Eastern Europe and Russia, 48% are part-time and 48% are modular, combining on-site classwork with distance-education activities. In the UK, 69% of programs are full-time; in India, that number rises to 76%.

The study revealed a number of regional differences in terms of mode of study and demographic diversity, with the makeup of nationality within AMBA-accredited MBA classes varying significantly. North America and the UK report the highest percentage of applications from international students (72% and 71%, respectively); the lowest percentage, in China and India, are 2% and 1%, respectively.

“In an increasingly crowded marketplace for MBAs and with economic uncertainty impacting corporate sponsorship, this year has seen an increase in the number of self-funded applicants and a continued trend in the much more discerning MBA prospect,” Denise Dollimore, MBA director at Hertfordshire Business School in the UK, says. “Networking opportunities, the international dimension and soft skills development feature highly on the wish list (of students).”

Adds Wilson: “You will get some employers saying there are still some skills that students need to be taught. It’s the softer skills that are more difficult to teach. Softer leadership and communication skills are the ones that employers would like to see polished to the same standard as the classic MBA taught skills.”


Other key findings of the AMBA report:

  • Globally men and women (31% and 32%, respectively) have about the same likelihood of enrolling in an AMBA-accredited MBA program after submitting an application. Western Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa all reported the same application to enrollment conversion rates, regardless of gender.
  • MBA applications in the UK, North America, and Western Europe were predominately from foreign nationals (72%, 71%, and 58%, respectively).
  • The highest number of foreign enrollments were reported in North America (60%), followed by the UK (59%).
  • The lowest number of international applications and enrollments are found in business schools offering AMBA-accredited programs based in India and China, with both reporting less than 3% of applications and less than 4% of enrollments.

The results suggest that regions associated with long-standing B-schools are more popular destinations for international students. But proximity to developing markets is key, too, says Patrick Butler, MBA program director at Monash Business School in Australia, who attributed the growth in enrollments in Oceania — which saw a 45.7% rise in applications and a 21.3% rise in enrollment from 2011 to 2015 — to the region’s proximity to Asia, as well as to changing attitudes at home and abroad. “Our view at Monash is that both international and domestic factors are at play here,” Butler says. “It is related to the ‘Asian Century Phenomenon’. Broadly speaking, Asian markets are growing and maturing, and becoming increasingly sophisticated, demanding, and competitive.

“In Australia, this is an important driver for management and executive education among ambitious, young professionals with a global view. They see real opportunities in this regard. Also, young people across Asia are taking a more independent approach to their careers and are less reliant on their employers and families in influencing their directions. It continues to be the case that all schools and programs need to be clear about their value proposition and how they are distinctive. This will help to continue the overall improvement in the quality and range of MBAs available in the market — something Monash welcomes.”

See next pages for infographics on the AMBA study and more information by region.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.