New Data: Apps Down, Enrollment Up At International Schools

Applications and enrollments for AMBA-accredited programs dipped slightly in 2017, but the average number of enrollments at each school as a whole grew, thanks to an expansion of program offerings. AMBA photo

Simply in terms of volume, demand outside the United States for graduate business education continues to be breathtakingly high.

Look, for example, at the newly released annual MBA Application and Enrolment Report from the Association of MBAs, which along with the Graduate Management Admission Council and The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business comprises the triad of most-sought-after accreditation for every business school. AMBA’s report analyzes data from 230 AMBA-accredited B-schools and 751 programs in 52 countries that were delivered to students in the calendar year of 2017, and the volume of applications and enrollments reported by the schools — 118,378 and 43,280, respectively — is staggering. Simply put, every year a huge number of individuals seeks to enrich their career through a top-quality MBA program.

Which is not to say the overall picture from 2017 isn’t a bit mixed, because it is. In fact, that year the average number of applications and enrollments for AMBA-accredited programs actually decreased slightly. This was, however, offset by growth in the average number of enrollments at each school as a whole, which can be explained by the expansion of the average number of programs available at each school by 14%, from 2.9 programs in 2016 to 3.3 per school in 2017. In other words, AMBA-accredited B-schools began delivering more programs to more students, but program cohorts tended to be slightly smaller.

“It is encouraging for our sector that in our ever-more competitive and unpredictable world, that AMBA-accredited school application and enrollment numbers are consolidating,” says Andrew Main Wilson, CEO of AMBA and its new offshoot, the Business Graduates Association. “These findings chime with the experiences that deans from AMBA-accredited schools describe to us regularly. First, we know that there has been a trend toward introducing more specialist programs to market, including those focusing on different sectors such as oil and gas, and banking and finance, along with traditional MBAs. There is also an international dimension at play, with many schools looking to expand their geographical profile and reach by delivering programs at overseas campuses.”


AMBA found that the average number of applications per program fell from 175 to 156 (-11%), and the average number of enrollments per program fell from 61 to 57 (-7%). Looking at the same indicators at a school level, rather than in terms of individual programs, there was a small decrease in the average number of applications (-1% from 518 in 2016 to 515 in 2017), while average enrollments increased by 2% (from 185 in 2016 to 188 in 2017).

The AMBA report makes a point of declaring that a greater breadth of programs is only viable if they can foster sufficient demand — and noting that applications at a school level have increased since 2016 in the regions of Asia and the Middle East, China and Hong Kong, Oceania, and the UK (typically by between 5% to 11%). Meanwhile, schools in other markets have experienced small contractions in applications, including Africa, Europe (excluding the UK), and Latin America — regions in which applications typically fell by between 6% and 18%. These regional differences indicate that levels of demand for MBAs are not consistent across the world, due to factors such as geopolitics, immigration legislation, and fluctuations in the local economy. (The downturn in applications to U.S. business schools has been well documented.)

Offering a snapshot of like-for-like movements over time, AMBA has also measured the application and enrollment numbers of 84 schools that have participated in its annual study each year since 2011 and found an increase in both applications per school and enrollments per achool since 2016 (+2% and +1%, respectively). This, says Andrew Main Wilson, is further evidence of the strength of AMBA-accredited schools in sustaining demand for their MBA programs, by a variety of means.

“We are seeing that more online and blended programs are being offered, as well as those with part-time or modular delivery formats,” he says. “These offer students the opportunity to study around their work and family commitments, and at institutions where they would otherwise be unable to access programs delivered full time. It is a credit to AMBA-accredited schools that they are able to continue to deliver high-quality business management education at this volume against such a challenging economic backdrop.”


About those flexible learning methods: They are indisputably becoming more popular. While the classroom remains the most popular delivery method (82% of programs are delivered in this setting), there has been growth in the proportion of blended online and classroom-based programs (16% versus 10% in 2016). Looking at program format as opposed to delivery methods, there has been a decrease in the proportion of full-time programs (22% versus 26% in 2016) and an increase in the proportion of modular programs (21% versus 17% in 2016), or those that are conducted via a number of teaching periods in order to provide greater flexibility amid work and family commitments.

Meanwhile, female inclusion in MBA programs continues to rise steadily, as it does, for the most part, in the U.S. The past five years have seen a “notable increase” in the proportion of women enrolling in AMBA-accredited programs globally (36% in 2017 compared with 32% in 2013), according to the report; among programs in China and Hong Kong, almost half (48%) of MBA enrollees were women in 2017.

However, female students comprised just 16% of cohorts in India, highlighting the significance of regional variations and the potential influence of the traditional roles held by women in business and society.

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