When it comes to choosing which MBA is right for you, many factors play a part in the decision. You might look at the school’s reputation, its careers service, the alumni network, the location, and the length of the course. But then there is the coursework itself. How do potential students evaluate which courses will help them most in their career?
New research by CarringtonCrisp, an education consultancy, shows that the course which prospective MBA students deem “most valuable” is Business and Financial Environment. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the annual survey — conducted this year between November 2018 and February 2019 — said it was the subject most valuable to them, putting it well ahead of second-place Business Law, at 24%. Extraordinarily, both Leadership and Strategy — which between them had topped the list for the previous six years — dropped out of the top 10 altogether, landing in 13th and 14th place, respectively.
The study, which quizzed 632 prospective MBAs from 56 countries, found that Corporate Finance has returned to the top 10 subjects perceived to have most value despite languishing at the bottom of the top 20 in recent years. This year Corporate Finance was third at 23%.
WHAT IS THE REASON FOR CHANGES IN THE TOP 10?
CarringtonCrisp, which conducted the survey in partnership with EFMD, a nonprofit which runs the EQUIS certification system for higher education organizations, found that the rest of the top 10 most valued subjects were: Data Analytics and Decision-making; Economics; Change Management; Creativity/Innovation; Entrepreneurship; Corporate Governance; and International Business. There were some differences in choices between men and women; most significant, perhaps, was that Corporate Social Responsibility was women’s fifth most-important subject area, while it failed to make the top 10 for men. Change management ranked second for women, and eighth for men.
What does this mean? It is worth pointing out – as the report itself does – that the gaps between many of the subject choices were very narrow so that a small difference in voting numbers can result in a big change of position. However, such big changes suggest that something has clearly changed. What?
Perhaps what lies behind the interest in Business and Financial Environment is that, because the global business environment is in such a volatile state, with Brexit and Donald Trump’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States dominating the news at the moment — to the extent that some have heralded the end of globalization — students feel that they need to get to grips with the big picture, what drives it and how it is changing.
“Given uncertainty in global markets, it is partly due to students wanting to understand economic fundamentals,” says Andrew Crisp, founder of Carrington Crisp.
SPIKE IN INTEREST IN FINANCE DRIVEN BY GROWTH IN FINTECH JOBS
Other research has also found that finance courses are extremely attractive to potential MBAs. A report released earlier this year by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test, asked 10,000 people about their business education preferences, and found that Master in Finance courses were the most popular, with 47% of those surveyed saying they were considering pursuing either an MBA or a Master in Finance.
It seems reasonable to suppose that finance would be an area of high interest to those who end up opting for the MBA. What lies behind this? Crisp says the resurgence of interest in Corporate Finance as a subject could be “heavily driven by the growth in fintech and the job opportunities in this sector.”
Another possibility: the type of person who applies for an MBA is quickly changing. Although bankers, consultants, and engineers still make up a good percentage of applicants, people with “non-conventional” backgrounds are more common in MBA classrooms these days.
For example, while 53% of MBAs on London Business School’s most recent cohort were from finance, accounting or consulting, the rest came from backgrounds such as energy, the military, NGOs, FMCG, luxury, media, and education. Such applicants might have skills gaps in more core business subjects, and therefore deem them more “valuable” elements of an MBA program.
WHAT ABOUT LEADERSHIP?
About Leadership’s dramatic drop in importance, the picture is perhaps slightly more complex than it first seems. Although not highly valued as an academic discipline, Leadership still topped the list of skills and attributes that potential MBAs feel are most valuable. Almost 35 percent of respondents chose it, about 10 percent more than chose the next two most desirable skills, Critical Thinking and Confidence.
In this context, the low rating for Leadership as a standalone course appears odd, especially given that most business schools claim that their main aim is to create leaders. Perhaps schools have been so good at integrating leadership into their offerings that students no longer see it as a subject area.
As Andrew Crisp says: “The data suggests that rather than a standalone academic subject, students view leadership as a critical skill that runs throughout all aspects of an MBA, particularly via experiential and practical learning activities.”