Outside The U.S., Applications Rise For MBA Programs


Applications to business schools in the United States are famously slumping. Now we have a better picture of where the talent is going instead. New research shows that demand for MBA programs has grown internationally at business schools accredited by the Association of MBAs, with applications increasing by 9% between 2017 and 2018.

AMBA’s Application and Enrollment Report measured the application, enrollment, diversity, and graduation figures for the 2018 calendar year at 236 business schools — almost all of which offer MBA programs, and all but one of which is located outside the United States — and compared the figures for 202 identical accredited schools between 2017 and 2018. The result: In sharp contrast to the graduate business education landscape in the U.S., school enrollment figures in the sample of B-schools had increased by 10% year on year. Meanwhile, the proportion of women being enrolled onto MBA programs had increased by 1 percentage point to 37%, across the world.

AMBA, a global accreditor of mostly non-U.S. business schools, including HEC Paris, London Business School, IE and IESE of Spain, and IMD of Switzerland, annually asks each accredited school to provide information about the number of applications and enrollments from their MBA program. Will Dawes, research and insight manager at the Association of MBAs and its sister organization, the Business Graduates Association, says the findings “act as a ‘pulse check’ for AMBA and its stakeholders by offering regular insight into the marketplace for leading MBA programs across the globe.

“This year’s research,” Dawes continues, “covers more programs, applications, and enrollments than any previous study conducted on AMBA-accredited management education. It encompasses 877 courses, 127,080 applications, and 47,654 enrollments, which is an indication of the huge volume of individuals seeking to maximize their career potential through a world-leading business education program.”


Will Dawes. AMBA&BGA photo

The UK-based AMBA, one of three main accrediting bodies along with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and EQUIS, the EFMD Quality Improvement System, sent data sheets to 256 B-schools in April 2019, asking for relevant application and enrollment figures on their MBA and other accredited programs. In total, 236 schools returned their data, representing a response rate of 92%, with 232 providing MBA-specific data to analyze. Besides application and enrollment data, AMBA collected supplementary data on gender, information on whether the applicant was domestically or internationally based, and data on methods and modes of program delivery.

The 9% increase in applications to MBA programs at AMBA-accredited B-schools indicates that across the AMBA network globally, demand for MBAs has grown, in contrast to the ongoing slump in the U.S. At a school level, average applications rose from 506 in 2017 to 550 in 2018. Meanwhile, average applications to programs increased to 144 in 2018 from 133 in 2017.

The largest increase in applications was in China (including Hong Kong), where applications rose on average by 29% for each B-school and by 16% at a program level. The average number of enrollments followed a similar growth trajectory to applications, with 10% growth on average per school and 9% per program.

Gender diversity also saw improvement. The proportion of women applying to and enrolling in AMBA-accredited MBA programs between 2017 and 2018 increased by one percentage point to 37%. The largest increase in applications and enrollments was in Africa (+4 percentage points for both applications and enrollments).

In other findings:

• The proportion of international applications applying to a B-school outside their home country has remained relatively steady between 2017 and 2018, with applications unchanged and enrollments decreasing proportionally by 2%.

• AMBA-accredited B-schools in Europe saw an increase in the proportion of international applications of 9 percentage points to 58%; while in Oceania, international applications fell by 21 percentage points to 17%.

• The proportion of part-time programs delivered at AMBA-accredited schools increased between 2017 and 2018 by 5% (62% in 2018 versus 57% in 2017), largely at the expense of modular program formats (-5%), though the proportion of full-time programs also dropped slightly, by 1%.

“This report offers unique insight into the key recruitment trends of more than 200 of the world’s leading MBA programs,” Dawes says. The only U.S.-based B-school accredited by AMBA is Hult International Business School, which has campuses in San Francisco and New York. “The findings show that these AMBA-accredited schools have experienced substantial levels of growth in their MBA cohorts. Much of this strong performance was driven by increased demand for MBA programs in China, but there was also growth in MBA cohorts in schools across several other regions, including Europe.

“It is also encouraging to observe that the recent growth in the share of applications and enrollments among women has continued. This demonstrates that AMBA-accredited schools are continuing to focus on more diverse and gender-balanced cohorts.”


Andrew Main Wilson, AMBA & BGA CEO. File photo

AMBA found that regionally, the largest average number of applications per school and per program was in China, where there were 1,367 applications per school and 398 applications per program. The next largest average number of applications was in North America and the Caribbean (1,069 applications per school and 279 applications per program).

The highest average number of enrollments was in China, which amounted to 438 enrollments per school and 128 per program. At a school level, the next highest averages were in North America and the Caribbean (419), Latin America (213), and the UK (179).

The global conversion rate of applications to enrollments was 37%. According to where the program was taught, the highest conversion rates were in Latin America (54%) and in Oceania (52%), while the lowest were in India and the UK (27%).

In 2018, 39% of those applying to and 38% of those enrolling in accredited programs were women. Although this represents a gender imbalance, the proportion of women applying to and enrolling in programs has increased by approximately 6 percentage points in the past five years. Meanwhile, the global application-to-enrollment conversion rate was only marginally higher for men than women (40% versus 38%).

Other findings:

• Overseas applications and enrollments still represent a minority of overall numbers. A third (33%) of applications to AMBA-accredited programs came from people based outside the country of the delivery institution. Meanwhile, just over a quarter (26%) of enrollments were from overseas. There was significant variation by region, with 80% of applications to UK programs coming from overseas, compared with 1% in India.

• In total, 36,537 individuals graduated from AMBA-accredited MBA programs in 2018 compared to 35,002 in 2017. On average, at each school there were 157 MBA graduations per school and 42 per program. Europe comprised the largest share of graduations (29%).

• In 2018, programs were most likely to be delivered part-time (62%). This is followed by full-time (22%) and modular programs (16%).

• More than four in five programs (84%) were conducted through classroom-based learning. A smaller proportion of programs were delivered in a blended setting between classroom and online (12%) or exclusively online (4%).

“The data included in this report provides insight at a time of great uncertainty in the global economy and the geopolitical landscape,” says Andrew Main Wilson, CEO of the AMBA & BGA. “The results from this study demonstrate the continued excellence of AMBA-accredited business schools and their ability to expand their programs in this ever-more demanding world. This report captures the various aspects of MBA delivery throughout the globe, including diversity and regional variances.

“I am delighted to say that this study represents AMBA’s largest synthesis of applications and enrollments, with 232 schools contributing to this year’s analysis. This reflects the continued growth of AMBA’s network of world-class MBA programs.”

Read the full AMBA report here.


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