How will business schools adapt and grow their offerings in the current economic downturn? A new study offers insight into how they operate in an uncertain economy and their leaders’ perceptions of their value proposition.
The Association of MBAs, one of the three main accreditation bodies of business schools, and its sister organization Business Graduates Association canvassed more than 350 decision-makers in graduate business education and found widespread satisfaction with how well the sector is doing on a number of fronts: 77% say their school communicates its selling points well to potential students, while 67% say it is doing well at helping students and graduates find the jobs they want. Sixty percent say the caliber of applicants for their MBA programs has increased over the past five years, and more than eight in 10, or 85%, rate their MBA offerings as “very good” or “excellent.” Eighty-four percent say the same about their institution as a whole.
As reported in Outward-Looking Strategies In Management Education, a huge majority — more than nine in 10 (94%) — of B-school leaders are optimistic about the future of B-schools in their own country. Two-fifths are “very optimistic” (41%) and more than half are “fairly optimistic” (54%). Just 4% of leaders are”‘not very optimistic,” while none is “not at all optimistic.” This optimism is reinforced by a strong belief that B-schools are well-positioned to grow capacity in the next three years. More than eight in 10 leaders (84%) are confident, while just over one in 10 (13%) are not confident.
“The study finds that business school leaders typically feel optimistic about the future of the institution and the sector in which they work, as well as those with whom they compete,” says Andrew Main Wilson, CEO of AMBA & BGA. “This is underpinned by leaders rating schools highly across a range of factors and in the belief that the caliber of applications to a range of programs is increasing. It is also underpinned by a wider optimism in the future of business schools. These positive perceptions show that leaders foresee opportunities for growth and development, despite the challenging global economic climate.”
NEARLY HALF OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS ARE EUROPEAN
The rosy outlook does not extend to all facets: Only 21% think their B-school is currently doing “very well” at taking the needs of different generations into consideration when designing programs. However, 57% say their school does “fairly well” in this regard. Meanwhile, the state of allyship is solid: 51% report alliances with two to five other B-schools, while 35% say they have alliances with 10 or more other institutions; 17% say their B-school is likely to open an overseas campus within the next three years. Seven in 10 leaders (68%) report that their schools have formal corporate partnerships with other organizations; only a quarter (24%) say they do not. Meanwhile, almost one in 10 (8%) do not know whether their school has a formal arrangement with another company.
AMBA & BGA’s survey, the basis for a three-part series about how B-schools are planning for the future, was conducted before the global coronavirus pandemic that has thrown all of graduate business education into turmoil. However, its insights into long-term trends and outlooks are interesting for a number of reasons, even if only to portray a pre-pandemic state of affairs that may serve as a benchmark in the quest for a return to normalcy.
AMBA, which has accredited programs at the top 2% of B-schools in more than 75 countries, and BGA contacted leaders from within its networks to participate in the online survey between August 14 and September 30, 2019. In total, 358 deans, directors, and other decision makers globally participated in the study; 222 were full participants and 136 were partial participants. Participants represent schools with a range of cohort sizes: approximately two in five (41%) are from schools with 0-500 students, and almost a quarter (23%) are from institutions with 501 to 1,000 students. The regional composition is broadly comparable with the geographical coverage of AMBA & BGA schools, with more than two in five B-school leaders (46%) based in Europe, approximately one in six (16%) based in the UK, and more than one in 10 (12%) based in Latin America. The remainder of the sample was from Africa (7%), China including Hong Kong (6%), Asia and the Middle East but excluding China and India (5%), India (4%), North America and the Caribbean (3%), and Oceania (1%).
SHINING A LIGHT ON ‘AREAS WHERE MORE CAN BE DONE’
In other survey findings:
- Asked how their school is performing in terms of external factors, respondents are most likely to say that their institution is doing well at “communicating the defining elements of your business school which differentiate it from others to potential students” and “delivering social media” (77% believe they are doing either “fairly well” or “very well” at both).
- Leaders were also asked to rate their B-school in terms of the impact it delivers on a range of measures. Almost two thirds of leaders (65%) give an impact rating of at least eight out of 10 for “delivering networking opportunities” and “improving confidence.” A similar proportion of leaders (64%) also provide a rating of at least eight out of 10 for “improving people management skills.”
- When asked about the performance of their competitors, seven in 10 leaders (71%) say that the B-schools with which they compete are “very good” or “excellent,” while a quarter (25%) say they “fairly good.” These results are mirrored in perceptions toward MBA programs with which they compete.
- Leaders are more likely to think that the standard of applicants has increased across each of the qualifications available at B-schools, rather than decreased or stayed the same. They are most likely to say that the caliber of applicants has increased for MBAs (60%), followed by master’s and undergraduate degrees (55% for both).
- Almost four in five leaders (78%) think schools take into consideration the facets of different age groups when designing programs, although overall just a fifth (21%) think their schools do this “very well.” A significant minority (16%) say their school does not consider generational differences very well.
“The study has shone a light on areas where more can be done, even when perceptions are generally positive,” Andrew Main Wilson says. “For example, most business schools are affiliated with a university, and while the great majority are satisfied with these partnerships, there appears to be an appetite to balance the power dynamic between the institutions more evenly.
“Looking outside their institutions, most leaders have a positive view of the value corporate partnerships have had on their business school, especially concerning their image, and the positive impact that these partnerships have on their students. This is important, as it suggests that well-thought-through strategic partnerships with organizations can make a real difference to the experiences of business schools. It is also noteworthy that a significant minority of leaders believe it is likely that schools will open overseas campuses soon, something that could have a profound impact of their student coverage, as well as their international reputation and brand.
“The study demonstrates that leaders at business schools believe the sector to be both robust in an uncertain world economy and open to expansive strategies. The management education community and beyond should take confidence from the conviction Business School leaders have about the perceived positive future of the higher education sector.”
To read the full report of AMBA & BGA’s findings, incorporating further analyses, graphs, and charts, visit www.associationofmbas.com/research.