For the past 18 years, the Institute for Management Development (IMD) has enrolled a small, intimate cohort of just 90 MBA students. The highly ranked business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, is now extending its final application deadline of Sept. 1 by up to ten days in an effort to enroll its largest class ever of 100 students who would start the one-year MBA program in January.
The decision to increase the size of the incoming class occurs at a time when IMD is one of a very small number of business schools that is largely running face-to-face MBA courses during the pandemic. Seán Meehan, dean of the school’s MBA program, decided to move to a slightly larger cohort after a change in the school’s strategy for dealing with MBA coursework during COVID.
When in-person classes resumed in early June, the original format was for the 90 students to be carved up in two groups of 45 each. The A group would attend a class in person, while the B group would watch it via Zoom. For the next class, the A group would then get the Zoom session, while the B group would be in the physical classroom. But in mid-June, one of IMD’s star professors, Arturo Bris, undertook a new experiment: He cut his four-hour finance classes in half, allowing both A and B groups to have in-person sessions that last two hours long. The rest of the coursework was flipped so that basic lectures, breakout groups and assignments would now be outside the classroom.
‘WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS’
The rest of IMD’s professors followed his lead and now that is the way the school is delivering its MBA content. “Arturo said, ‘we can do better than this,'” explains Meehan. “‘I know what to deliver in two hours. I can give them lots of practice and support for the other two hours. But it is a much better experience for them and for me if we have two hours of face to face rather than every second class face to face.’ The reality is you can do a lot of that by flipping the classroom and giving them work to do that you would normally put in the physical class to break it up. The study groups don’t need to happen during the two hours. You can do the background readings in advance and the study groups meet after class. Students loved it so I told all the other professors this is what works. They changed and adapted.”
Increasing the cohort to 100 would mean adding only five students to the current classes of 45 each. It will be the first time IMD has boosted the size of the incoming class since 2002 when it was increased to 90 students from 83. Candidates who apply during the extended round have as good a chance as any to secure a spot in the class, says Meehan. “There may be some who say, ‘Wow, this is the last deadline so the chances of getting in are small.’ Well, actually they just went up. Instead of having classes of 45 students, we’ll now have classes of 50 in 2021.”
Meehan says the decision is unrelated to current application volume which has increased this past year. “Our numbers are up,” Meehan tells Poets&Quants. “And every deadline it’s been an increase in applications. We’ll be close to 600 this year for 90 or 100 places. What’s the reason? I think it is way too early to say what the end will be, and there could be well-qualified students who decide not to come because the uncertainty is too great.”
COVID CASES ARE INCREASING IN SWITZERLAND AGAIN
Meehan believes the value of an MBA right now is among the highest it has ever been. “We know a lot of our participants are wondering if this is the right time or not,” he says. “The world is changing unbelievably fast, politically, socially and geopolitically. And the changes taking place now will go on for four or five years and will cast the die for the next 30 years. This is a period of change like no other in my lifetime. If you stay in your current job, will you be part of that discussion? I don’t think so. You need to be ready for it, rehearsed for it, and prepared for it and then you need to get into the right position for you.”
Coronavirus cases are on the increase in Switzerland with 292 new daily cases on Aug. 30, well above the level in June when there were fewer than 10 cases a day. But the daily caseload is still well below the peak on March 20th when 1,393 COVID cases were reported. The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country is now 42,177 with 2,006 deaths attributed to the virus. IMD re-opened in-person classes on June 8th, nearly three months since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the campus on March 13th (see MBA Classes This Fall: Daily Temperature Checks, Masks, Plexiglass & Smaller Classes).
Since the return to campus, there have been no outbreaks of the virus. In fact, in a few weeks IMD will take its students on a discovery expedition to Berlin for a week. Meantime, MBA recruiting appears strong as well. “The interest from recruiters is greater than it has been,” adds Meehan. “Tech is up. Pharma is up. Consulting is up. Medtech is up. Some of our big industrials have said to us they want to increase the numbers this year.”
Nonetheless, when the new cohort of 100 students arrives in January, things could be better–or perhaps worse. “It’s still a disruptive year,” notes Meehan. “There is no question about it. From the start, we said we are going to make this the best possible experience under these circumstances. We never looked at the cost. We just said we have to do the right thing by these students. They are here and we have a choice. So we have spent a lot on extra classes, coaches, preparation on how to interview on a Zoom call, summer courses, and so on. The big thing was getting them back into the classroom.”