B-Schools (Try To) Predict What 2021 Will Look Like

Andrea Masini, associate dean of the MBA program at HEC Paris

In 2021, “digital will become a commodity,” says Andrea Masini, associate dean for HEC Paris’ MBA and EMBA programs.

“The pandemic has accelerated the development of digital tools and tremendously increased the level of acceptance of distance learning by both MBA candidates and executive education clients. In the post-pandemic world, even after we return to ‘normal,’ digital learning will keep playing an important role in the value proposition, becoming an order qualifier (i.e. a necessary component of the MBA value proposition, but no longer a differentiator). Consequently, schools that underinvested in their digital strategy will struggle and be left behind.”

Among the other developments Masini expects in 2021:

“The in-person experience will become even more important. At the same time, precisely because some parts of the programs will be offered remotely, the perceived value of the in-person component will increase as well. Participants will place even greater importance on the MBA experience and on the opportunities that a program offers to create bonds with their peers, develop a network and enrich their viewpoints.

“Purpose, purpose, purpose: The pandemic taught all of us a good lesson the hard way. A larger number of candidates will look for programs that focus on purposeful leadership and offer opportunities to make a positive impact on our society.

“Health care: Among other things, the Covid-19 crisis proved the importance of the healthcare system in our society, and it demonstrated the need for professionalizing the management of the sector. We predict a growing interest in MBA degrees by professionals in the healthcare sector, who need to complement their scientific and medical skills with a solid training in management. We also predict an increasing demand for MBA programs with a healthcare component.

“There will be more agility and decision-making under uncertainty. The crisis also emphasized the importance of making decisions under uncertainty and the importance of developing agile processes. More than ever, business schools will have to train MBA participants to be able to lead in uncertain worlds, when the ground is shifting under their feet. In that respect, schools that integrate AI courses or other techniques to support decision making into their curriculum will be on the rise.

“More weight will be placed on entrepreneurship and venture capital. When a little-known, husband-and-wife-run biotech start-up became the first company to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine, the world gained a first-hand lesson in the importance of entrepreneurship in potentially solving life-threatening problems. In light of the daunting challenges we face in realms ranging from climate change to sustainability, there will be a renewed interest in venture capital and in supporting the solutions proposed by agile, forward-thinking entrepreneurs.”


INSEAD’S Katy Montgomery

“When the doors of our school opened in September 2020, the new school year looked a little different,” says Katy Montgomery, associate dean for degree programs at INSEAD. “It wasn’t just because students, faculty and staff across our campuses were wearing masks and social distancing. This year, the student body was also distinctively younger as we welcomed our first ever Master in Management class. This completes INSEAD’s educational offering while we integrated a new age group within our community. These young talents will enrich INSEAD’s community, increasing its diversity across generations and benefitting all members.

“As we enter 2021, it will be a year of renewal with fresh beginnings as the world recovers from extraordinary circumstances. As more countries and individuals gain access to vaccines and as borders gradually reopen, we expect a cautious and slow resumption of normal living, working and studying with some subtle differences. We will still be wearing masks and social distancing, as well as providing regular and free Covid-19 testing so that we can keep in-person teaching going.

“We will see a continued evolution of the teaching and learning aspects. This year has accelerated a shift in the delivery of learning through online tools where relevant, but has also highlighted to us how important in-person learning is to both our students and faculty. To reconcile these two diverging phenomena, we are looking at how we migrate vertical learning, like lectures, to online settings and offering more interactive use of campus facilities for deeper discussion to provide the crucial ‘ah ha’ moments that only happen when people are together. Crucially, this will all revolve around health and safety, which has always been paramount, but particularly pertinent as the world makes a slow recovery from Covid-19.

“INSEAD will be providing in-person teaching on in dual mode from 5 January 2021 for the MIM program and 7 January 2021 for the MBA program, following approval from the French Ministry of Education and the Singapore government.

“INSEAD has launched new MBA electives on managing the disruption of Covid-19 — Advanced Negotiations that deals with the uniqueness of high-stakes discussion over Zoom and Negotiating your Career which focuses on giving insights when you negotiate when the competition for next jobs is higher. Other current MBA electives have infused Covid-related challenges into their delivery, one example is Realising Entrepreneurial Potential taught by Professor Ivana Naumovska which matched students with entrepreneurs and SMEs from all over the world to help them work remotely, on a part-time mandate (1-2 months) to analyse or manage a Covid-related challenge for their business. We have also introduced an on-going series of Thought Leadership Webinars and INSEAD Conversations with specific and timely topics relevant for business, technology and education in this pandemic.

“We are certainly looking forward to a positive start to 2021 that hope that it will be a markedly brighter year.”


“In the area of manufacturing,” says Jaideep Prabhu, Cambridge Judge Business School professor of marketing, “2021 will be the year we will see distributed manufacturing and nearshoring take off in a big way. Even prior to the Covid pandemic, there were many signs of a withdrawal from the late- 20th century model of offshoring all manufacturing (typically to China) and then shipping products from there to markets around the world. With the rise of digital manufacturing tools such as 3D printing, the increase in labour costs in China, and concerns about the environmental and other costs of shipping, firms and economies were already pulling back manufacturing to locate it closer to customers.

“But with the pandemic and the geopolitical climate shifting against rampant globalization, we are likely to see a dramatic rise in nearshoring and local, networked (distributed) manufacturing in a number of sectors including automotive, home appliances, clothing, and computing, especially in the “spare parts” element of the supply chain and with smart, Internet of things components.

“In education, and business education in particular, 2021 will be the year in which online and blended learning programs really take off. Even prior to the COVID pandemic, it was clear that the future of business education was in continuing education delivered online: short, flexible courses on specialist topics for people too busy to take a year or more off to study full time or who already had a full-time degree and were looking to upgrade their skills in specific new areas. The reluctance of some older universities and business schools to get into these areas has now been shaken off and we will see a full flourishing of competition and cooperation between new start-ups in this space and the traditional providers. The spoils might well go to the established brands that fully embrace the potential of this new medium.”


“We will see a greater focus on broadening access to business education in 2021 and, in particular, on making world-class education available to individuals from non-traditional backgrounds,” writes François Ortalo-Magné, dean of London Business School.

“In 2020, London Business School welcomed its first Laidlaw Scholars with the support of the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund. These women may not have seen business school as an option available to them; they are now on their way join our alumni community.

“All of us in business education agree people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives belong in positions of leadership including boardrooms. For 2021, let us all commit to grow the availability of educational opportunities like our Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.”

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