First, there was the global pandemic. Now there is a war in Ukraine. And all along there have been the dangers of a hotter planet in looming consequences of a climate crisis.
These unprecedented crises directly impact challenges companies around the world face today, which inevitably dictate what MBAs and business institutions prioritize. But how quickly are business schools able to respond? Four industry experts explained in a recent panel on MBA trends how business education is angling to directly correlate with what the market is experiencing in these uncertain times.
In the panel “An Insider’s View of MBA Trends,” part of a day-long event last month coinciding with the release of The Financial Times’ 2023 global MBA rankings, deans and associate deans were featured from SDA Bocconi School of Management, ESADE Business School and Copenhagen Business School. The fourth panelist was Joy Jones, chief executive officer of the Graduate Management Admission Council.
MORE CHOICE EQUALS HIGH SATISFACTION
The conversation began about the pandemic. Both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine increased interests in digitalization, says Anna Thomasson, dean of Copenhagen Business School. There was surge in B-schools delivering content rapidly online. And nowadays, the panelists said, their students are continuously showing interest in sustainability, climate science and factors focusing on ESG reporting. SDA Bocconi Dean Stefano Caselli says diversity among students, staff and faculty continues to be a key issue in the industry.
Among a wide swath of topics covered in a quick 45 minutes, a main takeaway was that B-schools continue to work toward delivering useful material as it relates to changes in the business and economic landscape.
Jones told the panel she’s seeing an increase in business programming from all parts of the world, a burgeoning B-school scene in India is a prime example. As more business programming appears, the quality of it is only increases, she says.
On top of that, MBA graduates are finding careers throughout more diverse industries rather than the traditional jobs the degree once historically derived. The nonprofit administers polls to perspective and current students and alums, research that Jones referenced during the panel.
SHIFT AWAY FROM ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL APPROACH
Jones tells senior Times reporter Chris Chook, who mediated the panel Feb. 22, that more job variety is why many alumni say in surveys they are satisfied “at the end of the day.” She says this is because schools are really leaning into offering different specialties. Sometimes B-schools even partner with other departments, such as those for advancing technology or healthcare innovation.
Jan Hohberger, associate dean of the full-time MBA at ESADE, reiterated this idea. He says ESADE offers an accounting class dedicated to measuring climate goals.
Though there was a downturn in applicants during the last enrollment cycle, it doesn’t necessarily negate the MBA overall, Jones says. Many continue to show interest in applying for specialized master’s programs in interest areas, for example in data analytics or in the tech space.
“I do think it is shifting from the one-size-fits-all degree into a much broader portfolio that candidates have and are electing,” Jones says.
In research covering the perspectives of future students, most want their personal aspirations to converge with their interests and impacts on the world. Rather that the degree being fully about an individual’s career, Jones tells the panel their interests are more about the what’s happening in the world, conveying what could be a “next wave of potential students.”
HOW DEMAND FOR NEW TOPICS SHIFT
Caselli says as a result of the pandemic, topics like artificial intelligence, data science and what’s happening in geopolitics have sparked interest. Schools for computer engineering or government tend to have the advantage in this realm, but, he says, business schools should remain outside “the comfort zone.” Five or 10 years ago curriculum covered traditional content like marketing or finance, in a sense what Caselli describes as “conversative” content, and now, he says, institutions are turning tides on coursework. Having an accounting class that only focuses on the climate, per say.
“Today we don’t see any limits and any borders, so we have to continuously add new content, new ideas and angles, which is exciting, but we have to recruit new faculty to do that,” he says.
Staying current, in his words, “is a challenge, and it is a duty.”
Thomasson added to some of what’s challenging about changing dynamics. Another pressing topic after the pandemic in classrooms happened to be supply chain management. But sometimes, the business landscape evolves so rapidly, but, in the meantime, the curriculum is usually set in advance.
“It’s something we try to respond to as quickly as we can, but it’s difficult if the programs are up and running. That’s a trend that’s apparent right now that we see a shift in what the students demand to what happens in the world,” Thomasson says.
PERHAPS, DESTINATION MATTERS
The three B-schools participating in the panel locate in places Cook considers dream vacation destinations, in Spain, Italy and Denmark. The panel’s mediator wanted to know: How many prospective students are attracted by and end up choosing a B-school, because of its setting?
Caselli’s answer was that the MBA is really about the culmination of content and experience – or the networking aspect. Hohberger says location matters and at ESADE, students leverage what the city of Barcelona offers as a developing a strong network base.
“To be in a place like Barcelona that is a very strong entrepreneurship hub, very strong consulting hub, so this really relates to what we do in the program,” he says.
Thomasson says many of the students at CBS were originally attracted to the school because of Copenhagen. The administration is seeing graduates either staying in the city or in Denmark after school because they appreciate the Nordic lifestyle, with its great balance between work and life, benefits, longer maternity leave, etc. Thomasson says in a way you could see the city becoming like a brand for the B-School.
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