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How are global MBAs taking care of business?

Institutions know they are nurturing business skills that will no longer help students entering the national marketplace, but a global one. Therefore, a specific focus on entrepreneurship, specialisations and the uptake of digital delivery to offer more flexible learning are shaping the business school sector and MBA marketplace today.

Photo: Hult Business School

"We definitely see in our trend data more schools moving towards online delivery options"

MBA malaise

“The competition is much more intense for MBAs, even the really top schools struggle,” says German Fernandez Rodriguez, global head of business development at Hult International. In the current climate of MBA saturation, Hult is seeing much more growth in undergraduate programmes and executive education, he says.

Similarly, Ralf Boscheck, MBA programme director at IMD in Switzerland, says “global full-time MBA numbers seem to be flattening right now”.

IMD’s small MBA programme – which enrols 90 students a year – only accepts students with around seven years’ experience, says Boscheck. “People are doing more and more master’s degrees, also in the area of business and economics, straight out of university as an extension of their undergraduate degree,” he says. “The education in general doesn’t necessarily add to their ability to become operational as a business leader, because for that you need some prior experience.”

Plugged into industry

Strong ties to market and industry are hallmarks of any successful business school. IMD aims to stand apart from other providers by moulding its curriculum to reflect the business industry it serves. There is only one academic faculty and no tenured teaching staff.

“The academic community doesn’t pay our salary, what pays our salary is business and CEOs that come here to study”

“We find that a tenure system actually is not very conducive to speed up research and work on market developments because you are more interested in serving a purely academic community,” Boscheck says. “The academic community doesn’t pay our salary, what pays our salary is business and CEOs that come [here to study].”

Erica Hensens, MBA programme director at London Business School in the UK, agrees that it is “essential” to keep refining the institution’s approach.

“We regularly work with our faculty, students and employers to ensure that we are meeting the need of the market, whilst also delivering a rigorous and challenging academic programme,” she relates.

And Tim Goydke, dean of the international graduate centre at Hochschule Bremen in Germany, explains that company CEOs form a business advisory council, which they meet with at least twice a year to discuss ”what are the trends, what are the demands, what kind of issues do they need from their employees, what do they expect us to do”.

Practise what you preach: innovation

While MBAs remain popular, there has been an increase in more specialised business programmes and diversfication away from the traditional one-year MBA programme.

Photo: Hult International

Photo: Hult International

“I think that reflects the diversity of needs from business education,” says Juliane Iannarelli, vice-president for knowledge development at the The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). “The MBA can’t meet the needs of all individuals and all employers, so complements are emerging.”

“Over recent years, we have witnessed deep changes in the needs of students interested in postgraduate training,” echoes Greta Maiocchi, head of marketing and recruitment at MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business in Italy. Since launching the first digital executive MBA programme in 2014, the school has been enrolling new intakes of students every six months.

Meanwhile, Hult is introducing a dual degree offering a master’s in management with international business or the MBA with a master’s in marketing or finance after six more months.

“There is much more specialisation in that way,” Fernandez explains. “I feel like the traditional MBA can continue but I think you need to be much more innovative in the way that you teach it.”

A holistic and creative approach

While business education institutions teach theory and practice, they also aspire to nurture the character of the student. This focus has become a mantra of business schools around the world. “We believe our students need to know and develop themselves, as well as key skills in communication, solving complex problems, leading and implementing change, as well as how to deliver through others to be successful leaders in a global marketplace,” says Kate Barraclough, head of the MBA programme at Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business in the US.

Kathy Harvey at Saïd Business School, part of Oxford University in the UK, adds that there has also been more of a focus placed on “understanding the relationship between businesses and governments” in recent programme iterations. “Globalisation exposes firms to much more complex environments across borders,” she says. “There’s also a big emphasis on leadership development and on socially responsible business.”

At Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, vice dean, executive degree programmes, Christian Tangkjær, says teaching corporate social responsibility is a bedrock of the full-time MBA. Despite a small intake of 40-45 students, the programme boasts 22 nationalities.

“We represent students and nationalities from a global perspective,” says Tangkjær. “If you have a discussion on sustainability, you will discuss sustainability from many different cultural perspectives.” Moulding entrepreneurs is a key outcome of MBAs, as graduates enter the business marketplace. “This is something I believe is the focus and should be the focus,” notes Tangkjær.

“Without innovation, companies cannot grow, economies cannot flourish. So entrepreneurs have a big responsibility”

Global vs international

Internationalisation is high on the business school agenda, with partnerships and mobility programmes facilitating global collaboration. “There is a very big difference between being international and being global,” says Fernandez.

At Carnegie Mellon, students can partake in overseas experiences to countries including Japan and Israel, to observe different business practices first-hand. “Experiential learning opportunities include mini-semesters in Hong Kong and Germany, where students are able to immerse themselves in a different culture and learning environment,” explains Barraclough.

Skema Business School, also works hard to teach with a global mindset: it has three campuses in France and three in what vice dean Patrice Houdayer says are key regions around the world: Brazil, the US and China.

“What we are doing to develop this global awareness or global mindset is to give students a chance to spend a real part of their educational journey on a specific campus in a specific region of the world,” he says. “I think one of the key challenges for the future is for most business schools to switch from a national base to a more global base to meet companies’ expectations.”

Online learning

In addition to responding to marketplace needs, MBA programmes are feeling the push to respond to wider technology developments. As blended learning and personalised approaches are establishing prominence, MBAs are having to adapt.

“We definitely see in our trend data more schools moving towards online delivery options,” recounts Iannarelli at AACSB International. “That is in response to the market: students are interested in more flexibility and more convenience with regards to accessing programmes.”


Photo: Hochschule Bremen

Boscheck at IMD says technology will be instrumental in changing the landscape of business education. “The real interesting thing is it not only reduces the cost of education but it also creates a democratic impact that we haven’t seen before,” he says.

“Because you can get access to the best professors, the best content at a much lower price.”

Combining access and value for money is University of the People, which, starting this September, will offer what it has said will be the world’s most cost-effective MBA programme. Delivered online, it comes to a total of $2,400 for the whole MBA programme.

And Boscheck believes that the growth of MOOCs in MBA teaching could create more competition. “In a fast commoditising market, few MBAs will continue to offer massive value that could not be replicated easily by, for example, MOOC type of programmes and other kinds of delivery,” he says.

However, Tangkjær at CBS underlines the valuable professional networks business schools help create. “We also have to admit that the most important learning experience for an MBA student is to meet other MBA students where they can share their knowledge and experience.”

In a marketplace that is quickly evolving, Iannarelli points out that business schools can be criticised for not moving as fast as the industries they supply. However, after running an initiative asking schools to share their new approaches, she says the association sees evidence that business schools are working hard to innovate. “They are learning from one another and they share with one another in order to move the industry forward.”

  • This is an abridged version of an article which first appeared in issue #10 of The PIE Reviewour quarterly magazine.

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