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As competition intensifies, the MBA market moves East

When asked if they faced competition growth, 77% of business schools offering MBA courses stated they were now dealing with cumulative market competition. And 97% of schools anticipated tighter competition in the future.

In 2018, 16 Asian schools, including in Hong Kong, featured in the FT Global MBA rankings. Photo: Free-photos/Pixabay

Ranking is one measure, and relevance is another, which many in Asia are now claiming as their competitive advantage.

These were the results of a recent Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) report from the UK – illustrating the changing landscape that business schools now operate in.

“There is a lack of disruptive innovation at present”

 Non-executive director at the UK’s Office for Students and founding vice-chancellor of global business school BPP, Carl Lygo, explains some of the factors at play.

“There is now greater access to high quality MBA program provision both online and in-country, so there is not as great a need to travel abroad to study,” he explains.

“Secondly, the lack of a post-study work visa [in the UK] means students do not have the same opportunities to work as they perhaps did in the past.”

Lygo also explains that consideration of an MBA as a part-time executive program is generally rising in appeal.

“The full-time program has a more variable outcome because students often have very little business experience on which to build,” Lygo explains.

Yet he is keen to stress that the pressure on schools is not purely a result of factors beyond their control. “There may be a certain level of complacency in the UK market, as business schools have tended to be the cash cows of universities,” he adds.

“This may have led to some schools not investing as much back in the development of the curriculum to be truly distinctive and appealing to students who now have more and more choice worldwide.”

“Business schools have tended to be the cash cows of universities”

However, the other major factor is the rise of Asian business education. To put this into context, The Financial Times released its global MBA ranking report first in 1999 and there were no Asian business schools on the hotlist.

In 2018, 16 Asian schools feature, from Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and India. In 2018, its highest new entrant was also an Asian institution – China Europe International Business School, ranking 8th.

Elite business programmes have been cropping up in other parts of Asia too. Hanoi-based British University Vietnam (BUV) is one such example. Last year, the university launched several business courses including its first MBA program for ambitious students wishing to stay in Vietnam.

“The biggest value of gaining an MBA from an Asian business school is that you are studying where everyone agrees the economic action is – Asia,” says Khalid Muhmood, founder of Dragonfly Education Group in Singapore and co-founder of BUV.

“At least half the benefit of doing an MBA is the relationships you build along the way and that’s where doing the MBA here in Asia also has a career advantage.”

“The biggest value of…an MBA from an Asian business school is that you are studying where…the economic action is”

While US business schools remained stable in the global MBA rankings, many have recruited fewer international students too.

“Specialisation that plays to your strengths in the right playing field will lead to sustainable success,” counsels Paul Almeida, dean at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Washington DC, USA, in the latest CABS report.

Once upon a time an advantage, the generalist nature of the MBA could soon be its handicap.

Specialist qualifications in finance, marketing, human resources, project management can offer a quicker and more practically relevant route to knowledge and this has led to further competitive pressure on business schools making the case for their MBA advantage.

“There is a lack of disruptive innovation at present,” posits Lygo. “Well known MBA accreditations create a consistency amongst business schools that tend to make them all a bit bland. There needs to be more distinctive provision and delivery with more relevant content for modern business.”

Andrew Crisp, co-founder of Carrington Crisp – a research partner of the CABS report and a consultancy firm to the education sector, firmly believes that opportunities exist for MBA programs, just in a different format.

“The starting point is flexibility, delivering online or blended offers,” he says. “Collaboration with international providers to deliver executive MBAs or with other parts of a university to deliver specialist programmes for further ways forward.”

Opportunities still exist for MBA providers through international collaborations and blended formats. Photo: Pixabay

For now, more than anything, general advice seems to be that business schools need to think differentiation and new business models, such as offering modules on entrepreneurship and sustainability to add to the MBA experience.

“Schools need to go further and think clearly about their own strategy. Tomorrow’s MBA will not be the same degree as it has been over much of the past 40 years and business schools need to prepare for change,” Crisp warns.

“LinkedIn alone launches 30 or more new courses each week”

“Challenges are coming from all directions – from pre-experience masters, new MBA offers in Asia and elsewhere, to employers seeking different skills delivered in different ways.”

While MOOCs and apprenticeships in the UK ­- which are being backed by the government –  don’t claim to offer the depth or specialism of an MBA, they are another reminder that business schools now need to stand out among a more crowded marketplace for ways to upskill oneself.

Crips notes, “LinkedIn alone launches 30 or more new courses each week, adding to a course library that now extends to over 10,000 different programs.”

The fact also remains that the UK, and the US in particular, still lead on quality of business education by ranking. But ranking is one measure, and relevance is another, which many in Asia are now claiming as their competitive advantage.

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