Mastering the business world

E-learning, extracurricular activities and expectations from the industry are moulding the way business is taught. Claire Vanner investigates the future of the MBA and looks back on the industry in 2012

Feature image

The Masters of Business Administration is the golden seal of approval for any business graduate. But at the most recent AMBA conference there was a call for schools to move with the times as the business world becomes more fragmented, with predictions that the traditional ‘workplace’ may cease to exist.

Jeanette Liendo, global director of Microsoft’s Corporate Marketing Group, said business schools need to drive innovation and shape leaders who “lead with trust and connect business to the broader social construct”. There was also strong talk of online business schools: a discussion that is, appropriately, echoed all around the internet.

Diverse experiences
Studying for an MBA online gives the advantage of distance learning, which takes up less of a student’s time than an on-campus course and means they can continue working to add to their CV while they gain the qualification. Interaction is achieved through discussion boards, chat, email and even over the telephone. MBA graduates are arguably more prepared for the business world than their campus counterparts as modern businesses increasingly rely on online communication channels.

Many respected business schools are introducing online MBA programmes, including Imperial College Business School in the UK, Isead Business School in Spain and the George Washington University in the US. While revered Stanford Business School is not extending its programme online, it is launching Stanford Ignite: a nine-week programme for non-business graduates and practicing entrepreneurs to embrace distance learning.

Such purely online certificate programmes allow working professionals to learn techniques that bolster innovation and problem solving in their organisations. Communication via the internet now permeates all levels of business education – from undergraduate degrees to executive courses – but educational technology will refine and extend, not override, the value of the full-time, on-campus MBA experience.

Although higher business education e-learning may seem opportune and progressive, it should not be developed at the expense of the personal learning experience. Gareth Saloner, Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business said: “While technology can greatly enhance the learning experience, it simply cannot replace the faculty-student interaction, experiential learning and self-discovery that occur in the MBA classroom. The issue is an incremental experience versus a transformational one.”

This is why Stanford offers supplementary online business courses, but not a full-scale MBA online. Correspondingly, AMBA Student of the Year Alex Dalley said students resent being treated as consumers and will still need personal interaction with their schools in order to make meaningful, mutually beneficial
connections with them.

Notably, top business school Harvard does not offer an online MBA.  The staff do not feel online education technology is a good fit for their learning style. The Harvard Business School case method relies heavily on class discussion: an e-learning scenario would not be able to replicate the level of discussion achieved in a classroom environment.

Thousands of students still pine for the business school experience, sustaining the demand for bricks-and-mortar establishments. Business schools in the US continue to dominate the rankings, with 51 of the top 100 schools located there – including six of the top 10. There are 26 European MBA programmes, with London Business School ranked number one in the region and number four in the world.

Outside the classroom
It is vital for all students to experience the business world outside the classroom. Business schools are addressing this issue by allowing students to defer their entrance upon acceptance. Harvard Business School offers the ‘2+2 Program’, which allows accepted students to defer enrolment for two years while they get work experience.

Yale School of Management has a three-year Silver Scholars Programme in which college seniors are accepted onto a three-year MBA programme, and Stanford Graduate School of Business also lets college seniors defer enrolment. In addition to the traditional two-year full time MBA course – which consists of 18 months of term time – accelerated MBAs are also available, entailing more-intense class and examination schedules with less downtime.

To address the demand to work around the degree, the part-time MBA lasts over three years as working professionals embark on classes outside office hours, taking a lighter course load for a longer period of time.

The Executive MBA (EMBA) programme was developed to meet the needs of managers and executives, with the ability to gain an MBA in two years while working full-time. EMBA students typically have a higher level of experience – ten years or more – than MBA students. The latter generally have around four years of work experience behind them at age 26 or 27, according to Travis Morgan, Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep.

The decision to pursue the MBA is not taken lightly, with candidates subjected to a rigorous application process. The best business schools are notoriously hard to get into. Harvard Business School had 9,093 candidates for 942 places in 2009, with top European schools such as Esade in Spain boasting an increase of over 50 percent in applicants across the last three years.

The schools are bound by supply and demand, with higher fees denoting popularity: a $1,000 increase is associated with a 0.25 percent increase in the number of applicants per place. Harvard has the highest fees – $126,000 – but according to the Financial Times, its graduates enjoy some of the highest salaries. When applying, GPA, GMAT and GRE scores are important but not vital, as schools are looking for well-rounded students, not
just brain boxes.

Business benefits
Stanford Business School’s motto is: “Change lives. Change organisations. Change the world.” MBA programmes emphasise lifelong learning, providing the tools students need to benefit the businesses that hire them. The MBA also moulds professional problem-solvers who know how to frame problems, both answering and asking appropriate questions to formulate the best course of action.

Hiring an MBA graduate, employers know they are entrusting someone with practical management skills who will focus on long-term strategy to benefit their corporation. Ashish Rastogi, MBA student at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, said: “Imagine getting cold calls during corporate governance case discussions from a professor who is a former executive director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India and a consultant to the World Bank. And answering them with ease! That’s a simple example of the change this investment in education has brought about.”

But having an MBA does not guarantee employment anymore. Industries such as investment banking are looking to hire more technically minded people to better their services, so are pursuing PhD students who are more analytical and can translate complex situations into mathematical models.

David Garvin, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, said: “MBA graduates increasingly need to be more effective: they need to have a global mind-set, for example, develop leadership skills of self-awareness and self-reflection, and develop an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of business, and the limitations of models and markets.” E-learning may create opportunities for more candidates, but you cannot fault the experience and calibre that comes with an MBA from a reputable business school.

To view the European CEO Global Business Education Awards 2012 winners, please click here.