Evolution or revolution - the future of the MBA?

Report cover with a man running on his ownEvery year when we release the findings from the Tomorrow’s MBA study, someone almost invariably asks whether the MBA has a future.  The MBA has had a tough few years and some have speculated about its terminal decline.

The answer, every year, is that the MBA does have a future.  All our data shows strong demand, especially in Asia, and to attend those schools that lead the rankings.  The data also suggests strong demand for flexible delivery, whether than be online or blended.  This demand for flexibility may point the direction for future innovation in the MBA marketplace.

In any market, products and services evolve over time, sometimes slowly, on other occasions more rapidly.  Whether it is changes in society, demands from employers, technology or the entry of new providers, competition will drive innovation in the MBA market.

Quicker returns and almost instant gratification have become a feature of society in recent years.  The MBA market is seeing something of the same trend with data from this year’s report showing that the one-year full-time MBA is more popular globally that the two-year full-time degree for the first time since the study began in 2010.  Add in ever more rapidly changing demands for skills from employers and a desire for quicker, cheaper study to get a better return on investment makes sense for a prospective student.

It may be that the employer perspective on the MBA is most important in determining the future of the degree.  Some have suggested that the cost of hiring MBAs makes them less attractive than those with a pre-experience Masters degree who may have a more flexible approach than an MBA graduate when joining a business.

More significantly, new ways of working and demand for new skills mean that anyone joining a business can expect to undertake further training and development throughout their career.  Skills learnt in an MBA although not redundant will need updating sooner rather than later, raising doubts about the value of studying an MBA.  Add in a growing number of MBAs choosing to start a business at the point of graduation or shortly afterwards, and there are growing reasons to think that the MBA needs to evolve.

Flexibility would seem to be the answer.  An MBA that can deliver over an extended time period, allowing students to acquire skills as they need them, that offers options to personalise content, that delivers content beyond traditional business subjects and that meets the needs of changing lifestyles with options to study remotely or in other locations may be part of the future evolution of the MBA.  Such an approach may be attractive to employers and students, but such change will also need a financial model that works for business schools.

The MBA degree is set to evolve in many different and, in some cases, surprising ways.  Changing demands from employers and changing lifestyles among students will change much of the future MBA market.

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