A flexible future in the city of rebels

20 December 2022

Andrew Crisp draws on the recent EFMD Master’s conference and the tale of Robin Hood as inspiration for business school differentiation.


Nottingham is the city of rebels.  For those familiar with the Robin Hood legend that may come as no surprise.  However, spoiler alert, the Robin Hood legend is not quite what it may be.  One of the revelations at the EFMD Masters conference hosted by Nottingham Business School was that much of the modern day idea we have of Robin Hood is down to the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

But why let that get in the way of a good story?  Indeed, the conference started with a session on storytelling.  When so many schools offer similar degrees, the value of storytelling in helping differentiate a business school is ever more important. 

In his opening address, the Dean at Nottingham, Baback Yazdani, explained how personalisation was at the heart of the school’s offer.  Individual students have the opportunity to create programmes that meet their personal preferences.  Although difficult to deliver, the story of personalisation provides the school with something that helps to differentiate their offer in a crowded marketplace.

And it may be flexibility that provides an opportunity for schools to differentiate their Master’s offer.  In the most recent Tomorrow’s Master’s study, around a third or more of the respondents are certainly interested in something different for their Master’s study.

Some want the ultimate flexibility of taking a Master’s degree in modules over serval years as and when it suits them.  MBA degrees have long offered extended completion periods, especially those studied part-time, at a distance and online.  Extended study allows students to build a degree that meets their specific career needs as these evolve and to complete studies when family and other commitments allow, as well as when it is personally affordable. 

Not surprisingly, in the same vein there is clear demand for micromasters, with some students perhaps never completing their Master’s degree, but building a story of their studies built around the brand reputation of different providers.  Others are looking to digital providers of short non-degree courses and stepping away from Master’s degrees altogether.

Rebellion may be too strong a word for many business schools, but doing things differently to build a story that resonates with tomorrow’s students will be ever more important.  In some cases that may mean finding new subjects, perhaps the business of legalised drugs, e-sports or even the space industry.  For others, it may be different ways of delivering a Master’s degree, drawing in added learning through collaboration with external sources, strengthening a brand through collaboration.  However, a business school seeks to differentiate its offer, it will be telling the story of that offer which will be just as important to build sustainable success.

Subscribe to our newsletter