Our Latest Report | Be brave – a new era for higher education

02 June 2020

Everyone has a view on the future of business education – some believe the impact of COVID-19 will simply accelerate previous trends, while others see revolutionary change on the horizon. Whichever it will be, new research commissioned by LinkedIn and conducted by CarringtonCrisp suggests different programmes, delivered differently for different audiences.

The MBA is not about to disappear, but there may be fewer students or they may be studying in a different way. Even a decade ago, GMAC found that 60% of Online MBA programmes were reporting increased applicant numbers while the full-time 2 year MBA had seen a 2% fall in applicant numbers overall. In 2009, US residents took 156,613 GMAT tests, more than in the two years before and after; by 2018, US residents took only 73,556 tests. Instead, test-taker numbers have grown across Asia. Yet many of those test takers are now choosing to apply for a pre-experience Masters in Finance, Accountancy, Management and more recently, in large numbers, for data analytics and data-driven decision-making degrees.

In the same way as the MBA is changing, so are the courses that people want to study; the degree is not about to disappear, but it might look very different in years to come. In an interview in January, Ong Ye Kung, the Singapore Minister for Education, commented “Singaporeans will have to move away from the idea of "frontloading" education, that is, completing all their study before going out to work.” He went on to highlight the work of the National University of Singapore which, “…treats every student enrolment as lasting for 20 years, not just three or four years.”

For some there is a preference for a stackable degree, taking elements as they are required for a career. As the modules of the stack are completed they may be recognised with a certificate or diploma and students will make a deposit in their bank of education, drawing down learning as it is required. For employers funding learning, a stackable approach means a quicker return on their investment with relevant skills and knowledge applied immediately; also they don’t see their investment walk out the door on completion of a linear degree.

Students are also changing, no longer the traditional undergraduates and postgraduates, but instead lifelong learners, and this means they want to study in different ways. The research found that in the year ahead Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millenials were all most likely to indicate a preference for online study, while GenerationZ wanted to stay on campus.

Younger students, with an expectation of working into their 70s are in no rush with their studies and are keen to have the student experience of their predecessors. As learners get older, the flexibility of online and/or blended learning becomes more attractive, allowing them to study around other commitments. Often these older learners are also keen on short bursts of learning leading to certificates and diplomas which recognise their mastery of a particular skill or acquisition of knowledge which will quickly impact their career.

For business schools, this new world may also mean more competition, but the desire for a recognised qualification, whether that is a degree, diploma or certificate may enhance the value of a school brand. While new providers can offer flexible study often delivered through technology, it is the business school that is an accredited institution, recognised by a national government with a strong pedagogy. Qualifications from a business school thus become highly portable and are easily understood by an employer – the education brand becomes a significant part of their competitive advantage.

While there may be a brand advantage for business schools, they also need to think about cost of study. Despite the many positives that business schools have to offer, many of those taking part in the LinkedIn study felt business schools were too expensive for their future learning. Cost was just ahead of career impact when learners were thinking about what and where to study, accounting for about 30% of the factors influencing choice.

For business schools seeking to develop an offer to be ready for a new era, there is much to consider – the technology needed to deliver a high quality online experience, the partners to work with, the programmes to offer, the development of faculty, the marketing to attract students and much more. Whatever the way forward, as one business school commented during an interview for the research – be brave. The future may be complex and uncertain, but those schools that are imaginative and that embrace change are likely to be the successful business schools of the future.

Image by Angela Yuriko Smith from Pixabay


Download the full report 'A New Era for Higher Education' here.


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