Finding Tomorrow’s MBA, Today...

10 May 2024

Ian Hawkings examines some of the MBA 'challenger brands' and what they mean for traditional business schools.


A few weeks back, the FT published its most recent Online MBA ranking. Spain’s IE came top, followed by Imperial College and Warwick Business School. It’s worth noting that there are only ten schools in the list - familiar faces, all.

In its editorial, the FT noted that, "Business education has undergone significant transformation in recent years, and this is no different for MBAs delivered online. The application of advanced technology and a more tailored learning experience are reshaping the sector, but it is benefits such as flexibility, lower cost and a better work-life balance compared with a traditional MBA that are attracting students.”

But if these are the things that are taking students away from traditional MBA programmes at traditional business schools, perhaps we should be looking more closely at the alternative options. In the same supplement, the FT wrote a piece on just this topic, stating that, “A new cohort of digital education providers is seeking to challenge the supremacy of conventional MBA programmes by offering students more flexible, accessible and affordable options to advance their careers.”

It went on to state that while a top two-year on campus MBA costs upwards of $150,000 in fees alone, Madrid-based The Power MBA costs $999 and is delivered in 15 minute daily classes designed to fit into learner’s busy schedules. This isn’t exactly a new development – The Power MBA launched in 2017, and Abilitie, a US-based EdTech operation launched its 14-week online MBA in 2015 and has served 100,000 learners to date.

In our most recent Tomorrow’s MBA research we found that only 22% of students wanted to study full-time on campus, while 42% said they wanted some form of blended degree. And among those who wanted some form of online study, 36% said they wanted entirely self-directed learning, allowing them to study at their own pace and on their own schedule.

So, what does this all mean? It certainly means that business schools need to adapt to a changing environment, but that has been the case for some years now. For some schools it probably means investing in better technology and revising pedagogy so they are able to deliver programmes more amenable to future students. And for students themselves, it likely means that they will have to think carefully about what they want from their studies, and which route is most likely to give them the experience and career tools that they desire.

Ultimately it means that the MBA market is simply more accessible than ever before – in the past many felt that high quality, formal business training was too expensive, too time-consuming. Those that want, and are able, to take two years out of work to attend Stanford, likely will continue to do so, but for those that can’t a whole raft of new options are out there. As Bjorn Billhardt, CEO of Abilitie states, “There are 16 million managers in the US alone and only 2.8million with business degrees, it’s a completely underserved market that we’re targeting: people who would not even consider a traditional MBA.”

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