What future for the MBA?

27 February 2020

The 2020 Tomorrow’s MBA report from CarringtonCrisp and EFMD suggests that the MBA market will be different from the previous decade. Stories still persist about the decline of the MBA, but the demand for postgraduate and lifelong learning will only grow in coming years as people have to reskill and upskill to build their careers.  The MBA will be part of the answer to this demand, albeit the content of the degree and the way it is delivered may be very different from previous decades and there will be many alternatives to an MBA.

In recent years the trend has been for MBAs to become shorter with more offering one-year compared with two-year degrees.  Demand for a one-year MBA rather than a two-year degree is again highlighted in this year’s Tomorrow’s MBA report.  The future is likely to find not just growing demand for one-year MBAs, but also for part-time, executive, blended, online and stackable degrees, potentially with the stackable MBA being delivered by different schools at different times in a student’s career.  Just over two-thirds of respondents (69%) in this year’s study also indicated that they would consider a specialist master’s degree such as a Masters in Finance.

Key to the future of the MBA will be relevance; relevance to students, relevance to employers and relevance to society.  MBA content needs to change more quickly – there may be some core fundamentals, but curricula need updating more often than in the past. This year’s report highlights strong demand from prospective students for content that addresses responsible management (70%), ethical leadership (70%), diversity and equality (67%) and global challenges (66%).  Future students tend to see responsible leadership as a fundamental aspect that runs through business education teaching and research, not as a specialist add-on or elective.

Consideration also needs to be given to the skills that business leaders will require as much as technical knowledge.  Add in a broader understanding of changes in society and you begin to see the MBA for the future.

Without a change to the business school MBA, organisations such as Smartly and Jolt who are offering MBA alternatives and others such as General Assembly who have developed short courses in particular skills with high employer demand, will come more to the fore.

Last year’s report noted that “the rapid change in skills sought by employers means there is a risk that what an MBA learns during their studies could be out of date before they have paid back their loans for studying”.  Students may increasingly look for short bursts of learning to top up existing knowledge or add an understanding of new subjects that are prized by employers. Studying in short bursts offers flexibility for the learner to fit with their lifestyle and can be much more cost-effective for an employer if they are paying.

The current MBA market can be summarised in two words – ‘accelerating change.’ Prospective students are demanding content outside the confines of the traditional MBA, appear to be very flexible in where, how and who they get their personal development from, and want to engage with a variety of people that can help their academic, business and international ambitions.

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