The executive MBA shows its strengths in a fragile world
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Coronavirus is forcing executive MBA providers, prospective applicants and their employers alike to reflect deeply on the choices ahead.
All have been affected by disruption to the global economy, travel restrictions and a squeeze in the job market. Yet the latest Financial Times review of leading business schools offering EMBAs suggests that many courses around the world remain in strong health.
Some business schools have experienced a drop in the number of applicants, deferred programme dates or even shut programmes. But elsewhere, demand is holding up or even rising. As Jonathan Moules writes, the part-time nature of EMBAs, the shift in working practices during lockdown and the opportunity to reflect on a change in direction or reskilling makes it appealing.
The FT’s own survey showed that among more than 3,000 alumni polled in June and July who finished their EMBA three years ago, only a quarter said they anticipated recruiting fewer staff over the coming year. More than two-fifths said they would hire more.
More than two-thirds of respondents also expected a full or partial recovery in operations at their companies by the end of 2020, with just 13 per cent predicting a partial or significant further reduction. On average, EMBA alumni — who typically have considerable experience and seniority — have retained their jobs and reported an increase in remuneration this year despite the difficulties.
Beyond the short-term impact of coronavirus on financial returns, Andrew Hill writes that the pandemic has sparked a fresh reflection on the economist Milton Friedman’s view 50 years ago that corporate social responsibility was “hypocritical window-dressing”. Covid-19 has underlined interconnectedness and focused attention on the changed relationship between companies and governments.
The pandemic has also fuelled the wider debate on the core purpose of business, illustrated by the FT’s New Agenda, with a fresh emphasis on people and planet as well as profit. We want to hear from business schools, students and employers about the importance they place on these subjects and how they would like to see them covered in business education reporting and analysis.
Alongside sustainability, the Black Lives Matter movement has thrown an important spotlight on diversity. We report on business schools that are becoming more inclusive, including of the physically disabled and the neurodiverse, whose traditional underrepresentation in higher education and employment is both morally unjust and economically detrimental.
Business schools are adapting in other ways to current pressures. They have had to cope with fluctuations in the size and nature of their intake, and introduce tougher health-protection measures, including limits on face-to-face teaching, with a shift to more online instruction. In some cases, they have offered deferral of graduation with the aim of allowing students to catch up on missed opportunities for study or placements suspended this year.
Schools are also upgrading curricula, with renewed emphasis on specialisms such as risk management. Our poll of EMBA alumni shows they believe schools do a good job in management, leadership and strategy training. But they are calling for better virtual teaching and use of technology. As employers, they also want recruits in the post-Covid era to demonstrate enhanced resilience and digital skills.
The good news for business schools is that a large majority of alumni say they would still recommend others to study for an EMBA despite the current pressures. They also express strong interest in understanding how best to differentiate between universities by factors such as salaries and career advancement — factors the FT assessments reflect.
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Our ranking presents an overview of performance according to the factors we can measure and consider important. But any choice of business school will depend on an individual’s preferences and priorities. So alongside our overall ordinal rankings, we encourage readers to explore the different data points on each school to tailor decisions to their own interests and priorities.
As part of that process, we have placed fresh emphasis this year on tiers of business schools. All 100 that we list and analyse are of high quality, with accreditation from leading international agencies and strong performance. Many of the best offer joint programmes in different locations. Some new entrants reflect a growing geographical spread, from Moscow to Bangalore.
But there are significant differences between those in the best Tier I category and the Tier II schools — both of which outperform the average across the 100 schools. Tier III and Tier IV schools are also good, but below the average.
Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor
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