Business schools must become more nimble, report says

An Executive MBA Council study shows that students want quicker, more flexible options in advancing their positions, while employers want partners that can deliver for them.
By: | November 16, 2020
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The Executive MBA Council in a report released Monday called A New Way of Learning and Working, noted that business schools still have the power to connect with students and employers but must evolve quickly and steer away from their reputation as “degree factories”.

The study, conducted globally from extensive interviews with business and higher education leaders as well as 300 future business school students, highlighted the need for schools to meet the changing, digital demands of students and the expectations of workforce leaders who need partners that can deliver relevant education to their employees.

Upskilling and reskilling were two of the most important traits mentioned by both businesses and those looking to further their studies. With students trending toward lifelong learning paths over one-and-done learning programs, business schools can be an ideal fit for them and those they work for. But while most those schools are in position to leverage those opportunities, many higher education leaders remain skeptical they can meet the demands and  ever-changing needs of students and employers.

“Economic uncertainty, online learning, lifelong development, remote working, and digital transformation in business schools and other organizations are not new,” said Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council. “However, the global pandemic is accelerating these trends. Our sector will benefit from a healthy and honest debate about how future ways of learning and work can help leaders in business and business education find new answers to the problems of our time.”

Students in the survey said they want business schools to be flexible, with short courses that offer them quick opportunities to learn and grow. They want the option of being able to learn online as well as in person, though many senior leaders who were surveyed remain skeptical of the digital programs that those business schools can deliver. Nonetheless, students said digital transformation is key, with 42% of respondents saying it one of their requirements for consideration, along with enhancing their career positions (37%), future earning potential and attaining leadership skills.

On the flip side, those learners noted they are somewhat receptive to alternative options if business schools can’t provide them. They believe that certifications and other types of qualifications can be as useful as MBAs or master’s degrees.

As for employers, 75% more than agree with learners that business schools need to develop more short courses and must clearly exhibit how those programs will impact both business and society. They also surprisingly said they expect business schools in the future to be able to help students identify soft skills, those that can accentuate “emotional intelligence, more agility and conscious, continuous learning.”

Researchers noted that business schools should concentrate on what they do best and not try to be a one-size-fits-all solution for those interested in attending. In order to be nimble and agile and meet changing needs, they say it’s imperative to not focus in areas in which your business school does not excel.

The study also said schools should not try to model themselves after others and concentrate on their own missions and their programs, adjusting to the needs of different generations. Gen Z, for example, prefers to have in-person instruction, while older students often wish to have their learning done online because of current work requirements.

The most important thing business schools can do: engage with employers to get a sense of their expectations and build relationships with them. Because they want this next generation of learners to be agile and develop skills to suit their needs, they want shorter strategic development plans and ways to continually upskill and advance them – just as employees who spend the money to attend schools are expecting them to do.