Asserting a Degree’s Value and Ensuring Programs Prosper

business education prosperity

The coming of the digital age with its resultant educational innovations, such as the MOOC, has ensured that established universities no longer have a monopoly on the provision of higher education.

Indeed, when you consider the wealth of choice that now lies before the prospective student, it is unsurprising that the value of traditional degrees has been questioned when set against more affordable – albeit often less prestigious – alternatives. The market dictates that degrees must justify their place and continued existence.

It is graduate programs and those of continued learning, referred to as executive education in the context of business education, that are most at risk of being supplanted by new alternatives, according to the founder of an ed tech company, Frederick Singer. These are often the most profitable sources of revenue to universities and the loss thereof, he writes in Forbes, could have the same kind of implications that precipitated the demise of the newspaper industry. The report namechecks the MBA as a prime example of a program that might soon start feeling the heat of the market, so how exactly do leading business schools plan on ensuring their flagship qualification remains relevant and worthy of the revenue it accrues?

Top US deans to debate MBA’s value at Columbia Business School

The question of whether the MBA will continue to be valued in the future is one of the main discussion points for a panel, entitled ‘What’s Next in Management Education’, taking place as part of Columbia Business School‘s centennial celebrations at the start of next month.

“Despite the opportunity technology has created, leading still requires physical interaction — human managers who think like entrepreneurs, connect the dots, and continually develop themselves as leaders,” Columbia Business School’s dean, Glenn Hubbard, has said in advance of the event, implying that the student experience is the key means by which institutions can set themselves apart. Hubbard will be joined on this panel by the deans of Harvard, Stanford and Wharton – leading luminaries in the country which first gave us the MBA.

The US-based accreditation body, the AACSB, has also been searching for new directions for its 1,500 members as it celebrates a centennial. This month, it unveiled a five-pronged vision through which it hopes to guide business schools’ need to “adapt to the significant shifts within the higher education landscape, and reimagine their purpose in society”. Highlighting the point about purpose, IE Business School’s dean and chair of AACSB’s Committee on Issues in Management Education, Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, pointed out that “schools are facing increasing pressure to drive positive economic and social impact”.

Business schools and ‘the common good’

The search for a more moral stance could be definitive in reasserting postgraduate business education’s value. Franz Heukamp, associate dean at IESE Business School, recently conceded that business education’s detractors had a point when drawing “a parallel between the growing influence of business education and the different world crises”, most notably 2008’s Great Recession. Heukamp, writing in Times Higher Education, argues that European business schools in particular must acknowledge their responsibility and reposition themselves as having a “constant consideration of the common good”.

The advantage in adopting this stance as central to institutions’ teaching is that it’s something past and present MBA students feel they need in today’s employment market. A 70% proportion of 2,000 MBA students and alumni surveyed by UK-based accreditation body, AMBA, said they felt knowledge and the ability to implement sustainable and ethical management practices will be central skills sought by employers over the next three years. At the launch of its own mission to forge greater links between schools and employers, AMBA backs up this finding with the words of Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, who also points to that fundamental sense of an MBA degree’s value – its ROI (return on investment):

“The moment you become a good leader is when you realize it’s not about yourself – investing in others, society and what I call the common good, is when you make an investment in yourself to prosper.” By taking this line as they seek to differentiate their degree offerings from the wave of new alternatives, business schools can hope they will continue to prosper themselves.

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