Resculpting the MBA

Filling the Gaps Between Classroom Output and Real Businesses’ Needs

April 17th, 2014
The goal of the MBA is to prepare graduates who have the skills and knowledge to perform successfully in the business arena, coping with day-to-day issues and complications. After the economic downturn of the last decades, some business schools started adapting their programmes and sculpting curricula that prepare graduates for the current business environment.

An MBA is the degree that can transform your career. Getting that postgraduate business diploma is an investment that can be one of the best catalysts for your professional development and can push you one step closer toward C-level positions within your company. The top business degree can also be the necessary tool if you want to switch careers and dive into a completely different professional field or if you want to embark upon an entrepreneurial venture on your own.

Is there a gap?
However, one of the commonly addressed topics when it comes to business education is whether today’s practices and programme content are enough or if there is something crucial missing from the curricula, leaving a gap between what graduates obtain as their knowledge and skill-set, and what real businesses actually need. As the requirement for most MBA programmes is that applicants have several years of experience, MBA students already know what real businesses need when they start their programme. “‘Classroomoutput’ is only one of the four pillars that deliver the MBA experience, the other three pillarsare interspersed across the programme and address the complimentary areas of ActiveIndustry Engagement, Professional Skills Development and Careers Support. The marketplacedemands students who can not only demonstrate subject knowledge, but equally possess thesofter skills to work in a multi-cultural environment”, says Linda Jenkins, an MBA Course Leader at Aberdeen Business School.

Business schools keep their programmes up to date
In a survey by Access MBA about the role of business schools in the economic crisis, 62% out of all 2,000 respondents from 57 countries said that business schools do, indeed, have a significant responsibility in this area. In order to strengthen MBA programmes’ connection with sustainable business and management practices, 64% of the Access MBA survey participants declared that business schools should actively encourage field immersion, or the opportunity for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to working with companies outside the classroom. Shawn O’Connor, Founder and President of Status Prep, said during a press conference in New York in May 2013 that Harvard Business School changed their decades-old curriculum in 2011, introducing a programme called “FieldImmersion Experiences for Leadership Development” where “students have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt in class to working with industries abroad”.

By changing curricula, international business schools can affect the workplace and alter global markets. 80% of current MBA students and recent MBA graduates say that their business school adequately addresses the causes and repercussions of the economic recession.

IE Business School, one of Europe’s most prestigious business schools, is an example of how schools keep their programmes, cutting-edge. Bloomberg Businessweek says its 13-month International MBA programme has the “most innovative curriculum” of any MBA programme. The programme combines entrepreneurship, diversity and the humanities with a unique focus on social responsibility. The business school also offers a 10-month IE-SMU MBA programme that is a joint initiative of the school and Singapore Management University. The programme offers insights into Asia-Pacific markets, business strategies and management cultures, and combines the best of theory and practice by allowing students to test newly-learnt concepts, skills and management techniques in business case analyses, simulated environments, and faculty-guided, cross-functional, real-life projects.

Hult International Business School is another example of an institution that offers a programme which is designed in response to real business demands. The business school claims that its one-year MBA programme is the world’s first to have been designed by business leaders. The programme addresses feedback from leading CEOs and employers on the effectiveness of the standard MBA curriculum, fully integrating the teaching of interpersonal soft skills and practical business application.

Change is good in moderation
Every business school has its own way of making sure its curriculum covers all important business-related topics and teaches students the necessary skills to succeed in the real business world. The greatest change made to Aberdeen Business School’s programme within the past three years, for instance, is active industry engagement, which has seen particular companies and organisations embedded within specific disciplines within the programme.

“This is over and above timetabled classesand involves master classes fromexperts in theirfield, whole-weekendevents such as the Investment Den tosupport the Corporate FinanceModuleand, of course, our Leadership Week. Anumber of companies use these mechanismsto identify potential recruits”, saysMs. Jenkins.According to the Access MBA survey,55% of the respondents say that businessschools should manifest their responsibilityby developing sustainable businesspractices. “We have added a clearemphasis on sustainability as a corepartof our MBA experience. This includeseverything from ethical business practicesto Corporate Social Responsibility”,says Andrew Dalik, Admissions Managerfor the Full-time MBA Programme at CopenhagenBusiness School.

As business matures and evolves into one big globalised economic area, the skills and knowledge requirements that business practitioners need to be successful change as well. However, the bottom-line principles and values that make up a successful business person remain unchanged. “A core part of an MBA is learning to be a more effective leader of people. The skills, empathy and perceptiveness required to do this effectively remain largelyunchanged. In fact, there are many ‘old school’ ways of building authentic client andemployee relationships that are re-emerging in the one-to-one era of social media”, says Mr Dalik.

Changes in market trends and demands lead to changes in the profile of the MBA student. As the MBA is a programme largely based on students sharing their former professional experience and success and failure stories, the changed profile of the students brings with it a change in the way the MBA is structured. “Our courses are the result of close collaboration with industries, which means that Aberdeen Business School graduates will have thenecessary skills in demand. As industries evolve, so do our courses, which are continuallyupdated to reflect industry needs”, says Ms. Jenkins.

The MBA stands strong post crisis
Even though the degree’s reputation and value were shaken by the economic downturn of the previous decade, business schools are constantly in touch with real businesses to make sure the content offered in their MBAs is relevant and prepares well-equipped graduates. Through various immersion projects, collaborations with real companies, field trips, case studies and so on, today’s MBA prepares graduates who will be the leaders of tomorrow’s business.

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