Prior experience is the most desirable attribute in an MBA student.

ENSURING that MBA programmes are taught in ways that maximise engagement with students and do not conform to typical teaching models is the biggest challenge facing senior business school decision-makers, according to a global study by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Education Centre of Excellence at Parthenon-EY, a global strategy consultancy.

Among the range of potential challenges listed in the Global Business School Leaders’ Survey, “being innovative or creative in MBA delivery” was ranked the most significant challenge by Business School leaders. Survey respondents cited this as a more significant challenge than other issues including: recruiting sufficient numbers of students; careers support; and retaining high quality staff.

Parthenon-EY’s Education Centre of Excellence managing director Danish Faruqui said: “The focus on innovation and creativity in MBA delivery is one of the most compelling findings of the study and indicates that business school leaders are keen to differentiate their offerings in an increasingly crowded market.”

The Global Business School Leaders’ Survey sought to identify key trends, challenges and regional perspectives on the future of post-graduate business education from leading Business School’s staff from across the world.

Opinions were collected via an online quantitative survey and a series of in-depth qualitative interviews. More than 170 business school staff took part in the survey and 10 gave personal insights into the challenges, trends and regional issues affecting the MBA industry, through extended interviews.

The findings revealed that the second biggest challenge, cited by business school leaders worldwide, was recruiting a sufficient number of students. This was particularly prevalent in responses taken from business schools in the Americas.

The survey also sought to identify where business schools are focusing their recruitment efforts and what specific attributes they desired most from applicants.

It found that about every US$3 (RM13) in US$10 (RM43) spent on marketing MBA programmes to prospective students was spent on social media advertising. Interviews suggested that this was due to social media being the most targeted and effective in terms of return on investment. In contrast, more “traditional” methods of student recruitment (such as MBA fairs) accounted for a substantially lower proportion of participating business schools’ marketing budgets.

When business school staff were asked which attributes they desired the most in candidates when recruiting MBA students, prior experience in business or leadership positions was ranked the most desirable attribute. In contrast, forms of standardised testing — be that academic or business school specific examinations — were ranked among the least desirable when making offers to prospective MBA students.

The survey also aimed to gain further information on the profitability of the MBA. Findings indicated that three-quarters of respondents indicated that their MBA programmes made a profit, however, only 47 per cent of respondents from Business Schools in the UK stated that their MBA programme surpassed breaking even — much lower than the 85 per cent reported in the Americas.

Looking forward to the future of MBA study, almost 70 per cent of respondents indicated that specialist MBA programmes were a growing trend, despite this, less than a third offered an industry-specific MBA programme at the time of completing the survey.

In terms of international students enrolled at respondent’s business schools, Chinese and Indian nationals were the most represented among respondent’s MBA cohorts. Of the 17 respondents from UK business schools that took part in the survey, 10 stated that Chinese people made up the largest proportion of their international student populations and on average accounted for 18 per cent of their total MBA cohorts.

In analysing the findings, Parthenon-EY identified four major themes across the study; innovation and competition; internationalisation; relevance and employability and digitalisation.

These have a major impact on the student lifecycle whether that recruiting students, delivering their course and supporting students to find roles upon graduation.

The study’s findings were presented at AMBA’s 50th Anniversary Global Conference in Dubai by Parthenon-EY’s managing director Ashwin Assomull.

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