As the world continues adapting to the impact of a worldwide pandemic, many industries – including higher education – wonder about which changes will stay and which changes will fade over time.
At the 2021 EMBAC Conference, a panel of business school deans shared their perspectives on the fundamental shifts taking place and the path forward, including balancing the emergence of technology as a game-changing force for education with the value of in-person learning.
“The in-person experience is very important to us, so we are thinking how the virtual component can be used to enhance various aspects,” says Francesca Cornelli, dean, Donald P. Jacobs Chair of Finance, and professor of finance, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
In the past, for example, MBA and EMBA students completed readings before coming to their programs. Now, the programs send them a virtual co-curricular session, which helps improve their readiness, says Cornelli. The school also is looking at applying the same concept of virtual preparation for classes and experimenting with a hybrid approach for evening and weekend students to respond to their need for flexibility.
Technology helps broaden the possibilities and offers opportunities to augment in-person education, says Christina Soh, dean and Goh Tjoei Kok Professor in Business, Nanyang Business School (NBS), Nanyang Technological University.
“Clearly hybrid is here to stay, but again the value of the MBA and EMBA experience is very much heightened in person,” says Soh. “It’s one more tool in our toolkit to provide rich experiences, and we need to be thoughtful about what can be moved online effectively, efficiently, for flexibility and convenience and reach and what ought to stay in person.”
Technology also paved the way for many successful activities around recruitment, career services, and coaching and making it more convenient for prospective students and students to participate, says Sharon Hodgson, dean, Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario.
Blended learning is a trend, as well as an increase in specializations, says Hodgson, whose school is exploring specializations around sustainability and digital fluency. The blending of executive education and degree programs also helps address an emerging need for lifelong learning.
“If we’re going to get this market right and think about lifelong learning, we have to create journeys for our students that navigate them through an executive education experience and then maybe into a degree program and then back out into executive education, so they keep learning,” says Hodgson. “They become intellectual athletes and they are constantly learning.”
During the pandemic, Kellogg expanded its portfolio by developing a new program in partnership with the engineering school, the MBA-AI, says Cornelli. The program focuses on translating the potential of artificial intelligence into business. Executive education at Kellogg also launched online programs, some with live components.
In Asia, master of science programs and specialized tracks for MBA and EMBA Programs are proving popular. “There is clearly a growth in demand for specialized skills as well as interdisciplinary skills, so a little bit of depth and breadth at the same time,” says Soh, who also notes a trend of increased industry engagement.
Thanks to partnerships with industry, NBS offers students the opportunity to work with an organization on 100-day, C-suite-sponsored strategic projects. In the last few years, students completed 200 to 300 of these projects.
The continuing education market also offers potential for the school. “We have seen an explosion in lifelong learning,” says Soh, and the school is exploring which segments of the $1 billion market offer the best fit and greatest opportunity for partnerships.
The deans agree that MBA and EMBA remain an important piece of the business school portfolio.
“One of the things that excites me about this job is our ability to impact leaders going into the workforce,” says Hodgson. “With the EMBAs, we’ve already got very successful individuals who are thinking about using the EMBA as a tool to accelerate their career. They already have a great trajectory, and this is accelerating that trajectory.”
Students gain from the dive into big picture issues and relevant curriculum. Faculty and the school benefit from the wealth of experience that EMBA students bring to the program. “It’s actually that virtuous circle between business and academia and we’re getting the most out of that through the EMBA Program.”
The best faculty want to teach EMBA because they enjoy the immediate feedback about what’s happening in the business world, says Cornelli.
EMBA helps influence practice by developing senior leaders, says Soh, and their insights about issues and challenges help influence faculty, staff, and administrators.
EMBA addresses business leaders at a specific stage in their careers, helping clearly define the customized program, says Cornelli. Business schools can help prepare different generations for the intergenerational workplace through programs that both address their specific needs, such as EMBA, and offer opportunities to connect with others, says Cornelli.
Degree programs are one part of the puzzle, says Hodgson.
“It’s not just the degrees, but it’s all those executive education experiences we should be providing in between the degrees. I don’t want people who are coming here for just that one moment in time. I think of the teachable moments that you’ve gotten through your career and how do you create a journey for students as they become alumni so that they’re continuing to think about their journey.”