by Jonathan Moules,
New top-ups and learning packages keep business graduates’ knowledge up-to-date
When the Association of MBAs, the accreditation body for postgraduate management education, gives its approval to a business school’s MBA programme, it does so for a maximum of five years. But when that same business school awards one of these degrees, it is for life.
This does not make sense, according to Bodo Schlegelmilch, who is both chair of AMBA and a professor of international management and marketing at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. He is involved in both assessing schools and teaching masters degree students.
“There is a good reason why we don’t accredit schools for life, because business education changes every few years,” he says. “We [at AMBA] believe that business schools need to change their business model.”
Professor Schlegelmilch argues for a new MBA business model, in which the degree is “rented” rather than owned by students.
Subscription business models, such as car clubs and music streaming services, have made it a smart, easy choice to rent the things we used to own, Prof Schlegelmilch says. It would not, he thinks, take a great leap to apply this logic to degrees.
Fees could be reworked as a subscription paid over a fixed period after graduation, after which the student must top up learning to renew their qualification. “Unless MBAs demonstrate a commitment to continuous professional development, their degrees will expire,” Prof Schlegelmilch says.
The biggest barrier is getting the governing boards of business schools to embrace such a radical change, he says. “I see that the education industry overall is too conservative, and obsessed with past achievements.”
Prof Schlegelmilch is not alone in wanting to see graduates top-up their learning to stay relevant. Some business school heads are already thinking along these lines.
Two and a half years ago, Michigan’s Ross School of Business began offering existing alumni and the 400 students graduating from its MBA programme each year an offer of free lifetime access to anything in its portfolio of education tuition, enabling them to return to the campus to study or take courses online.
Take-up has been in the hundreds, rather than the thousands for whom it is now available, according to Scott DeRue, the school’s dean.
To encourage take-up, the school has created new online courses, targeted at the needs of MBA graduates in the period immediately after they return to the workplace.
The most enthusiastic early adopters of the lifetime access programmes have been graduates with less than 15 years of working experience. These are people looking to gain knowledge in new concepts, such as artificial intelligence and data analysis, according to Mr DeRue.
“Setting up a more flexible programme for learning has been the easy part,” he says. “The harder part has been changing the mindset of students and alumni to see the business school as a place for personal professional development throughout the lifetime of a career.”
The pressure to change is not as great at highly-regarded business schools such as Michigan Ross as it is at the hundreds of MBA providers that do not appear on ranking lists, like the one produced by the Financial Times, Mr DeRue says.
Even so, Michigan Ross was among the many US schools where applications dropped this year. Its applications declined 8.5 per cent for the 2017-18 academic year. However, applications for its course were 30 per cent higher than they were five years ago, Mr DeRue notes.
“All business schools, regardless of their rank or position in the market, need to ensure that they are enhancing their relevance and value,” he says.
“But for some schools this is going to be a necessity to ensure their survival.”
A more time-consuming way of accessing ongoing learning is to earn more than one masters degree. Tulsi Parida, 27, a former New York high school teacher, is taking this route. She has two masters degrees on top of her original undergraduate qualification from Northwestern University and is now studying for a third — an MBA at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
“After I did my initial masters [in teaching] I did not think I would do any more,” she says. “But you should never say never.”
Longer lives and the growth in people taking second careers will create more demand for such life-long learning, according to Peter Tufano, dean of Oxford Saïd. Most of us will not take multiple masters degrees like Ms Parida, but Mr Tufano’s plan, which he calls “one plus” is for Saïd’s one-year MBA students to follow their degree with a pipeline of courses taken after graduation, while working, which would update their knowledge over the next 10 years of their career.
This could be provided, he believes, for a similar price to the two-year MBA programme — the most common course in US business schools.
But he thinks that schools will need to go further in the future, developing structures to support learning for the years after an MBA student graduates.
“Every dean worth his or her salt has thought about life-long learning,” Mr Tufano says. “We all need intellectual tune-ups.”
Ms Parida hopes her new qualifications will enable her to switch roles and move into investing in education start-ups which have a beneficial social impact. For now, though, she is focusing on “learning by doing” — by securing a full-time job.