5 Ways Business Schools Are Changing

5 Ways Business Schools Are Changing

Social, technological, and geopolitical changes have caused business schools to change how they do everything—from delivering curriculum to conceptualizing business as a discipline.

Innovations in technology; geopolitics; millennials; employers; the financial crisis; the internet. All of these factors have required business schools to constantly change their programs and processes.

If you walk into a business school classroom today, what you’ll see will be radically different from what you would have seen several decades ago.

At the forefront of curriculum, you will see soft skills training, the use of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technologies. You will see different program formats and different kinds of students—homogeneity, meet diversity. You will see greater gender equity than ever before; growth in applications from women outnumbered men across all program types in Asia Pacific, Canada, Europe, and the U.S. in 2018.

And there may not even be anyone in the classroom. Students are just as likely to be found online, studying remotely at home or on the move, or on another campus halfway across the world.

Business schools have endured some harsh criticism in the past. MBA programs have been cast as elitist, hedonistic, male-dominated retreats, reserved only for big-time bankers and Big Three management consultants.

But business school mythology is an established genre. These aspersions are just those: myths. In reality, business schools are making concerted efforts to widen access to education, sometimes in opposition to politics of their home country.

For schools, the challenge is to be leading change. The first stage to achieving that position is to know what is going on around them.

Here are five ways business schools are changing:

1. Preparing Students for Jobs That Do Not Exist

According to McKinsey, one-third of jobs globally could be automated by 2030. In this climate, business schools are taking unique approaches to honing students’ soft skills—like communication and emotional intelligence—to help them handle tech disruption and the pace of change.

At Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands, staff use general therapy techniques in their training of soft skills. At Lancaster University in the U.K., MBA students are taught mindfulness on a yearlong Mindful Manager module, which includes team-building trips to the nearby Lake District.

The aim of both schools is to create more self-aware, responsible leaders, able to make big decisions in business with their potential impact on people and multiple stakeholders in mind. For Lancaster, mindfulness is more than just a method of coping with stress, but helps students develop better resilience, awareness, and the leadership skills that will help them manage change in a volatile business environment.

This changing business environment also means more emphasis on lifelong learning—one of four defining leadership principles at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Haas, explains Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the school’s full-time MBA, offers online classes to alumni covering “hot topic” areas like blockchain and data analytics.

“We’ve all read the studies that say half the jobs in 15 years are things that don’t exist,” Johnson says. “So, how do you help people prepare for—and take advantage of—those changes? That’s something our faculty are actively looking to address.”

2. The What, Where, When, and the How

In an interview for the BusinessBecause podcast series, The Business School Question, we asked Tim Mescon, executive vice president and chief officer of AACSB’s EMEA region, “What has had the biggest impact on business education in the past 30 years?”

His answer: technology. Technology, Mescon says, has created a student market that “wants it where they want it, when they want it, and how they want it.”

Online learning is changing where and when students learn. Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of AACSB-accredited business schools that offer 100 percent online degree programs rose from 25 percent to 37 percent. Research from the Executive MBA Council shows that 52 percent of EMBAs now include a distance-learning component.

Tech is changing what students learn. Italy’s SDA Bocconi School of Management has started teaching its MBA students the programming language Python. It is also training students to deal with the fallout effects of social networks, like how to respond to negative news online. “It’s about training students to deal with the consequences of new technologies,” says Francesco Daveri, director of Bocconi’s full-time MBA.

At France’s NEOMA Business School, how students are taught is changing, too. In marketing simulations, students use virtual reality headsets to analyze the setup of a reconstructed retail store.

MIT has announced a 1 billion USD investment to create a new college for AI and computing. David Schmittlein, dean of MIT Sloan, says the investment will have a welcome secondary effect in terms of how students learn about new technologies.

“It’s already bringing organizations with challenges in AI to MIT for student projects. Cross-campus collaborations with computing also allows our faculty to offer AI and big data courses that would not be available otherwise.”

3. Different Students, Different Programs

Peter Johnson spent six years away from Berkeley Haas between 2010 and 2016, leaving MBA admissions before returning as assistant dean. On his return, he saw that the students in the program had changed.

“No longer was it just the financiers or consultants, but people focused on foodtech, fintech, and social impact.”

In 2017, more than 50 percent of MIT Sloan’s MBA graduates accepted a job in a company where they were the sole hire from MIT; many joined fast-growing tech startups. At Haas, Johnson says about half of the school’s MBA students will change their career direction at least once during the program.

Students’ changing career motivations and demand for more customized, personalized programs is prompting business schools to innovate. Johnson says many schools are considering a new type of “sandwich MBA program,” whereby students take the first part of the MBA immediately after undergrad, step out to work for a couple of years, then return to finish the degree.

Plus, now 38 percent of prospective students prefer specialized master’s programs. Jean-Philippe Ammeux, dean of France’s IESEG School of Management, has overseen the growth of the school from 600 students in 2,000 to 5,500 today. IESEG’s 10 specialized master’s programs each receive three to four applications for each seat in the class.

Schmittlein at MIT Sloan talks of a “tsunami of interest.” While Sloan’s full-time MBA receives 10 applications for every seat in the class, its Master of Business Analytics receives 20.

“There’s never been a better time for the demand for management education, but what that means for people is becoming more and more customized,” Schmittlein explains. “That’s to the detriment of the two-year MBA, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a smaller fraction of what management education is to people, and what it should be.”

4. Globalization

Business education today extends beyond the MBA and the campuses of the American Ivy League. IESEG, for example, has 280 partner institutions globally and offers 30 dual degree programs. It has offices in China, India, and Latin America. “We want to cover the planet,” says Ammeux. “We want more and more [partnerships] to grow.”

Schmittlein, at MIT Sloan, says he is planning more engagement with business schools in China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. The rise of Asia as an economic power and center for global business impacts students’ careers, too. Bocconi’s MBA exchange program, Francesco Daveri explains, is centered on students’ career goals. “It’s not like an Erasmus. Students see China and the Far East as places to go and look for a job.”

That is something Li Wei, MBA director at Beijing’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), is keenly aware of. CKGSB is unique in China as a private business school, free from government control (although Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, has just launched its own business school).

“China has become a global economic hub,” says Li Wei. “Whatever you do, wherever you are, understanding China has become a prerequisite to doing global business.”

5. Business as a Force for Good

Ethics, sustainability, social responsibility. These principles are now embedded throughout business school curricula. Students and employers expect it. Accreditation organizations demand it.

More and more, since the financial crisis, business schools are having a positive impact on society and the environment.

Across the U.S., schools run programs for veterans who struggle to find employment after leaving the military. The Master of Business for Veterans degree at USC Marshall, for example, is designed to help military personnel use their transferable skills to transition into civilian life and make an impact. Various initiatives—many at government level—have helped drive veteran unemployment down to 3.7 percent.

At Bocconi, there are plans, through the student-run Ethica Club, to make the school plastic-free. The Ethica Club at Bocconi was launched to promote discussions related to social responsibility and ethics among students. Participating students connect with, fundraise, and volunteer for local nonprofits, preparing them for impactful careers post-graduation.

IESEG’s founder was a specialist in ethics. Social impact, says Ammeux, is in the very DNA of the school. The aim, by 2025, is to become an “international hub empowering change-makers for a better society.”

“It’s not only about money anymore,” Ammeux concludes. “Students want to contribute to society.”

The way business schools are changing means progress for society, too.


Marco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodenov.