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The impact of the Covid years on MBA programmes 
MBAS

The impact of the Covid years on MBA programmes  

By Glenn Hogg, Managing Consultant, and Rachel Post, Business Support, at AAB Consulting 

Leading change and transformation activities is a core requirement of all leaders, particularly digitally enabled transformation. 

Recent Harvard Business Review research highlighted that adaptability was the most important leadership quality when leading digital transformation (cited by 71 per cent of 1,500 executives). 

This got us thinking: if adaptability is a core quality in current and future leaders, are business schools focusing enough on this with their MBA students, and did the schools pass their own adaptability tests during Covid?  

Let’s remind ourselves that the primary motivation for doing an MBA is employability. The top drivers for most learners choosing to do an MBA are increasing salary, setting up on your own (Elon Musk may be horrified to hear this), advancing your career, and networking (source: postgrad.com). 

So, in producing future leaders, the business schools that hit the sweet spot will have curricula that have strong digital and change content, pedagogical methods that build adaptability in their students and a laser-like focus on the prize via connections to amazing business networks and partnerships. 

It may be relatively easy to get this right when there isn’t a global pandemic but what happens when the world moves, and stays, online? 

In 2020, business schools proved they could adapt quickly when they placed entire programmes online at short notice; now business schools must re-evaluate their curricula and value propositions just as quickly. 

One-year European MBA programmes are accelerated and highly condensed, potentially resulting in fewer face-to-face teaching hours, reduced opportunity for electives and potentially less learning content than their two-year US counterparts. 

This creates additional pressure on these programmes to focus on content that is relevant to the leaders of today. 

With the challenges of climate change, reduced social cohesion, workplace changes and talent mobility, curricula must reflect these otherwise the perceived value of programmes will diminish. For example, digital transformation is not an elective or a topic to be tagged onto existing courses; it is the lens through which we should evaluate all businesses and industries. 

As a first step, MBA programmes should drop case studies published before 2008. If business schools haven’t adapted since before ‘the great recession’, how can we expect their graduates to lead in a post-pandemic world? 

Similarly, as we are currently witnessing daily in Ukraine, modern leadership is less about corporate playbooks and more about authenticity and communication. Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky uses authentic, personal engagement and excellent communication skills to share and strengthen common purpose, successfully bringing an entire nation together. 

Business schools need to expand programmes beyond corporate models and frameworks and concentrate on the essentials for 21st-century leadership: agility, resilience and authenticity, as well as the ability to communicate and build strong relationships. 

With less face-to-face time for students on the shorter EU programmes, business schools need to consider how to deliver valuable connections that enhance employability and partnership opportunities. 

While many schools are returning to in-person classes or hybrid environments, recruitment and networking events remain largely virtual experiences. 

Many UK MBA students come from abroad and struggle to develop relationships with potential employers in their new location, especially without the benefit of summer internships. 

Placing one company representative in a Zoom room with 30 or more students for an hour won’t help most graduates get jobs in a post-Covid world. Schools should invest more resources in one-to-one mentorship as well as reducing siloes between alumni, PhD students, and other MBAs. 

Companies hire MBAs based on a certain level of confidence in their abilities, but trust can be difficult to build in a virtual environment. 

Business schools must work hard to build adaptability in students and the capability to lead in rapidly changing hybrid workplaces, as well as their ability to bolster interpersonal connections. Otherwise, potential students may bypass MBA programmes and seek lower-cost alternatives for learning. 

The market is already adapting as demand for micro-credentials and short courses grows rapidly. Similarly, the content available on digital streaming and social media platforms is improving in quality and can be accessed at a fraction of the cost. 

The next few years will reveal which business schools have been able to adapt their programmes quickly enough to come out of the Covid years stronger than their competitors. 

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