Alternative models for learning, online courses and economic strains are just a handful of things turning the higher education sector into a hyper competitive playing field. In some ways, post-graduate education is facing an even larger set of challenges. Rising costs mean many people can no longer justify the expense, especially if they can gain expertise elsewhere.
Students expect better value for money and flexibility.
Image by Charles DeLoye.
The GMAC Application Trends Survey Report 2018 makes for an interesting read on the topic, particularly in relation to how business schools are faring. The report itself contains analysis of data from 1,087 graduate business school programmes at 363 schools around the world (44 countries), so the results are genuinely insightful.
The findings are mixed, with some regions experiencing a downturn in applications and others witnessing an increase. For instance, the majority of US MBA programs of all types reported declines in application volumes in 2018, including 70 percent of US full-time two year MBA programmes.
Despite the picture in the US, overall volume of applications to MBA programmes is stable.
“In Asia Pacific, 75 percent of full-time two-year MBA programs report application volume growth, while in Europe about equal shares of full-time one-year MBA programs report application increases and decreases.”
How business schools can remain globally competitive was the main topic of discussion in a webinar that Studyportals, University World News and EFMD hosted in February 2019.
At the start of the discussion, Rahul Choudaha, Studyportal’s Executive VP of Global Engagement and Research informs us that one-third of all business school students are from overseas, making them critical to business schools’ success.
According to Choudaha, there are four overarching types of global engagement strategy for higher ed, and the schools that use them can be categorised as defenders, innovators, adaptors and challengers. This can be used as a framework when considering how different institutions approach internationalisation.
Traditional recruiters of international students in English speaking countries.
Always looking to adopt new approaches, such as shorter programmes and lifelong learning models.
Eager to tap into the trend for online blended learning and transnational education.
Situated in continental Europe, China and Southeast Asia, these institutions are characterised by their ambition to become world class.
Throughout the webinar discussion, the panel’s participants explored some of the challenges business schools face and presented ideas for these could be overcome. Nadine Burquel, Director of Business School Services at EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development) focused on the importance of “quality”, emphasising that in order to future-proof programmes, it needs to be at the core.
EDMD has created 12 key dimensions to assess quality, including categories such as learning resources, student support and the international office. Burquel also raised the issue of “capacity”, explaining that mobile students are set to increase by 25% in the next few years, so business schools need to have the space and resources to accommodate them.
Panel member Thomas Froelicher, Director General and Dean of Rennes School of Business in France, highlighted the importance of diversity, which international students expect when they study abroad. He explained that his institution has at least 70 different nationalities on campus at any given time and he believes that there should be “less than 20% of students from any one country in any particular classroom.”
Also speaking on the topic of diversity, Angus Laing, Dean of Lancaster University Management School in the UK, added that over a third of students at his institution are international: “We have campuses in Malaysia, Ghana, China and Germany, and we push students to be mobile,” he explained.
The issue of Brexit was inevitably raised too. International student worries over practical things like visas are having an effect, as is the notion that the UK is no longer as “open” to international study as it was before the referendum.
Laing explained that Lancaster Management School has established a Global Experience Team to help tackle this challenge and ensure international students continue to feel welcome and supported. Rennes School of Business is doing something similar. “We have developed a Global Business Unit that specialises in welcoming students, managing the programmes and working with alumni,” Froelicher said.
“China aims to bring half a million international students into the country by 2020 and that target is backed up by political and economic strategy, so we must stay awake to this,” explained Burquel.
Froelicher pointed out that, in light of this, it’d be interesting to see if Chinese students want to stay in Europe, stating: “It is important that we don’t go with a Western-dominant view.”
To remain globally competitive, business schools need to adapt in line with students’ needs and expectations. As well as the influence of the changing global political and economic landscape, technology will alter what we learn and how we learn, and business schools will have to continue to expand their learner base - both at home and internationally.
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