Business schools pivot to find opportunities in Covid-19 crisis

Institutions are turning to blended teaching delivery options as a result of the pandemic, with providers seeking to mitigate adverse impacts on enrolment by extending deadlines or waiving testing usually required for the admissions process.

Many are hoping that enrolments follow historical trends that see overall numbers of students increasing during an economic recession, and have been buoyed by strong uptake of online learning.

“Business education is often countercyclical…people use the period of economic slowdown for upskilling”

“Like in the immediate aftermath of every major crisis, some schools will feel the consequences which may push some candidates to postpone their enrolment plans and companies to curb spending on executive development programs,” president of European Foundation for Management Development Eric Cornuel said.

“At the same time, business education is often countercyclical, which means that people use the period of economic slowdown for education and upskilling.”

However, schools may need to diversify student bodies to ensure financial and institutional stability, as well as cultural richness, he added.

“Turning back to national and regional students can compensate for the mobility disruption,” Cornuel said, while “mild” fee adjustments may be needed for some wholly online or blended learning formats.

“Agility, responsiveness and support is the name of the game. Schools that seize the opportunity to rethink their delivery modes and create innovative learning environments will become stronger in the long run,” Cornuel told The PIE News.

The Association of MBAs and Business Graduates Association said some members have seen 30% spikes in online MBA program applications, while the EFMD revealed some of its 937 members had shown a “significant” increase in applications in every program.

“From more flexible application procedures and deadlines, through online interviews, virtual campus tours, to live events run on social media, schools around the globe are trying to mitigate the disruptive force of the pandemic,” Cornuel continued.

Providers like John Hopkins Carey Business School have announced they will waive GMAT/GRE requirements for the remainder of the fall 2020 application cycle for full-time MBA programs due to the impact on testing facilities.

While online education will require further pedagogical training, it will “leave a permanent mark on the business education market”, he said.

Warwick Business School, London Business School and Cambridge Judge Business School have said they will offer students a blended form of learning as a response to the pandemic. This delivery method will become a “solid alternative, leading to a hybrid experience”, according to Cornuel.

“Business school leaders are more often than not fairly confident their institutions are innovating their programs with technology continually,” David Woods-Hale, director of Marketing and Communications, Association of MBAs and BGA said.

A 2019 AMBA & BGA survey of 239 participants found that 66% of leaders believed that their school was using new technology to deliver teaching and learning well, he highlighted.

Some have indicated that business schools could become “learning hotels and concierges” in the short term, helping their students get the best learning from across the world, accumulating credits, he continued.

“Learning looks set to become more immersive, interactive and responsive to students’ needs,” he said but added that clarification around networking opportunities, the size of the cohort, employer relations, career connections, alumni relations and the sense of community a school has, would be beneficial.

“Would-be students need a sense of narrative about the values and mission of the school that would inspire them to want to study there, regardless of the platform through with that study is delivered,” he continued.

Business schools have increased financial aid at undergraduate and graduate levels, Juliane Iannarelli, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at AACSB International, explained.

But significant scenario planning to resume face-to-face operations is at the forefront of minds at many providers, and many see opportunities for “silver linings”, she said.

A time of “rapid experimentation” has brought about residual business and educational improvements, and a small percentage of schools are considering adding programs in response to the newly anticipated learner or workforce needs, she added.

The pandemic has prompted Australia’s Kaplan Business School to focus even more on enriching students’ learning experience with innovations it believes will be sustainable beyond the crisis, according to Kaplan Business School & Kaplan International Pathways ANZ executive director, Steve Knussen.

“Despite the difficulties and unpredictability associated with the entire international education sector, this trimester we have recorded not only our largest number of student enrolments but also our highest ever levels of student satisfaction,” he stated.

The provider is looking to gradually return to on-campus teaching in July, with subjects at the beginning of students’ journey, such as its Graduate Certificate subjects and those that constitute the first year of all its Bachelor courses.

“This proactive measure ensures our youngest and most vulnerable students receive closer care and attention that comes from being on campus.  All our subjects, including those that we also offer on-campus, will continue to be taught online,” he told The PIE.

While border’s remain closed, Kaplan Business School anticipates “significant” recruitment challenges for the remainder of 2020, he continued, but the provider remains confident in the quality of its online delivery.

AACSB International does not yet see indications that school closures would be widespread, it said.

“Historically, business education has been an attractive option during periods of recession and job market uncertainty,” Iannarelli stated. However, executive education is likely to suffer as “employers are less likely to support employees’ participation”.

“We have recorded not only our largest number of student enrolments but also our highest ever levels of student satisfaction”

“Some schools have voiced potential opportunity as a result of the pandemic and its impact on unemployment, which may actually result in higher enrolment and demand in the coming months.”

In the opinion of EFMD, management education will do better than other disciplines during the crisis by attracting graduates from other fields, who would like to acquire managerial skills to help differentiate themselves on the marketplace, Cornuel suggested.

In the economic downturn of 2008-2010, enrolment numbers on MBA programs grew due to white-collar workers using redundancy pay-outs to fund higher education, Woods-Hale added.

“[However] this may not be the case this time, as those facing redundancy/furlough are frontline workers in retail, hospitality and the service industry who would not have the desire or financial support to complete an MBA,” he said.

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