Once the pandemic has passed, taking time out of the workforce won’t be such a risk: millions have lost their jobs or decided on a change of direction, and many business schools are expecting a boom in applications.
And yet the way such business education is most commonly delivered — taking up to two years out of paid work, and paying tens of thousands of dollars to gain an MBA at a highly ranked business school — feels increasingly out of date.
Do traditional MBAs have a future or relevance in a post-pandemic world? And if not, what is the alternative?
Those in charge of business schools have been aware of weaknesses in the current academic system for years. Applications have fallen at most US business schools for five straight years. Even at Harvard Business School, applications were down by about 6 per cent last year.
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One big reason for the decline in numbers is the drop in international applicants, many of whom are put off by US anti-immigration policies and the tightening of work visa rules. Now air travel is likely to become more difficult and more expensive — even if a vaccine for coronavirus is developed in the next few months. Do business schools need to become more local?
Price is a factor too. The six-figure bill for top-flight MBAs makes learning feel like a luxury good. Perhaps now is the time to provide graduate degrees as a subscription service?
Then there is the question of where you study. Even before global travel shut down, the idea of crossing continents to study at a highly ranked academic institution felt more than a little decadent. Alternative training provider Jolt, for example, runs teaching sessions from web conferencing suites in city centre co-working spaces and sells its service as a subscription. It also suggests that clients gaining enough credits from its classes get the equivalent of a business school education.
Is this the model for all education provision in the future?
The upside of the current crisis is that the opportunity cost of learning something new that will make you more employable in the future is extremely low.
So how — and what — should business schools teach, once the lockdown is lifted?