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COVID-19 To Black Lives Matter: Why MBA Students Are Learning About Social Impact
Both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have pushed social issues to the fore in 2020, and businesses are responding.
US companies donated more than $450 million to social and racial justice groups in the wake of the 2020 BLM protests, with giants like Sony Music pledging $100 million.
In the UK, Coca Cola, BP, PwC, and countless more signed the C-19 Business Pledge, vowing to leverage their power however they can to help the pandemic, and protect both employees and customers.
As companies becomes increasingly conscious of their effect on society, the onus is on business schools to incorporate added social impact into their teaching.
At the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, MBA’s are using the social innovation track, an extra thing, to apply hands-on learning experiences with non-profits, service learning projects, and B Corp initiatives.
Such initiatives are key to ensuring the focus on social impact will lead to genuine change.
The shift to social impact
Consumer demand drives the long-term shift towards social impact in business, Sundar Bharadwaj (pictured right), a professor of marketing at Terry College, explains.
“Customers increasingly expect brands to have a social purpose, not just a great product” says Sundar, who focuses his research on how businesses leverage their power for social good, and how it reflects in their branding.
Research from the UK backs this up, where B Corp certified companies—businesses commited to ethical business practices and goals— experienced an average year-on-year growth rate of 14%.
Zack Godfrey is a recent Georgia Terry MBA graduate, with a background in driving social impact initiatives through big corporations such as Hewlett Packard (HP). He believes the trend is partially generational, with millennials tending to have more interest and knowledge about where their products are coming from.
“Because of these changes, social impact is now being used by brands to guide communications, inform product innovation, and steer investments towards social causes,” adds Sundar.
This has sparked a transformation in marketing, which traditionally promoted products based on their functional and emotional attributes.
Now, there is an added societal attribute, leaving companies scrambling to become, or at least appear to become, more social impact-oriented.
Studying social impact at business school
As a result of this wider shift in business, MBAs see social impact as a vital part of their business school curriculum.
When researching his MBA, Zack (pictured right) was attracted to the strong links the Terry College shared with local businesses dedicated to social impact.
During his studies, he became a board member for Athens Made, a non-profit guiding such businesses in achieving their impact-driven goals.
These contacts give the Terry College an edge in terms of offering real world experience. Of the 2020 MBA cohort, 100% of gained internships, many of them with a social impact focus.
“With experiential learning opportunities, you learn a lot more than just looking at a textbook, and you get to apply your knowledge right away” says Zack.
“The variety of work experience on offer at Terry College also prepares you particularly well for consulting roles, where you’ll work on a huge range of projects throughout your career” he adds.
A quarter of Terry College MBA graduates go into consulting. Zack joined a consulting project to maximise internal operations efficiency during the continued fight against COVID-19.
Consultancy provides MBAs with chance to direct multiple companies towards social impact across various initiatives, meaning a broader potential for change.
How can firms do better?
By bringing their knowledge and values from business school into the corporate world, MBAs are well placed to help firms develop their social impact work.
One key teaching in Sundar's classroom is the need for firms to commit to measurable goals over a sustained period. It is the only way to ensure that social impact becomes a real movement, not just a marketing trend.
“With the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses made one-off donations, but failed to make any significant long term goals around the cause,” explains Sundar. “It’s very episodic right now— we need systematic change.”
Zack agrees the answer lies in long-term goals, and businesses need to demonstrate goals beyond hitting their quarterly numbers, a lesson he learned directly from his work with B Corps during his MBA.
The frameworks B Corp provided, explains Zack, were particularly useful in equipping him to help local businesses scale up whilst sustaining a commitment to social impact.
The real challenge is how larger corporations can make this shift into becoming more sustainable and ethical, when they already have complex supply chains and a pre-established brand identity.
Though these companies face more of a challenge than smaller businesses that have been impact driven from the start, Sundar says the big corporations have the real power to enact meaningful change.
In which case, MBAs must be educated in social impact, since it's the MBA candidates of today who will run big business tomorrow.
“We need to start doing things differently in business,” Zack concludes. “As MBA programs continue to evolve to meet the challenges of the future, Terry College of Business is poised to become a leader in that space.”
The COVID-19 Track And Trace Systems Keeping Business Schools Open
Michelle Schröder’s life on the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management campus is a little different this semester. She wears a face covering in all public spaces, disinfects her hands as she enters campus, and social distancing restrictions limit her to being within two meters of her peers.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on business schools, the Master in Auditing student has been welcomed back to campus for the fall semester alongside a wave of other business school students in Europe. Business schools in Europe have been preparing their campuses for the return of students in line with national government regulations that require strict social distancing and hygiene protocols.
These measures are in place for prevention, but when cases inevitably surface it will be the COVID track and trace systems that keep business schools open and ensure education can continue.
Frankfurt School of Finance and Management’s CoronaTracer
Frankfurt School of Finance and Management has partnered with software company INFORM to bring the firm’s CoronaTracer to campus. The tracers are small, battery-powered devices students carry on their person.
Each tracer is powered by Bluetooth technology and is equipped with a unique id number. The tracers scan for other tracers every 10 seconds and if they come into contact with another tracer at a distance under two meters the id numbers are logged. There is a QR code on each tracer that when scanned shows the list of devices that could be at risk should a student be tested positive for coronavirus.
Karolina Kristic, the CFO and chancellor of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, explains that using INFORM’s technology means the school can act more efficiently than if they used the government’s contact tracing app. There were also issues when that app first launched.
The Corona Warn App—the German government’s app designed by the Robert Koch Institute, the leading health advisor to the German government—was difficult to download without a German SIM card and only available in German when it was first rolled out, Karolina explains.
There was a need for a quick and efficient way of tracking students who came into close contact with one another so that Frankfurt School could welcome students, staff, and faculty back to campus.
Once INFORM’s technology had been found, Frankfurt School managed to negotiate with the local Works Council to write into faculty and staff contracts that wearing the tracer on campus was obligatory. For students it’s optional but those who choose not to wear the tracer have to take their curriculum fully online. Karolina says that the acceptance rate for the tracer among students has been very high and all students coming back to campus agreed to wear it.
“I am absolutely shocked that not so many institutions have picked it up yet,” she says. “I think it works brilliantly; the only thing people want to know is have I been close to anyone.”
What happens when there's a positive case at Frankfurt School?
- The school are informed by the student/staff member who tested positive.
- Somebody from Frankfurt School's team goes to pick up their tracer.
- QR code on the tracer is scanned and the people who have been in close contact with the tracer are informed.
- They then go into a period of quarantine until they've been tested and confirmed negative.
There is a testing center at Frankfurt airport that can turn around results in 12 hours; there’s also a test that returns results in four. Having this tracing system in place at Frankfurt School makes it safer to attend university and much easier to react when there is a positive case, explains Michelle (pictured below).
“I wasn’t worried at all to go back to campus because of how transparent the school had been with communication. The other preventative measures are already quite good, but the tracing system allows us to make sure you don’t have bigger breakouts of coronavirus at university without knowing it.”
National government COVID track and trace apps
Other schools have opted to use their national government’s application to track and trace coronavirus cases on campus. HEC Paris welcomed students back to campus for the fall semester and have a tracing system in place that falls into the school’s wider public health policy.
The school’s policy consists of prevention, awareness, and how to act when there’s a positive case, explains Marcelle Laliberté, assistant dean of students at HEC Paris. Marcelle is also studying for a PhD in education and trained with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University over the summer on prevention measures for coronavirus.
On campus, students are encouraged to download the national government’s application, stopCOVID, which is available in both English and French. Rather than developing their own application, Marcelle (pictured right) believes that working together is the best way to tackle the virus on campus.
“I’m a strong believer of working with local public health authorities, different experts, and other business schools,” she explains. “We try to have this holistic approach to COVID and to focus on tracking and tracing through the COVID app.
“You can never force anyone to download the app, so we highly encourage it. It’s individual actions that are making it better for someone you may not know.”
What happens when there's a positive case at HEC Paris?
- The student/staff member quarantines or self isolates in one of the reserved spaces on HEC Paris's campus for COVID-19 cases.
- There's an interview to find out who the student/staff member have been in contact in the past 48 hours.
- If they have downloaded the tracing app the app will alert all other users who've been in close contact.
- The original case and those they've been in close contact with quarantine and get a test.
- If it's negative they return to campus.
HEC Paris won’t know if someone has been informed on the app that they’ve come into close contact with someone who has been tested positive for coronavirus—that information is covered by GDPR. The health authorities will inform the school if there’s a concern, but Marcelle explains that so far it has been the students on campus who have been self-reporting.
Marcelle explains that HEC Paris agreed with the local health authorities to train their nurses to be able to conduct testing on campus. There have been no cases on campus yet.
Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is following the same protocol as HEC Paris. The school is set to welcome its MBA students back to campus in October. Classes have begun for the rest of the school.
Ian Rogan (pictured below), the executive director of Copenhagen’s MBA and Part-Time programs, explains that there have been isolated cases on the Copenhagen Business School campus, but that they were tracked, traced, and contained.
Under the broader context of prevention and maintaining social distancing, the school took the decision to begin the fall semester in a hybrid model—the full-time MBA students will take classes in person due to the small class size—mixing online and in person classes.
For those students returning to campus the school encourages them to download the Smittestop app—the government’s coronavirus app—to help track any outbreaks of the virus.
The app stores data for 30 days and collects the id number of any Smittestop user students come into contact with. If someone using the app develops coronavirus then you will receive an alert—the contact information is private and you won’t know with whom you’ve been in close contact.
What happens when there's a positive case at Copenhagen Business School?
- If a student/staff member has symptoms they stay at home and get a test.
- They call a CBS hotline, and the case is passed onto a senior team at CBS who consult with the local health authorities.
- CBS are advised whether they need to send students home or temporarily shift to fully online courses.
- When the original case's test comes back positive there's an interview process to track and trace people that person has been in contact with. Classes aren't sent home if there's a single COVID-19 case.
- All email and text communication is pre-prepared and if the student is using Smittestop an alert will be sent to other users they've been in close contact with.
- Students that might have been in close contact with the case, less than a meter for more than 15 minutes, have to self-isolate and get a test.
- They can return when the test is negative.
As business schools get further into the fall semester more cases will inevitably break out. Alongside preventative measures that include social distancing, strict hygiene protocols, and hybrid teaching models, successful track and trace systems are the real key to remaining open for the longer term.
MBA Salaries Bounce Back After Coronavirus Uncertainty
MBA students who graduated this year can expect to earn a salary of around $105,000, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council's (GMAC) latest Corporate Recruiters Survey.
GMAC gathered data from 712 employers in February 2020, and data from a further 232 employers in June, after the effects of the coronavirus pandemic took hold. These employers represented a range of industries and geographies, but the majority (80%) were based in the United States.
Back in May, the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted a 30% drop in MBA salary prospects in 2020 compared with 2019. Over the past few months, however, this outlook has improved.
Salary by Program
MBA graduates continue to command the highest salaries of any graduate management program.
At the start of the year, employers expected to pay MBA hires a median salary of $115,000. Although this median has since dropped to $105,000, it still outstrips the average salaries of graduates from other business school programs.
In February 2020, employers reported that Master in Management and Master of Accounting graduates would be paid a median salary of $75,000. Graduates from Master of Data Analytics and Master of Finance programs can expect a higher salary, however—with medians of $85,000 and $80,000 respectively.
The marked difference between MBA and Masters salaries likely reflects the difference in average years’ experience.
Most MBA students join the program with several years experience behind them, while business master's students often come to programs earlier in their career.
Salary by industry
GMAC's survey also revealed which industries pay MBA graduates the highest salaries.
Consulting takes the lead, paying a median salary of $145,000, ranging as high as $165,000 for the top 25% of earners in the industry.
MBAs working in technology and finance can both expect an average starting salary of $115,000.
Confidence in MBA hires
Overall, employers continue to place a premium on graduate management education, and despite taking a dip, graduate salaries reflect this.
According to GMAC’s data, the vast majority of employers—86%—do not plan on reducing salaries, benefits, or bonuses for business school grads hired in 2020, emphasizing the value they perceive in business school qualifications.
The skills that business school helps foster may be especially important during periods of crisis.
Abilities like critical thinking, communication, and managing technological disruption are expected to be at the top of employers’ wish lists as the ongoing pandemic continues to push the pace of change in almost every industry.
MBA Hiring Set To Rebound In 2021 After COVID-19 Dip
Employers expressed optimism that MBA hiring will rebound in 2021 to pre-COVID-19 levels after a dip during the pandemic. That’s according to the 2020 Corporate Recruiters Survey published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
Before the pandemic, 92% of firms surveyed said they planned to hire MBA graduates in 2020. That figure then dropped to 77% among employers surveyed amid the global health crisis. But when GMAC asked employers about their hiring plans for 2021, nearly 90% responded by saying they plan to hire MBA graduates next year.
The optimism expressed by employers comes despite the uncertainty and economic retraction that has gripped the global economy since March 2020. The report was nearing conclusion in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding.
GMAC initiated additional data collection that gives a clearer picture of the economic impacts the pandemic has had and will have across MBA hiring and salary trends.
The confidence employers have in the skills and abilities of graduate management talent indicates the roll business school graduates will play in the post-pandemic economic recovery.
MBA skills still attractive to employers
Before COVID-19, 90% of respondents indicated they were highly confident or confident about the ability of business schools to prepare students for success in their organization. That figure held steady at 87% in surveying performed this summer, highlighting the attractiveness of MBA degree holders and their ability to perform in times of transition and change.
Recruiters indicated strategic thinking, communication skills, and versatility as the skills they’re most confident in when it comes to a business school’s ability to prepare graduates for success in the workforce. These skills hold steady across the entire report.
One of the more noteworthy shifts when examining skills demand is the ability to navigate the challenges of technological disruption, which was identified by more than two-thirds of employers who responded as becoming more important as a result of COVID-19, followed by strong communication skills.
“Talent in an organization is vital to growth and a firm’s ability to innovate, a reality in any environment,” said Jay Nibbe, GMAC board member and Global Vice Chair for Markets at EY.
“The skills highlighted in this report represent significant competitive differentiation when it comes to a company’s ability to compete and create value in the marketplace, and they become even more important amid turmoil and constant change.”
Rahul Choudaha, director of industry insights at GMAC, pointed out that the research in the report shows that as the pandemic resets the global economy and job market, corporate recruiter confidence in the skills and abilities of graduate management talent remains strong.
“This aligns with 2021’s robust MBA hiring projections as organizations plan for their recovery in a post-COVID world which demands meta-skills integral to managerial talents such as versatility and strategic thinking,” he said.
GMAC’s president and CEO, Sangeet Chowfla, added: “When thinking about the skills and experience required to help organizations and industries rebuild after an event like COVID-19, it makes sense that employers are expressing a desire to hire more MBA and business master’s graduates.
“The world was changing rapidly even before the current pandemic and while COVID-19 has brought with it perhaps unprecedented challenges across every sector, b-school classrooms have long been preparing MBA students for a dynamic and often uncertain environment. Employers place a premium on that kind of talent and perspective.”
MBA salaries remain strong despite economic uncertainty
Compensation for MBA graduates is a key pull of the degree, and the 2020 Corporate Recruiters Survey showed for the class of 2020 salaries will remain strong.
Most recruiters expressed intent to honor their organization’s compensation promises, with a minority of respondents saying they will reduce salaries, benefits, or bonuses.
The compensation premium commanded by business management graduates is also holding steady.
At $115,000, the median salary of MBA degree-holders is 75% more than those with a bachelor’s degree in pre-COVID sampling. That figure decreased slightly to $105,000 in post-COVID surveying.
The compensation premium is even more apparent for Fortune 100 companies and the big-three industries of hire for MBA graduates—consulting, finance, and technology. At $145,000, the median salary of MBA’s in the consulting industry is twice that of bachelor’s degree holders as indicated in data collected prior to March 17th.
With it looking less likely that MBA salaries will soften amid the COVID-19 environment and employers intending to hire MBA talent at the rate they did pre-pandemic in 2021, the value of graduate management talent will remain despite the economic uncertainty prevalent since March. In an uncertain world organizations need talent, and that’s a good sign for the business school class entering in 2020.