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            Live Updates: Coronavirus Impact On Business Schools

            What is the impact of coronavirus on business schools? We bring you the latest updates including campus closures, changes to MBA admission requirements, and more

            How Is COVID-19 Changing The MBA Syllabus?

            When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we responded by opening our laptops and turning on our webcams. Business schools around the world were forced to close their doors and move learning into a virtual or hybrid learning environment. 

            But it's not only how MBA programs are delivered that has changed. A new report from the MBA Roundtable, which surveyed 155 deans, directors, and faculty from 118 business schools around the world, reveals how COVID-19 is also impacting the MBA syllabus.

            COVID-19 impact on the MBA syllabus

            In nine out of 10 schools, learning objectives have remained exactly the same as pre-pandemic. Around half, however, reported some changes to the curriculum content. 

            COVID-19 as a topic unsurprisingly made its way into many programs. This most frequently came into courses on leadership, human resources, supply chain, and ethics. Rarer were courses dedicated entirely to COVID-19, appearing in just 17% of programs. 

            One respondent commented: 'Covid is a common concept given that we are all dealing with it. In a way, it has helped with integrating concepts across courses.'

            Business schools have brought in other changes to accommodate some of the adverse aspects of studying during the pandemic. A majority of courses have modified assignments, have brought in more flexible deadlines, and have introduced pass or fail marking. 

            Assessments have changed too, with many schools adjusting time limits for exams and assessments. 40% of schools have modified these assessments, while 29% have actually reduced the overall number.

            COVID-19 impact on MBA program delivery

            Unsurprisingly, a shift in how business school programs were delivered was one of the most widespread changes that schools witnessed following the coronavirus outbreak.

            In total, 88% of programs saw a change in the mode of delivery of their programs. For in-person programs, this rises to 98%. Hybrid delivery (balancing virtual and in-person) was the preferred form of delivery, chosen by 59% of programs, while the other 39% went entirely virtual. 

            The change in mode of delivery saw an influx of new teaching tools into the virtual or hybrid classroom. Breakout sessions were most popular, used significantly by 95% of programs, as were messaging and chat tools (93%). Lower down the list includes tools like gamification, Q&A functions, and in-class polls. 

            One of the more significant changes was a shift away from lectures. Use of lectures as a teaching method went down 38%. Instead, professors opted for ‘flipped classrooms’—where preparatory reading is done at home and class time is used for hands-on problem solving—which went up 72%. 

            IE professor Enrique Dans recognizes the challenge of engaging students in lectures. “If it's just you talking, and your teaching is one way only, you can try to replicate that in an online setting—but it's really boring, and students don't like it.”

            COVID-19 challenges

            Despite these changes, the majority of business schools remain confident about the quality and rigor of the MBA curricula. 

            Some aspects of delivery have been significantly more challenging, however: namely inclusivity and student engagement. 58% said that it was more difficult to deliver an inclusive learning experience, while 86% struggled with student engagement. 

            Outside of the classroom, schools met challenges in providing the other aspects which candidates come to business school for. Community building was found to be the greatest challenge business schools faced, with 88% finding it more difficult than pre-pandemic. 

            Zoom-based socials and online events have become ubiquitous, helping business schools attempt to recreate extracurriculars which forms a major appeal of in-person programs. 

            While business schools hope that, in time, students will begin to return to campuses, the majority remain aware that these changes may persist well into 2021. For now, laptop-based student life and a COVID-influenced MBA syllabus remains the norm.


            The ‘Current And Future Impact Of COVID-19 On The Business School Curriculum’ report was conducted by the MBA Roundtable, a non-profit that facilitates the exchange of information and resources on curricular innovation. They reached out to over 1500 contacts from 379 schools around the world to see how the pandemic had impacted their curriculum. 

            Of the 155 participants, representing 118 schools, the majority (140) were based in the US, with a handful from Canada (6), Europe (5), and Asia-Pacific (3). All respondents are affiliated with MBA programs—65% for full-time MBAs and 71% for part-time MBAs—while some are attached to business master’s programs too. 

            In terms of roles, 19% are deans, 37% are academic directors, 28% are non-academic directors, and 31% are faculty.

            Next Read: 

            Trends Impacting Business Education In 2021, According To Deans

            Business Schools Snub 2021 MBA Rankings

            To say COVID-19 has disrupted graduate management education is an understatement. Schools last year were forced to move most programs online; graduate career prospects were disrupted by a poor jobs market and reduced mobility; and students complained tuition no longer reflected value. 

            Now the pandemic has hit another aspect of business education: MBA rankings. A new survey by educational services company, Kaplan, has revealed fewer than a third (28%) of US business schools plan to participate in all MBA rankings in 2021. 

            Kaplan surveyed admissions officers from 90 full-time business schools across the US late last year. Among them were 14 of the top 50 programs in the US, as ranked by US News & World Report. Of the schools polled, 62% said they plan to participate in some MBA rankings in 2021; 10% said they don’t plan to participate in any.

            Reluctance to participate in rankings this year is a stance shared by schools globally.  62 of the world’s best business schools were missing from the Economist MBA ranking released in January 2020. The schools missing were either ineligible or declined to participate, or they chose not to survey their alumni and students . 

            The absentees included Harvard Business School, Stanford, Wharton, London Business School, INSEAD, and both the UK’s Oxford Saïd Business School and Cambridge Judge Business School among others.

            Schools missing from the Economist's MBA Ranking 2021

            Schools not in The Economist's MBA ranking 

            Why are business schools rejecting MBA rankings?

            The majority of business schools have added a layer of flexibility to their admissions process to help deal with the fallout from the pandemic. This includes making the GMAT or GRE optional. A school’s incoming cohort’s average test score is a key data point in many MBA rankings, and so waiving test scores would likely alter a school’s position in the ranking. 

            As the economy has been hit hard too, it’s likely that many schools found it challenging to boast employment and job placement figures as impressive as previous years. Salary increase post-MBA is weighted heavily in some rankings—like the Financial Times—and so as companies feel the economic squeeze and either hire fewer graduates or hire them on lower salaries, schools may be reluctant to report the figures. 

            This may recover later in 2021 as the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Corporate Recruiters Survey showed MBA starting salaries are set to bounce back this year. That doesn’t mean rankings will return to normal though. Not every organization chose to publish rankings amid the pandemic. Bloomberg Businessweek cancelled their 2020 MBA ranking.

            Long-term ranking fatigue will continue. Schools don't feel rankings represent what they truly offer. Schools also have enough to worry about during the pandemic—from student and staff safety to ensuring teaching quality is upheld online—and the administrative burden of the rankings likely looks uninviting. 

            Pascal Michels on how the Economist's MBA ranking is flawed

            The future of MBA rankings in 2021

            An admissions officer at a school that still plans to participate in some of the rankings told Kaplan they still believe there’s value in the rankings and candidates can use them as a resource to compare schools. 

            There’s also value for schools who come out on top. IESE Business School topped the Economist’s ranking this year and took to social media to celebrate, with no mention of the many big-name schools who didn't participate.

            For publications like the Economist, rankings  generate an audience. Amid a pandemic that has also hit the media hard, it’s no surprise there’s still interest from publications in producing rankings.

            However, optimism that the MBA rankings in 2021 still offer candidates value isn’t shared by everyone though. 

            “The challenges associated with test centers closing and admissions processes changing to accommodate this made for a less quantitative decision-making model,” says an admissions officer from a school not planning on participating in any rankings this year. “It does not easily translate to the criteria forced by the ranking methodology.”

            Pascal Michels, IESE’s former director of MBA admissions and now a senior consultant and director at MBA admissions company, Menlo Coaching, said in a LinkedIn post that his satisfaction with IESE topping the list was overshadowed by the list of schools not there. 

            “With the entire US top brass and heavy hitters like London Business School and INSEAD declining to participate, it seems that the industry is sending a clear message about rankings fatigue. I personally struggle to see how this resource could in any way be meaningful to applicants,” he says. 

            Menlo Coaching also tap into one of the major problems with MBA rankings, which is that the end result is often skewed heavily by average GMAT score and salary data.

            Are rankings still relevant?

            An MBA ranking that’s missing 62 of the world’s best schools should be looked at cautiously. But then so too should an MBA ranking with those schools included. 

            Each individual ranking, whether it be from the Financial Times, The Economist, or US News, has a different methodology from which schools are ranked. Just because a school is top doesn’t mean it’s the best school for you.

            MBA rankings should act as a guide; not as the be all and end all. You should focus too on whether you ‘fit’ with your target school. You should build a network of business school admissions staff and speak to MBA students past and present.  You should approach the rankings as a resource that makes up a small part of your overall school selection process.

            Check out our BusinessBecause MBA Application Guide 2020-21 to help you navigate your MBA application.

            IE Business School’s Online MBA Helped Advance My Career During COVID-19—Here’s How

            Remote working has become the norm after the coronavirus pandemic shut offices globally. 

            88% of businesses worldwide have encouraged employees not to come into the office, forcing people to become accustomed to working from home.  

            Stephanie Robles had to adjust to remote work in her role as director of global accounts at Xaxis, a media and advertising company which uses artificial intelligence and data to create tech-driven digital media for more than 3,000 clients worldwide. 

            Stephanie joined Xaxis in London in March 2020, as the UK became one of a number of European countries to announce lockdowns to fight the pandemic. She has never been to the office and has only met her colleagues once in 10 months with the company. 

            Almost her entire first year has been spent remote working, but Stephanie hasn’t been troubled by this transition because of her experience on the Global Online MBA at IE Business School, which she completed remotely in 2018.   

            Why an Online MBA?

            After graduating with a masters degree in communication from the University of Amsterdam, Stephanie moved to Australia to work in marketing and communications for ING. After returning to Europe, she spent three years working in PR in France and the Netherlands, before finding a job with Maxus Global, a communications agency owned by British multinational communications and advertising company WPP.  

            Stephanie worked in a variety of advertising consultancy roles for a number of clients during seven years at Maxus. She was promoted to client service director in 2017 when the company merged to become Wavemaker, and switched to working on the company’s internal business, focusing on improving partnerships with third parties and commercial models, and boosting company engagement.  

            Introduced to the business side of things, Stephanie says: “I started to realize that our industry is very interesting and dynamic and things are constantly changing. 

            “You always run out of time to learn, so I wanted to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. After the merge, an MBA felt like it was the right thing to do.”  

            Although she wanted to take a step back, Stephanie still felt she needed to work at Wavemaker while completing a course. She felt this would allow her to continue her practical learning as she handled more of the business side of the company, including working on ways to encourage more appreciation of the new brand. 

            “The online MBA opened up a whole world of opportunities for me because it meant I could look at London, Asia, and anywhere else in the world,” she explains. 

            Stephanie chose IE because of the Global MBA’s top ranking and because the school’s focus on innovation matched with her interest in entrepreneurship.  

            IE Online MBA

            Global Online MBA students at IE Business School can customize their experience by opting for a 17 or 24 month blended program, depending on their workload. 

            Modules cover key business elements including financial accounting and analysis, data analytics, and economics. They are taught via online video conferences and forums, as well as some face to face teaching which is spread across the course.  

            The blended approach gives students the chance to meet and connect with the people they work with remotely throughout the course. Stephanie says this helped the MBAs to communicate well during team led projects.  

            “We met face to face for the very first week, and if we hadn’t had that we wouldn’t have been as close,” she says. Meeting for a small amount of time meant the online section of the course worked well as students had a better connection with each other.  

            “It was so diverse because you had people who were older and younger and in different industries and parts of the world but it can easily come together because it’s online,” Stephanie recalls.  

            The online and physical teaching on the course aims to improve students in three key areas, innovation and disruption, management, and leadership. Stephanie found her leadership skills benefited most during the course.  

            Through classes in critical thinking, influence and persuasion, and leading through emotions, students are taught the fundamentals of being a leader. Along with the independence of working online, Stephanie found this helped her develop her leadership skills.  

            “You have to figure things out by yourself and have to learn how to adapt to new situations that you are not familiar with,” she says. “You don’t have time to go through books and books on it. You just have to go through it your own way and make it a success.” 

            Remote working during a pandemic

            After leaving Wavemaker, Stephanie became director of global accounts at Xaxis.

            There, she handles both strategic and commercial planning for clients all over the world, including top 20 leading global brands like Uber and Proctor & Gamble. This involves coming up with creative advertising campaigns using AI and other technology, and analyzing how the company can improve to provide the best possible value for their clients.  

            Handling clients from all over the world was important to Stephanie after her MBA. “The diversity of different minds was something I saw come to life in the program so that was definitely something I wanted in my next endeavour,” she explains.

            She hadn’t planned to relive the online element of her MBA in her work at Xaxis, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen her handling her clients from home. 

            She says her experience on the MBA prepared her for life working remotely, so she has been able to effectively work alongside her coworkers in her new role.  

            “I have to network with my team and work very closely with them even though we’ve never met and they don’t really know me," she says.

            "During the course, we were still a close group of people even though we hardly met each other, and we still are now.  You can still network and work from a distance, that is definitely something I learned from the MBA program."  

            Why Study An Executive MBA In A Crisis?

            Who do we look to in times of uncertainty? Our leaders. The COVID-19 crisis is like no other, but the skills needed to navigate the uncertainty of it are not new.

            Executives must show adaptability; the current crisis has highlighted this the most, with leaders and their employees pushed into a world of work alien to the one that came before.

            WU Executive Academy’s Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) is one program guiding leaders through the global pandemic and the challenges presented by COVID-19.

            BusinessBecause caught up with students and faculty at the school to find out why now is the ideal time to pursue an Executive MBA.

            Why EMBA?

            Whether they sit at the helm of a business or the top of a department, executives need to lead. Not just for the sake of business stability and growth, but to help guide those they lead. This is paramount during a crisis.

            That much is obvious to Barbara Stöttinger, dean of WU Executive Academy and academic director of the Global Executive MBA (pictured below).

            Those who chose to start the school’s program this year, Barbara suggests, knew the timing was right. “It was a deliberate choice,” she says, “and the question that we asked them most in the interviews was: ‘why now?’"

            The answer candidates gave most was that they knew they couldn’t rely on the knowledge that had brought them this far.

            The global landscape has completely changed over the last 12 months. Now more than ever, executives need to take the time to reset and learn how businesses work around COVID-19.

            Global supply chains have been disrupted, remote workers rely on strong digital communication, and the safety of workers has become a source of utmost importance for those at the top.

            Barbara emphasizes how the classroom—albeit the virtual one—is still the best place to learn new business theory. That virtual classroom paired with the global insight from WU Executive Academy’s GEMBA creates an environment where the experience of a crisis can be molded into practical business lessons executives can take into the workplace.

            Barbara Stöttinger, dean of WU Executive Academy and academic director of the Global Executive MBA.

            The value of emotional intelligence

            Simon Mashala, real estate manager and current GEMBA student, says executives need emotional intelligence to manage a crisis effectively.  “In a crisis, you need a leader with empathy and self-awareness about how their actions impact the performance of the team.” 

            The choice to study a GEMBA is not one just for yourself, he adds. “Do you want a leader who micromanages? No—you want a leader who creates leaders.” The trickle down effect of an EMBA in regards to workplace performance is a motivating factor in choosing to study during the crisis.

            WU Executive Academy places emphasis on real-world tasks and up to date management skills to impress on their students the contemporary relevance of business education, with modules such as leading people and organizations, and strategic marketing management.

            Students on the program also work with their peers on The Global Team Project which gives the opportunity to work in a team environment across cultures, industries, and markets, further enhancing their ability to lead their own teams back in their workplace. 

            While some executives, like Simon, chose a crisis as the opportunity to study the GEMBA program, not all executives were able to make that decision. 

            Daniela Jaeger-Bergaus, head of procurement services at Borealis, graduated from WU Executive Academy’s GEMBA in summer 2020. The last few months of her time on the program were in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

            “I didn’t lose anything in terms of content,” she says, “but I also gained new, more relevant leadership qualities thanks to the timing.” 

            In her current role, Daniela is now involved in a large-scale acquisition project; she credits the transformational experience of the GEMBA with helping her ability to manage a real-time crisis management project. 

            Whilst some of the expected components of a global program, like international travel, have been impacted, the longevity of executives’ abilities to work on a global scale will outlast the immediacy of current restrictions. 

            EMBA lessons for the future 

            There is a commonality between students now that wasn’t there pre-COVID, Barbara adds. Now that students have a crisis in common, they can work together towards stronger goals, creating a closer network of leaders. 

            Simon credits the GEMBA for advancing him professionally and enhancing his ability to overcome challenges. Despite restrictions to in-person learning and networking, he says he's benefited from the global connections he’s made on the program.

            Thinking back to the global financial crisis of 2008, Barbara asks students to consider: "What did we do out of necessity in the crisis that we can now keep for later?

            "I was worried then that no one was thinking about education, or risking their money,” she says, “but exactly the opposite was true.” 

            Like in 2008, applications to business schools increased in 2020 despite the economic downturn and many programs transitioning online due to coronavirus. As the economy struggles, more professionals are turning to education in the knowledge that they will be better prepared when the global economy and the job markets picks up.

            The answer to surviving this crisis is similar to previous times of struggle, Barbara concludes.

            “You want to be ready when the economy picks up. A crisis is a time of preparation to jump-start a better future.”