With UK Higher Education taking stock of where it is and where it wants and needs to be after more than 18 months of turmoil due to the pandemic, what does this mean for one of its most coveted programmes, the MBA, in 2021?

Earlier this month, digital learning provider Edumundo spoke with Richmond’s own Dr. Greg Gannon, Director of Postgraduate Programmes, to share his thoughts on the MBA now and going forward.


Changes in programme delivery
The impact of the pandemic sharpened the ‘value for money’ debate on degree programmes: can online tuition equate for the price and time invested?

Obviously Covid changed everything,” Greg explained.

The move towards using the VLE to enhance classroom learning and providing a platform for blended learning went into hyperdrive.  Sceptics became converts overnight.  Students and Faculty adapted to the potential of online teaching and learning very quickly.  We missed the human contact of the classroom, but we found great opportunities using the platform for new kinds of teaching, learning and assessment. Many of which we have kept as we returned to the classroom.


Student recruitment – challenges but opportunities, too
As with all degree programmes, student recruitment is vital. The MBA is one of the most competitive fields out there, owing largely to the financial value it brings to universities and independent business schools and the demand for it from broad, domestic and international student markets.

Greg sees student recruitment competitiveness as nothing new but now with the opportunity for new markets and partnerships opening up.

Competition was always fierce. MBA students are well informed and discerning consumers. You cannot rely on reputation or successes in the past. New markets are emerging quickly for us. A large part of this is through a network of partnerships that we have been successful in creating.

Leaving the EU was certainly a blow for the sector. We have managed to put initiatives in place, such as our scholarships and partnerships, to ensure EU citizens feel welcome and to maintain the experience of studying in London that they have always enjoyed.”

One benefit to UK Higher Education as a whole has been the introduction of a new post-study work visa, named the ‘Graduate route’, providing opportunities for international students to work or look for work two years after graduating (three for Doctoral students). Greg also sees its potential as a student recruitment tool:

“The new graduate visa scheme is very attractive to MBA students who want to develop their career here in London after graduation. Career opportunities in London after graduation are always a common question during student interviews for the MBA.”

Besides new opportunities from international markets, partnerships, and post-study visa incentives, new student segments outside of the traditional ‘business graduate’ demographic are also emerging.


Students from non-business backgrounds
Many assume the stereotypical MBA student comes from industry, with some managerial experience, and ultimately holding a Bachelor’s degree in a business-related discipline. However, a more recent trend, sparked from the ‘Tech Boom’ and other industries such as engineering, biological sciences, has seen more students enrolling from non-business backgrounds. This ‘new’ MBA student is one with the technical, scientific knowledge of their subject but lacking in business management knowledge. They recognise the value proposition of their product/service but do not possess the know-how of managing this product/service as a business.

At Richmond University, the demographic is even more diverse as Greg explains:

Recently we have had people with careers in medicine, in military, in education, in the arts, in NGOs, in local government, even a few university professors. What these people all have in common is that they have experienced how organisations work (and sometimes don’t work) and they want to learn more about that. What they also have is a drive to enhance their leadership skills.  Maybe they do not come from a commercial business, but they understand the importance of raising money, budgets, setting strategies, communication, stakeholder relationships, building effective teams. All these things are developed on our MBA.

With new student markets and segments appearing we’re also seeing a requirement for new managerial skills across numerous industries.


Developing a new type of manager
The emergence and potential of remote-working may have largely been enforced during lockdowns but it was certainly not an unheard of proposition beforehand. Here, managers, and their employees, need to develop new working patterns, behaviours, and, not to be downplayed, skills to provide effective output within a remote setting.

Alongside this emergence, or certainly complemented by it, is the need for new managerial skill-sets, to steer the ship whether in troubled waters or not.

Greg’s focus is not just on the teaching of these new skills but on how to prepare and equip students to learn new managerial skills in the future:

I think it is important to make sure the teaching and learning strategy encompasses skills and technologies that are not just current but forward looking.  We need to consider ‘business futures’.  We need to equip graduates with not only the knowledge and skills currently valued by employers but also with the adaptability, open-mindedness, resilience, and commitment to lifelong learning that will keep them ahead of their field.


Placements – Remote setting opens new doors
While challenges to online learning initially took place, an added benefit was the opening of new placement opportunities via remote working.

Despite some trepidation about remote placements, Greg saw benefits to both the employer and student in this setting.

I am a huge advocator of placements (or internships).  For students who need to build a network or gain new experience they can be transformative. However, I was nervous about virtual internships.  But they turned out to be really useful. They suited the needs of employers and students at the time. Moving forward maybe they will fit into a more flexible working environment. We have noticed an upturn here in London of providers looking for good quality placement students in the traditional workplace for 2022.


Where next?
So what lies ahead for the MBA in a world recovering from the global pandemic?

Greg is reflecting on current and future trends and how these will feature in his MBA programme.

The ‘mega trends’ that everyone is talking about such as technology, data analytics, AI, climate change, and ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] are becoming central to the curriculum. I think there will be a move to a human oriented curriculum with enhancements to well-being and happiness becoming core aspirations of a business education. Of course, the core business functions must remain, but I think they will pivot towards value not only in financial terms but in terms of social and environmental sustainability, as well.

In summary, the MBA, as with all degree programmes, will have to adapt to a ‘new normal’ of business management. Anticipating new issues and how these will affect business management will be crucial in developing students as effective business managers and in turn recruiting students to respective MBA programmes.

As Greg has pointed out earlier, MBA students are ‘well-informed’ and ‘discerning’; MBA programmes will need to do the same.