What Next For Executive Education?

The ‘cash cow’ of business schools looks likely to flourish as skills become outdated more quickly and companies seek to increase diversity in the boardroom

What is the future for executive education?

Executive education has long been the cash cow of business school, but its best days may yet lie ahead.

While applications have been falling for MBA degrees in the US, the biggest MBA market, figures from the UK’s Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) show that nearly nine-in-10 business schools are forecasting their executive education business to grow over the next five years.

Around half of employers surveyed by Carrington Crisp, an education marketing business, for a 2018 report, planned to increase their spend on executive education.

In an era of rapid business and technology change, one education surely cannot last a lifetime, even an MBA degree. Short part-time programs could be an answer.


Why the future looks bright

“Executive education is the most exciting part of business education at the moment and is likely to remain so for many years to come,” says Andrew Crisp, the owner of Carrington Crisp. He points to several bright spots. For one, there’s a constant need to update skills to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving workplace.

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“The half-life of skills is falling,” says Andrew. “What you learn today can be out of date in five years, or at least need updating. A way of delivering that is through a short [executive] course.” Especially since many business schools are delivering their exec ed at least partly digitally—meaning participants can acquire skills on the fly, without giving up their jobs in an era of incredible ambiguity.

Wharton, for instance, has 50 online courses and three million global learners have accessed knowledge digitally since 2012.

At INSEAD in France and Singapore, more than 20,000 executives have taken its online programs, with 90% of participants who have completed the courses saying they were highly relevant.


Read: How Technology Will Impact The Future Of Executive Education

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McKinsey & Company, the consultancy firm, forecasted that as many as 375 million workers may need to switch occupations due to automation and consequently, need to learn new skills.

“People will not just need to switch occupations, but new ones are emerging that are associated with technology,” says Andrew. “The ability to manage this digital transformation taking place in society will be critical.”

So it makes sense that schools, such as IMD, Harvard Business School, and ESMT Berlin, are delivering specific digital transformation courses to executives.


Credentials vs qualifications

Increasingly, executive education programs—both online and on-campus—come with certificates of completion. For example, from 2018 all participants who finish a short course with Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management receive a ‘digital badge’ that can be used in email signatures, digital CVs, and on social media such as LinkedIn.

These credentials can potentially help people with securing a promotion, according to research from FutureLearn, the Open University’s digital education platform.

Andrew says: “We have a generation of recruiters at the moment who did a traditional degree. In 10 years’ time the people fulfilling those roles will also have done a digital badge. We’re at a tipping point, where these types of qualifications will gain currency over the next decade.”


Diversity in the boardroom

The drive for better gender representation in the top brass could also be big news for executive education providers.

Albrecht Enders, dean of programs at IMD in Switzerland, says that companies are pushing for more women to enroll in executive education—especially those in the Nordic nations, which have a reputation for being one of the world’s most gender equal societies—though the supply is obviously limited by the lack of women at the top.

Albrecht says: “In certain regions 10 years ago it might have been an all-white male top team. Now they’ve made a concerted effort to fairly fundamentally change their top team structures.”

Business education as a whole has been male-dominated. Redressing the gender divide enriches the learning experience in the classroom through group discussion, he says. “Having more diversity and balance leads to better discussions and debates.”


Competition to come

With the growth in demand for executive education has come a growth in competition from new market entrants, such as online providers and even management consultancy firms like McKinsey, according to Teresa Martin-Retortillo, head of open executive programs at IE Business School in Spain.

“The competition is brutal in both custom and open-enrolment programs,” she says. “Clearly, knowledge per-say is available anywhere and everywhere and it’s often free online.”

How can business schools differentiate themselves from new competitors? Teresa points to greater personalization of the learning experience, and in-person networking, as ways to stay ahead of the new entrants.

“We put carefully designed personal development plans in place,” she says. “We address both knowledge and mindset, through more high-touch experiences that are actually tangible. It’s much harder to active a community and facilitate networking online.”

Executive education is a growing and competitive market, but there appear to be plenty of opportunities for forward-thinking schools to flourish in the years to come.

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