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Technology Skills And AI The Priority For MBA Students, Says Survey

With the rise of AI tools and careers, a new survey finds MBA applicants prioritize artificial intelligence and technology skills over core MBA subjects

Fri Apr 26 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) and technology skills are the priority for prospective MBA students looking to enhance their knowledge and boost their career potential, according to a new study.

The Tomorrow’s MBA study, undertaken by CarringtonCrisp in association with EFMD, found AI to be the most popular desired subject for MBA applicants, with subjects focused on technology skills following closely behind.

Data for this year’s study was collected in November 2023, with a total of 2263 participants spanning 32 countries. The sample size was almost evenly split between men and women, and over three-quarters of respondents were aged between 26 and 40 years—the most common age group for prospective MBA and EMBA students.

Technology skills and AI are priorities for prospective students

With the surge of artificial intelligence careers and tools such as ChatGPT and Gemini, over half (53%) of prospective students are prioritizing the subject as their most desired content within the MBA curriculum.

The desirability of AI skills coincides with news from earlier this year that the surge of generative AI will lead to job cuts of 5% in 2024 alone, with businesses increasingly considering the technology to be essential.

While AI emerged as the most popular subject for an MBA curriculum, a strong focus on broader technology skills remains crucial. All nine technology-related subjects featured in the survey were highly valued by between 41% and 48% of respondents, including Technology Management, Data Analytics and Decision Making, and Digital Transformation.

“Students want learning that can be tailored to their needs and can be studied how they want. Technology is central to any learning. Those business schools that can provide MBA programs that meet these needs will be successful. Those that don’t adapt will find it hard going,” said Andrew Crisp, CarringtonCrisp, author of the study.

MBA competitors are on the rise

The Tomorrow’s MBA study also found a growing interest in competitors to the MBA, including short courses without academic credit from non-business schools.

‘Mini-MBAs’, particularly those with a strong brand attached to their name, are popular among candidates seeking a quick career boost. In the survey, all eight ‘Mini-MBAs’ listed were recognized by over 70% of respondents, with almost four in 10 (39%) stating they would consider a short non-degree course as an alternative to the MBA. 

Other popular MBA alternatives include professional qualifications (64%), Masters degrees (61%), and continuing professional development (57%). Among respondents, almost a quarter would skip an MBA if they felt that recruiters valued it less than they did in the past.

“Several trends are converging which mean that many business schools will need to review their MBA offers to continue to attract strong cohorts,” Andrew added.

Most prospective students (77%) consider it important or extremely important to have employer input in an MBA program, showing it’s crucial for students to know that employers are interested in recruiting graduates from their program.

Students expect to use AI in business school applications

The impact of generative AI in business education begins at application and continues all the way to final assessments. 

An overwhelming number of students (76%) plan to use AI tools such as ChatGPT to apply to business schools, and close to three-quarters (73%) expect to use them to complete assignments. However, the same number of students remains unconvinced that AI can fully replace the value of good instructional design. 

With 73% of candidates also considering standard exams to be redundant in the age of AI, business schools must develop new forms of assessment, the study reveals.

Growth in hybrid learning and international study

Self-directed and international study is a growing attraction for prospective MBA candidates.

For a large majority (72%) that plan to study full-time, less than a quarter (22%) want to remain on campus, with the remainder preferring hybrid or fully online learning. Among the latter, 39% prefer a mix of synchronous and self-directed study, while just over a third (36%) opt to study at their own pace.

Studying an MBA abroad has also seen a small uptick of 3% in this year’s survey, potentially reflecting a COVID bounce back. Among the 39% of respondents who express a desire to study abroad, 86% cite the desire for an international career as a main motivator. Other popular reasons include that their preferred school (55%) or desired specialism (51%) is outside their home country.

Despite this, several respondents report experiencing barriers to international study. Close to 40% find personal and/or financial circumstances make travel impossible, cannot leave their job to go abroad, or find that there are a good range of domestic business schools available.

With shifting priorities among prospective students, the report indicates that adapting business school curricula and assessment methods is key to attracting candidates to top MBA programs.