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


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The Post-COVID World Needs Sustainable Leaders

Business schools around the world have had to adapt to the 'new normal', and Norway’s BI Norwegian Business School (BI) is no exception. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the school has pivoted to remote teaching, implemented a track and trace system, and changed how its campus is used. The priority was to keep campuses open to students as much as possible (respecting physical distancing rules) while classes were delivered remotely.

“Student and faculty safety was the priority, but we know students need an arena to work together face-to-face and socialize—but in a safe environment,” says Dr Janicke Rasmussen, dean for MSc programs at BI

“It’s been a very steep learning curve for everyone—both students and faculty, but everyone is adapting to the new reality,” she adds.

But these changes are only the beginning. Janicke predicts that in a post-pandemic world, there will be new opportunities for business school graduates, and a different set of skills will be needed to grasp them.

For her, to thrive in the coming years will take leadership skills, the ability to incorporate sustainable practices into your work, and an international outlook.

The growing need for leadership skills

Leadership skills have always been crucial for long-term career success, but today’s masters graduates can expect to use their leadership abilities  much sooner, Janicke (right) notes. Dr Janicke Rasmussen, Dean for MSc programs at BI Norwegian Business School

“Historically, BI masters graduates go to consultancies or big companies, but increasingly they’re joining smaller companies with flatter management structures,” she explains.

“That’s why we try to facilitate leadership skills and business acumen in our pre-experience master’s programmes: so students can take on an influential role with these companies straight away.” 

To help students lead through the current crisis—and future disruptions—BI introduced a crisis management course for MSc students last summer.  

Equipped with leadership abilities, BI students are finding ample job opportunities throughout Norway, despite the coronavirus pandemic. In the summer of 2020, Janicke reports, twice as many masters students secured internships as usual—many of which were conducted remotely. 

Norway’s resilience in the face of COVID-19 has also ensured that companies are able to offer jobs and internships.

“Norway is a small country with a clear strategy for handling coronavirus,” Janicke notes. “It’s been proactive, and the economy is resilient. In addition, many Norwegian companies have had a lot of help [from the government] getting through the pandemic.” 

Building leadership skills requires social interaction, however, which can be limited in an online classroom setting. The solution, Janicke thinks, will be to change the way campuses are used. 

“We’ll prioritize keeping campuses open so students can study, access the resources they need, and socialize,” she says. “And starting February 18, campuses reopened to students.

“Because we’ve established a very good online platform for teaching, we’re prioritizing students being on campus for these reasons rather than attending lectures.”

New conversations about sustainability

The shift to online work and learning has also reinvigorated conversations about sustainability. Faced with national lockdowns that restrict travel and other carbon-emitting activities, many businesses have become acutely aware of their environmental impact, and been inspired to change.

In this landscape, it’s important for business masters graduates to leave their program with a keen understanding of sustainability issues, Janicke thinks.

“At BI, sustainability is an important part of our strategy, and Norway itself is at the forefront of discussions about creating a green economy and sustainability practices,” says Janicke.

“We want our students to understand the value of looking at more than the financial bottom line and short term results. They need to understand that organizations must have a long term outlook and need to measure results in three areas: social, environmental, and financial performance.” 

With this in mind, sustainability issues and practices are incorporated in all master’s courses. BI has also taken it one step further with the introduction of a new MSc degree, in Sustainable Finance.

“Interest has been strong so far, and the program also reflects the strong research interest in sustainability issues among BI faculty,” states Janicke.

Working in a globalized world

Along with strong leadership skills and a good understanding of sustainability issues, masters graduates need a global outlook to succeed in business. This is especially true for graduates working in Norway: a small, open economy that depends on global trade.  

“International graduates add value to Norwegian companies by offering a new perspective,” says Janicke.

This may be why such a large proportion of BI’s international students (around 70%) land jobs in Norway when they graduate. After the pandemic, Janicke expects that opportunities for these alumni will only increase.

“COVID-19 has made us realize that we are so dependent on an international society,” she reflects. “The students we educate must have this close to their chest and take this understanding with them into working life.”

With this in mind, she is currently working on new ways to help students gain global exposure, even when international travel opportunities are limited.

Working collaboratively with other business schools virtually is a crucial future trend—of this, Janicke is certain. 

“We can connect our students with students from other schools much more easily now and they can develop their global network from the comfort of their home campus,” she explains.  

“We don’t want to look at our international counterparts as competition, but as an opportunity for cooperation.

“We’re committed to being part of an international network of business schools and universities. This is not only good for students, but also enhances opportunities to collaborate on research to move society forward.”

This Warwick Executive MBA Is Leading Vaccine Innovation At GSK

Developing vaccines isn't a simple process, especially in a race against a global pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies continuously look for new ways to accelerate research, development, and manufacturing to ensure that vaccines can have as wide an impact as possible.

Dr Lisa Banks recognized how technology can enhance scientific and medical innovation, especially around vaccines, and was keen to pursue a technology-led role within the pharmaceutical industry. For Lisa, the Executive MBA (EMBA) at Warwick Business School (WBS) was an opportunity to strengthen her business acumen and prepare her for this career transition.

She now leads digital innovation for global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccines in Belgium, where she identifies and evaluates emerging technologies to support the vaccine lifecycle. She credits her Warwick Executive MBA with arming her with the leadership skills and confidence she needed to succeed in a rapidly developing sector, enabling her to thrive as a female scientist and technologist in a traditionally male-dominated industry

Embracing leadership through an Executive MBA

Lisa researched various business schools that offered executive MBA programs, but WBS' high teaching standards, the array of modules on offer, and the school’s stellar reputation immediately drew her to the program.

Knowing that strategic leadership would form a significant part of her role in the pharmaceutical industry, Lisa was also attracted to the Warwick Executive MBA’s emphasis on this component.

“The strategic leadership development module taught us how to understand what characteristics we needed for effective leadership in various situations and how to build your adaptive strengths to your leadership style,” notes Lisa.

This adaptive leadership style has helped Lisa work in digital innovation, which requires navigating changing and often ambiguous situations. “Understanding how to apply these leadership skills has been crucial for my role,” she says.

Part of the strategic leadership module, Lisa says, is about learning how to bring team members with you to drive the change forward. “I found it interesting to learn about the potential barriers to change and how leaders can respond by building teams that will help them to deliver that change,” she says.

Working on enhancing the lifecycle of a vaccine is no small feat. Lisa must respond to changes affecting vaccine technologies as efficiently as possible, which may sometimes require utilizing team members' insight to bring about an effective solution.

Applying business knowledge to real-world issues

Knowing that she wanted to remain within the pharmaceutical industry after her Warwick EMBA but wishing to improve her skill set, Lisa turned to WBS’ CareersPlus’ Executive Career Coaching. This is where experienced executives work one-on-one with students to help fine tune their career plans.

“Coaching helps me to prepare and plan for my next career steps. I would set aside time before each session to think through what I wanted to get out of it, which aided in furthering my understanding of my career direction,” notes Lisa.

The EMBA Consultancy Project was a great chance to leverage her new-found confidence and practically apply the business knowledge she’d acquired. Students can apply theories, concepts, and frameworks learned throughout the program to a business issue.

Lisa completed the project with GSK, who she’d recently joined partway through her Warwick Executive MBA, looking into barriers to artificial intelligence adoption within her organization. “Not only was I able to apply the frameworks to a real business challenge, but the experience created great networking opportunities, interviewing GSK employees to inform my research,” says Lisa.

Through applying her learnings from the Warwick Executive MBA to tackle a complex business issue, Lisa has been able to advance her understanding of the organization she works for and further her career.

Thriving as a female technologist

Working in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Lisa felt it was important to study an EMBA at a business school that values female leadership.

WBS partners with the 30% Club, a campaign aiming to achieve 30% female board representation, offering scholarships for female leaders. As a high caliber female EMBA candidate, WBS awarded Lisa one of these scholarships. As a result, she recognized the advantage the Warwick EMBA would provide her to succeed in her future career.

Supplementing her experience with theoretical knowledge from the Warwick EMBA has further developed Lisa’s confidence. “It’s important to have several different tools you can call upon in certain situations, and a diversity of thinking, preventing you from defaulting to the same method each time,” she comments.

Aspiring to be a positive force of change within a male-dominated environment, Lisa understands the value a gender diverse workforce brings to scientific innovation. Leveraging diverse leaders' unique perspectives enables rich discussions and better decisions, she notes.

“When you're designing either an organization, a process, or a product, it’s important to understand the end-user at the outset, and thinking of this end-user from a diversity angle is essential for it to be successful,” Lisa concludes.

MBA Students Plan Study Abroad As COVID-19 Concerns Ease

Almost three quarters (70%) of business school candidates still want to study abroad despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to new Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) research released today.

The number of candidates who say they are very concerned about COVID-19 also fell from 41% to 33% between July and December in 2020, GMAC's latest Prospective Students Survey reveals. GMAC surveyed 2,515 candidates planning to enroll in a graduate business school program in 2021. 

Sangeet Chowfla, CEO of GMAC, said: “As vaccines become increasingly available prospective students around the world are seeing light at the end of the tunnel regarding the global pandemic.”

% of candidates reporting concerns over COVID-19

Figures relate to the percentage of survey respondents who reported having concerns over COVID-19 each month between July and December 2020.

International candidates reject remote study 

A major reason for international candidates’ not wanting to change their travel plans is the desire to live and work abroad during their careers. 

Over 40% of international applicants surveyed say their primary career motivation is to work abroad, while 38% cite living abroad as their main motivation. Many feel their plans would be affected by foregoing an international degree. 

While schools have adapted to offer remote learning, and business school applications have risen during the pandemic, some prospective students feel remote study does not offer the same career opportunities as an in-person qualification. 

28% of international candidates said remote courses offer fewer career opportunities, compared with 19% of domestic candidates. International students also often cite the on-campus experience as a major part of studying an MBA. 

Domestic candidates are more than twice as likely to consider online learning as their international counterparts. 31% are willing to study online compared with just 14% of international candidates.

Women more adaptable to online learning 

The survey found men and women differ when it comes to accepting studying online. 

Just 18% of women surveyed said they felt career opportunities were worsened by studying online, while 28% of men said the same. As a result, 50% of female respondents were willing to complete more than 30% of their program online, while just 43% of men agreed. 

Sangeet hailed the adaptability of the female respondents to the survey. 

“It is especially encouraging to find female candidates seeking advanced business degrees or career advantages despite the unique challenges and barriers they face due to COVID-19.”

While more men are worrying about career opportunities, a difficult post-pandemic job market has seen candidates increasingly feeling the need to enroll in a business school program to ensure they have the required skills and qualifications to be successful. 

Over a third of prospective candidates said the skills gap was their reason for applying to business school in 2021. Among business master’s applicants that number rose as high as 50%.  

Soojin Kwon, GMAC board director and managing director of the full time MBA program at Michigan Ross School of Business, believes candidates are well aware of the need to upskill. 

“COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted the future of work and the skills that are required for future success,” he says. 

“This is something that business schools are fully aware of and adapting to as candidates seek to upgrade their professional and leadership skills to meet the demands of the rapidly changing workplace.” 

US remains candidates' preferred destination 

The United States remains the top country for business school candidates who are still looking to study their degree abroad in 2021. 

Students from Canada, India and the UK list the US as the primary country they would consider to study abroad. Another popular destination was France, with both Germany and Italy listing the country as their preferred foreign destination. 

Students from Greater China overwhelmingly chose the UK as their premier study destination, with 27% of applicants seeking to study there. 

21% chose the US, despite a recent uprise in anti-Asian hate and racism, while just 7% said they wished to remain in China.

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MBA Students Get Strong Return On Investment Despite COVID-19

Al Dea is author of the book MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience and founder of MBASchooled. He spoke to US MBA students to find out how they’re getting the best possible return on their investment during the pandemic.

MBA students have found themselves operating under fast changing and challenging circumstances due to COVID-19. 

After talking with hundreds of MBA students over the past year, I’ve found many are asking themselves tough but honest questions about the ROI of the MBA, and how to make the most of the MBA experience. 

Despite these challenges, I’ve come across a number of examples where students have found ways to continue to get value out of the MBA.

Brad Vonick, University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business (’20)Finding The Silver Lining

Brad Vonick, University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business

Brad came to business school with a desire to expand his career options within the marketing function. 

While his MBA experience at Texas McCombs was almost entirely traditional in his ability to build new skills, develop meaningful relationships with his classmates, and open new career opportunities, like all MBA students in March 2020 Brad’s final few months were impacted by COVID-19.

Despite these shortfalls, he still found ways to benefit—some personal, with friends and classmate connections that stayed longer in Austin, and others for experience, communicating online with McCombs alums and employers across time zones.

He’s turned this perhaps unfortunate series of events into valuable knowledge. “As a result of COVID-19, I had to hustle even harder for my job search, which allowed me to explore other types of marketing that I don’t think I would have done otherwise without being forced to do.”

Brad now combines roles as a global partner marketing manager at Visa and as head of marketing for a golf technology startup. 

Willie Sullivan, Emory University Goizueta Business School (’21)—Forging New Opportunities and Relationships

Willie Sullivan, Emory University Goizueta Business School

Willie struggled initially with the transition to studying online during the pandemic, but after taking a step back and reflecting, he realized there were new opportunities on offer.

“I was so focused on the career benefits that I did not initially understand the value of growing my network more generally. I have had so many great experiences and made so many meaningful connections outside of recruiting and academics,” he says. 

After the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Willie wanted to do something to push racial equality and human rights to the forefront of business, which resulted in creating The John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition

Despite planning the entire case competition virtually and the challenges with COVID-19 throughout his second year, Willie believes that seeking an MBA is still absolutely worth the struggle he overcame. 

“I have had so many opportunities that I would have never dreamed of had I not come to do an MBA. Getting an MBA has not just changed my career trajectory; it has changed my life.”

Becca Jordan Wright, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School (’21)—Leading and Innovating in Unchartered Territory

Becca Jordan Wright, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Becca came to UNC Kenan-Flagler to build her leadership skills. Amid the pandemic, those were undoubtedly tested but she managed to go beyond simple survival; she thrived.

Becca took over as president of Carolina Women in Business right as she and her classmates found out they would be remote for the rest of the quarter. 

Becca knew she had a duty to serve her members but instead of jumping in, it meant listening first. “As type A, go-getters, we have a bias for action. But my team had to step back and listen to our members, to identify what programming was most needed at the time.

“I learned resiliency, and have plenty of personal experiences to talk about in interviews because of my experience as a student leader,” she says.

With the help and resources of the Adams Apprenticeship, a program for aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as her classes and the UNC community, Becca also spent her time building her food startup Piedmont Pennies, and plans to continue scaling the business after she graduates. 

“Starting Piedmont Pennies was the best and most impactful decision I made during the full-time MBA program,” she says.

Mitch Guber, University of Rochester Simon Business School (’22)— Expanding Opportunities

Mitch Guber, University of Rochester Simon Business School

Mitch started his career in the hospitality industry managing several luxurious hospitality properties across the country. He decided to pursue an MBA after being furloughed from his job.

“I had great expertise in certain aspects of business and in the hospitality industry, but in order to grow in my career I knew I needed more, and that is where an MBA came into play,” he says.

Mitch knew prior to enrolling in business school that he’d be faced with a hybrid learning environment, and to date, the experience has far exceeded his expectations. While he’s done his best to attend as many in-person classes as possible, he’s says the virtual learning experience allows for in-context discussion that may not happen otherwise. 

“We absolutely miss the opportunity to chat in the hallway between classes, or in larger gatherings, but I can’t help but feel fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by classmates, professors, advisors, and administrative staff who have worked tirelessly to give us the best experience possible,” he says.

What is the ROI of an MBA?

Since the full-time MBA is typically a two-year experience that can cost a significant amount of money as well as the opportunity cost, it is often a target of criticism and ire from pundits and experts. Despite this, many students see the value in the MBA still exists.

“I understand the concerns about the diminishing value of an MBA, but I think the value comes from what you personally hope to gain from the experience,” Mitch notes. 

As a career switcher, Mitch has relied on the education and insights he’s learned thus far to help him transition to a new career. He’s confident his MBA will allow him to “pivot more quickly and have more opportunities” than not having an MBA.

Getting a strong ROI from an MBA is about more than a post-MBA job and a salary boost—although MBA salaries remain high despite the pandemic.

“The MBA experience is more than the lessons you learn in the classroom. It is the industry understanding you gain through recruiting; the time-management skills you sharpen as you balance your personal and professional goals; and it is the extensive network you build in the program that stays with you long after business school,” says Becca from UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Outside of the short-term career transition, the MBA degree provides students with management skills that they will take with them for the rest of their career—and most MBA graduates will have multiple post-MBA careers.

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