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9 Trends That Will Shape Business Education In 2020, According To Deans

How will business education change in 2020? What trends will take the industry by storm? Business school deans make their predictions for the year ahead

Mon Jan 13 2020

What trends will shape business education in 2020? Will the MBA survive? Will more students study abroad? Will more schools focus on the impact of big data and artificial intelligence?

Every year, BusinessBecause asks deans of top business schools about the most pressing issues affecting the MBA and business education over the next 12 months.

Last year, deans predicted more specialized MBAs would emerge in the Asia Pacific, that the UK would benefit from Brexit, and that the US would continue to see a decline in applications. But what of this year?

Here are nine trends that will shape business education in 2020.

1. MBA grads with knowledge of big data and AI will be in high demand


Dr. Patrick Duparcq
Dean of the Graduate School of Business, Nazarbayev University

Globally, technological advances such as digitalization, IOT, big data, and artificial intelligence keep impacting the way companies create value for their customers.  Any graduate with a firm understanding of those technological trends will be in high demand.  

The impact will likely be more pronounced in developed economies where highly competitive environments force companies to be more innovative in differentiating value propositions. The companies in our network also stress that they expect more soft skills such as leadership, communications skills, creativity, and innovation from their work force.  

MBA graduates don’t have to be computer engineers, electrical engineers, or data scientists.  But they do have to understand that a significant part of the value creation in companies revolves around connectivity and platforms (IOT & sensor networks) and interpreting massive amounts of data generated by 24/7 anything/anywhere/anytime connected customers and products. 

Business graduates without a solid understanding of how technological solutions can generate value for customers will be hopelessly stuck in the 20th century and be at a disadvantage on the field where competition really takes place in the 21st century:  customer intelligence. 

2. A continuing shift in international student mobility


Peter Tufano
Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Finance at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

I suspect the biggest short-term change will be the continuing shifts in international student mobility and movement. The preferred destinations of students, especially from outside the US, are shifting quickly and dramatically.

This wave can quickly alter the composition of MBA programs, if schools move to diversify their student bodies. At Oxford, we have worked hard to create a student body that looks like the world will be in 2050, and with that in mind have, for example, more than 13% of our class from Africa.

3. More schools will adopt responsible leadership


Professor David Allen
Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, University of Exeter Business School

More and more MBA programs will announce that they are about responsible leadership on the environment, and they will de-emphasize graduate salary increases. While this is a positive development, the sincerity and reality of this may be questioned.

MBA programs will be asked by their students to address income inequality and other social issues. They will be asked to explain why we talk a lot about corporate responsibility, but don’t seem to be delivering positive change. 

We need to remember that the mission of the MBA has always been to prepare young people of 25-35 for management and leadership roles. For more than a quarter century, there has been a constant litany that MBA programs are ‘bad’ in myriad ways. 

Whatever the merit of the criticisms, we haven’t responded by emphasizing the what’s good about MBA programs. The best MBA programs are a serious and inspiring examination of how commerce—the making and exchange of the goods we need to live—works now, and how it might work in the future to help all of us fulfil our potential.

4. Students will increasingly test-drive business school programs

Georgette C. Phillips
Dean, College of Business, Lehigh University

I see a further blurring of the line between Executive Education and Graduate degree programs. Students will increasingly ‘test drive’ a program/business school before committing to a full blown degree path. 

We should start to view executive education as a pathway to welcome potential degree programs by allowing them to credit certificates towards degrees.

READ MORE: Employers Ramp Up MBA Hiring In 2020 c4c81e08d416a4d8d03b4628bf96ca3495dadea4.png

@MIT Facebook

5. The connection between business and society will be under the spotlight


©Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Jonathan Levin
Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business

We are at a moment in time when the connection between business and society is being examined anew. The rise in inequality, and our struggle to address major challenges such as climate change and the impact of new technologies, are causing policy-makers, media, and the public to question whether business, long the engine of economic opportunity and well-being, is serving broad societal goals.

Any such moment creates opportunities, and for 2020, I resolve to invest in Stanford GSB's commitment to educating leaders who will think broadly of their role in society, and our intellectual efforts to think both critically and constructively about how business can foster inclusive innovation and growth. 

6. Programs will continue to undergo digitalization

Federico Frattini
Dean of MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business

I don’t think that we’ll see radical changes next year. Rather, the intensification of digitalization in the education sector, a revolutionizing process that is already under way. 

Recently, for example, we recorded a growing interest in flexible and customized programs. Thus, thanks to the potential of technology, business schools are changing their offer to meet this new need. 

A growing number of MBA programs will become blended—combining on campus activities with distance learning—or even fully digital. At MIP, we offer both options. The International Flex EMBA, which is fully delivered online, and Full Time MBA that, although being held on campus, gives the chance to attend some classes via streaming for a more flexible experience. 

7. A greater commitment to lifelong learning


Leila Guerra
Associate Dean at Imperial College Business School

There’ll be a greater focus on lifelong learning, with schools such as Imperial doing more to help students have a personalized study experience that reflects their own academic and career journey—enhanced by flexible learning approaches and digital innovation that benefits students of all ages.

Schools need to ensure they cater to all career stages, and don’t deliver only for a specific period in time. Your connection to your Alma Mater is for life, and so should be the academic and leadership support to meet people’s longer career journey. 

8. The MBA will show it still has value

Susan Hart
Executive Dean of Durham University Business School

The MBA as a brand receives loose, but bad press. ‘As a degree, it has lost its relevance, numbers are falling, it isn’t dynamic’ and so on.

My belief is that there is still value in a broad degree that adequately covers the specialism of the c-suite, updating the knowledge base across that range, with a focus on disruption, data, and the demands brought by Industry 4.0. 

Like all products, there is a life cycle. But life cycles can be extended. The MBA must innovate to incur new growth. It might be in a different direction, but the alternative is slow decline.

9. The MBA will need to do some soul searching

Delphine Manceau
Dean of NEOMA Business School

I believe that we need to ask some searching questions: is the distinction between MBA and Executive MBA still relevant, or is this difference mainly seen in full time vs part time programs, whatever the length of prior professional experience? Should we prioritize generalist or specialist programs?

We must also bear in mind that the evolution of the MBA is closely related to the specific factors at work in each area of the world. The US remains the core country of the MBA, its original birthplace, and the country where MBA ‘culture’ is strongest. 

Europe places great emphasis on pre-experience Master’s in Management programs and programs specializing in one profession or sector. These two types of program are now beginning to be developed in the United States.