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Academics Fear Distance Learning Will Force Business Schools To Close

A survey of business school professors, deans and directors reveals that academics think learning tech will force universities to shut their doors or merge.

As technology disrupts the business education market, a majority of professors, deans and directors believe that business schools will be forced to shut down, while others will need to merge to survive, according to a new report.

A survey of 402 management academics – 85% of whom worked in business schools – found that 80% agree or strongly agree that some existing business schools will fail or need to merge to stay afloat. Two thirds of employers who were also surveyed share the same view.

The survey, which was compiled by education consultancy CarringtonCrisp and supported by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development), echoes similar warnings from academics this year, who believe that learning technology poses a threat to universities’ business models.

The onset of Moocs – massive open online courses – has forced many educators to offer some of their content online for free, and has pushed business schools to offer flexible learning that allows students to maintain full-time jobs.

“This situation is not a perfect storm, but the dean who sticks their head in the sand and fails to think about how best to position their school for the future risks their school and its students being left behind,” said Andrew Crisp, owner of Carrington and author of the report.

Eric Cornuel, CEO of EFMD, said that the pace of change in business education is accelerating.

He added that the group’s members see a need for business to be studied in a wider context and to see its impact on society.

The biggest threat from learning tech is thought to be aimed at executive education courses, the short, often customized programs which are packaged and sold to corporations, and which provide the most revenue.

However the view from management academics is mixed. Some 40% of respondents asserted that executive education for middle managers would move online, while 30% opposed this view. For senior managers, nearly 80% of respondents said courses would be mostly face-to-face.

But tech also offers an opportunity, according to CarringtonCrisp. More than 90% of respondents said that technology will promote the growth of new business models, while 70% agree or strongly agree that technological innovation will bring new entrants to the business education market.

There are signs that more schools will adopt distance and flexible learning programs.

Some 90% of survey respondents agree that business schools will develop flexible degrees that allow students to mix study and work, and 75% agree that schools will develop new products to help younger and older workers who have limited experience of higher education.

“Anytime, anywhere learning is on the rise, providing students with the flexibility to learn at their own pace and around their other commitments such as work and family,” said Alan Hatfield, director of learning at ACCA.

Moocs are one potential disruptive influence but only around 30% of respondents say they will threaten the traditional degree structure.

Only 50% of employers surveyed said they were aware of Moocs but 70% agree that more training and development in their organizations will be delivered online in the next five years.

Learning tech groups that develop Moocs – such as Coursera, FutureLearn and edX – say they are helping business schools adapt to the digital age, rather than trying to replace the MBA degree. But prominent professors, including from Wharton School, have said that Mooc technology is a direct threat to traditional degrees.

In a sign of things to come, 70% of respondents believe that business schools will develop more joint programs with businesses, with qualifications increasingly being transferable between business schools and professional bodies such as CIMA, which offers management accountancy qualifications, and the chartered financial analyst exams run by the CFA Institute.

Andrew at CarringtonCrisp said: “There is a growing need for business schools to work with other faculties, departments and experts throughout universities and beyond to ensure students receive a rounded education.”

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