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Business Schools Feel The Threat Of Specialist Master's

The rise in popularity of specialist Master’s programs is beginning to eat into the MBA degree’s market share, and they are gaining traction with recruiters.

The rise in popularity of specialist master’s programs is beginning to eat into the MBA degree’s market share, according to a leading European business school, while MBA recruiters want new hires with sector-specific, specialist degrees.

Frank Fletcher, head of recruitment at Belgium's highest-ranking school, Vlerick Business School, highlighted the threat that fast-track Master’s programs pose to the traditional MBA, at a time when specialist programs are gaining in popularity.

“The growth in specialized master’s programs, like the master’s in finance, has begun to eat MBA market share,” said Frank.

“In high-volume markets like China and India, we are not only competing against the best business schools from the US and Europe, but a growing number of high-quality local programs as well,” he added.

Specialist master’s courses have been gaining ground. Nearly 50% of business school applicants considered them last year, according to a survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Over the past five years, 20% of candidates have ditched the MBA and opted solely for a master’s program.

At the same time, the number of GMAT takers opting for the two-year MBA fell from 90,000 to 70,000, nearly 30% less candidates than five years ago, according to GMAC data.

Specialist master's courses are criticized because many of them require no previous work experience. MBA programs usually require several years’ experience.

Candidates are also younger, typically in their early 20’s, and it is thought that they are unlikely to want to begin an MBA program later in life.

But MBA courses are known for their peer-to-peer learning. Specialist master’s programs that do not require work experience arguably lack this quality.

Phil Carter, head of MBA marketing and recruitment at Imperial College Business School, which has several master’s programs, said: “Students with experience bring practical problem-solving to the classroom, and they can learn from each other how a theory might apply across many industries.”

However, the Association of MBAs (AMBA) released the details of its employers’ forum last month, which found that MBA recruiters “seek graduate hires with sector-specific, specialist MBAs in a variety of fields”.

According to AMBA, Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceuticals giant, said that “specialist master's come into play for specialist skills”.

GMAC data show that 64% of business school Deans expect MBA programs to become increasingly specialised. 

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