Business school experts explain three ways coronavirus could impact MBA programs and change the learning experience for MBA students
At times of crisis, like the current coronavirus pandemic, businesses have to make sure they’re well prepared. Here’s some top tips to help their survival
3 Ways Coronavirus Impacts MBA Programs
The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting business schools and MBA programs globally. We spoke to industry experts who consider three ways COVID-19 could impact MBA programs and your MBA experience.
1. The attractiveness of the MBA
Coronavirus could impact how many people are willing to pursue MBA programs.
MBA applications tend to move counter to the markets. Historically, demand has risen in times of turmoil, including during the financial crisis of 2007-08, as workers facing redundancy sought to upskill, ready to hit the labor market for when the recovery kicked in.
With America shedding 701,000 jobs in early March and unemployment spiraling, the economic outlook looks dismal. However, the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and the full extent of the economic damage is unknown, making decisions difficult for prospective students.
It’s also unclear whether business school campuses will be open for the start of the fall semester. With questions over whether online instruction can match the quality of in person education, and concerns about MBA jobs prospects, some may consider the MBA a devalued asset.
Schools are already reporting requests for tuition fee refunds and application deferrals to 2021 when prospects hope for a clearer picture of the situation.
Nevertheless, David White, founding partner of Menlo Coaching, an admissions consulting firm in the Netherlands, expects MBA applications to increase. Menlo Coaching has seen more inquiries than usual lately, he says.
“Although applicants have legitimate concerns about fall 2020 programming being held virtually, they also recognize that Covid-19 is causing major disruptions in the job market.
“The MBA remains equally attractive, maybe even more attractive, if compared to an economic scenario where bonuses, promotions and job switching is much less likely. Students may also estimate that a recovery would begin by the time they graduate in 2022.”
2. MBA student diversity
Schools are expecting a less diverse class for the fall semester. Embassies and consulates are closed, so visa processing has ground to a halt. Airplanes remain grounded across the globe, meaning study trips, a major component of an MBA, are also cancelled.
Eric Cornuel, president of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) in Brussels, says: “Many schools will turn back to national and regional students to compensate for the disruption to global mobility.”
However, schools are taking action to hedge their bets. Harvard Business School has a longer wait-list this year, a list of applicants who may be offered a place in future if space in the class becomes available. The idea is to keep a larger number of domestic applicants available to enroll if overseas students cannot get visas to come to Boston in the fall.
Business schools face the challenge of adapting their admissions policy to account for the coronavirus crisis while striving to maintain entrance standards.
Many have launched an extra admissions round or are extending current rounds by two or three months to give themselves and students more time to complete the admissions process. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business launched a one-off fourth round of applications, adding an extra 60 days to the cycle.
With admissions test centers temporarily closed around the world, several schools are being more flexible in their admissions policy and accepting applicants without standardized test scores, including INSEAD, London Business School and the Rotterdam School of Management in Europe.
3. A shift online
Will Dawes, research and insight manager at the Association of MBAs (AMBA) in London, expects a rise in applications for online courses as more people are forced to work from home because of COVID-19. They may therefore feel more confident in studying virtually.
“Business schools, like all organizations, are having to find innovative ways to adapt,” he says.
Eric too says the accelerated switch to online instruction after years of slow uptake among schools and students is a “silver living in [a] dire situation”.
However, the crisis has raised questions over whether online instruction can match the in-person experience. Cultivating a professional network, sitting cheek by jowl with classmates from around the world, is a hallmark of an MBA. The consensus is that online learning has not replicated this.
“Schools are eager to return to in-person programming, and I expect them to do so as soon as this is a responsible option,” says David from Menlo Coaching. “Schools know that full-time students prefer in-person experiences.”
Short-term, much will depend on whether schools can successfully adapt teaching and operations online. Already, the whole MBA application process has gone digital, with schools conducting video interviews and virtual campus tours.
Looking forward, the coronavirus crisis will stretch the finances of some business schools, with job losses and even closures being predicted. However, Eric from EFMD says that if business schools are flexible and innovative with their MBA programs, they will survive.
Read our coronavirus coverage:
Coronavirus: How To Manage Your Business In A Time Of Crisis
The current coronavirus pandemic has caused one of the most turbulent economic climates in decades. By mid-March, the Dow Jones had fallen 19 points and the FTSE has fallen 33 points.
The crisis has already seen the collapse of commercial airline Flybe, while other large corporations seem on the brink of collapse. The biggest impact, it’s believed, will be on small-to-medium enterprises.
“When you have any kind of company, you have a risk,” explains Stella Despoudi, professor in operations and supply chain management at Aston Business School.
It may have been hard to foresee the impact that coronavirus would have, failure, in these times of crisis, often comes down to lack of preparation.
Here are some top tips on how best to prepare for a crisis:
1. Identify warning signals
It’s easy to spot crises when they’ve already happened. Whether these are financial crashes, cybersecurity attacks, or even natural disasters, hindsight is useful at seeing the full impact.
But what’s not so easy is being able to predict how widespread or impactful the disaster will be in the first instance. Not every crisis will be catastrophic, but it’s equally important to treat each potential threat as though it may unfold into a disaster.
“Companies need to constantly monitor internal and external signals to promote early detection of the signs of a crisis, and deal with it before it emerges,” insists Pavel Albores, director of the Centre for Research into Safety and Security (CRISIS) at Aston Business School.
CRISIS conducts sophisticated research into why crises and disasters happen, and how to respond to them. Part of this is multi-disciplinary, multimethodology analysis of safety and security issues, including what early warning signals might indicate a crisis.
Aston aims to impart this knowledge to students this fall, launching their new MSc in Crisis and Disaster Management, a response to the demand from businesses to have better trained professionals who are able to coordinate their response to disasters.
2. Assess the threat to your business
Hundreds of crises—small or large—happen every single day. But not every one will affect your business. It’s important that companies take the time to consider the impact that a crisis will have on their three Ps—products, people, and processes.
“In terms of products, it could be product or service failures, misuse, or damage to the consumers,” Pavel explains.
“In terms of people, it could be unethical behaviour, industrial action or lack of training.”
“In terms of processes, there could be disruptions to the supply chain, whether by natural or manmade causes, financial crises or overdependence on one customer or supplier.”
This can demonstrate to businesses different steps they can take to shield their company, such as diversifying their supply chain to ensure they aren’t over reliant on a single geographic location.
3. Create a crisis management plan
You’ve identified what the various early warning signals, and you’ve identified what the potential risk might be to your business, but what next?
Businesses have to create crisis management or contingency plan, so they know the effective steps to take in order to shield their business from a crisis. This is the most important step, Pavel believes, to weathering a disaster.
The MSc is designed to give students the tools to build a crisis management plan at a business. This incorporates modules on decision-making, ethics in a crisis, and crisis technology and analytics, to ensure that students have a variety of perspectives and information for the plans they are building.
There are some important lessons to be learned from the coronavirus outbreak with regards to what a plan should aim to do.
“Plans need to be based around developing skills and behaviours to deal with a crisis, rather than focusing on a single, narrow scenario. The COVID-19 crisis is probably something that very few people would have predicted, let alone plan for,” Pavel insists.
4. Practice implementing the plan
Practicing your plan is just as important as having it in the first place.
“Organisations that have a crisis management plan and practice it regularly are better prepared to respond to disasters,” Pavel insists.
Aston students can use simulation modelling software to recreate how disasters unfold, and how they can properly implement a crisis management plan in practice. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the impact of decision making, without the risk of doing it in reality.
More than anything, these simulations can teach students an important lesson about how to respond.
“Decisions need to be taken in a calm, measured manner,” Pavel says.
The MSc in crisis and disaster management is a response to a growing demand from a variety of sectors, including businesses, non-profits, and even governmental organizations.
Overall, it hopes to cater to this demand from organizations to be better prepared in times of crisis.
“This plans to equip the right people with the skills and competencies that they need to respond to this kind of event,” Stella insists.