Is the two-year classical MBA on its way out?

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Is the two-year classical MBA on its way out?

While the classic model of learning management concepts has been the norm for a long time; a prolonged ailing economy and the technology boom has stirred the pedagogy concepts not just globally, but also in India.

There is a sudden spurt in the number of specialized and compressed management masters programmes. The market value and the employability factor of these courses are being debated by both students and institutes. While institutes are dealing with the dilemma of whether to offer such courses and the investment return, students are wondering if choosing a focused course over generalised MBA is a good career move.

David Wan CEO Harvard Business Publishing and Vivek Chachra Country Manager- India, share their views on the different global and Indian trends.

EDU:What changes have you seen in terms of pedagogy and curriculum in management teaching, globally and in India?

David Wan: Let me start with the changes that I have seen at Harvard Business School (HBS). A few years ago two faculty members researched extensively on the MBA programmesbeing offered around the world. Their research led to a series of symposia connecting deans of B-schools, graduates and customers of these programmes. The results were eventually published in a book called Rethinking the MBA. This book became the catalyst for change in the curriculum at HBS when Dean Nitin Nohria took over at the school three years ago. The first thing that he did was to engage the faculty to reshape the 1st year HBS curriculum, which hadn’t really changed for many decades. I graduated in 1981 and if I had walked into a first year classroom three years ago, things being taught would have still been the same.

Referring to the Knowing-Doing-Being framework, DeanNohria felt that the “knowing” and “doing” aspects of management education were well taken care of at HBS but the focus on the “being” aspect was somehow not adequately addressed.The doing part was well taken care of at HBS with a number of case studies where during the course of two years, students have access to over 500 surrogate experiences through cases that apply the knowing through simulations.

The being part refers to understanding one’s purpose as a leader and how one is perceived as a leader by others. This can only happen through self-reflection and by understanding and increasing one’s emotional intelligence. A lot of management graduates face a gap here and Dean Nohria addressed these issues by revamping the curriculum. We are now seeing many business schools following suit and starting to make changes that provide a holistic approach to development.

The other trends that we are seeing globally are the flattening or decline in the full time MBA enrollments and the rise of specialized masters programmes. These specialized masters programmes are shorter and in some ways more focused on “employability”. Schools are competing against each other and placements at the end of the programme are a critical factor in competition. Hence schools have started offering specialized masters programmes in the fields that are most in demand. Something like data analytics for instance is very popular and many schools around the world are focusing on it. And these courses are more for recent graduates than for people who have a three or five year work experience. The emergence of these courses seems to be moving at a very rapid pace. .

Vivek Chachra: In India, what we are seeing is that an increasing number of leading schools are thinking about blended learning in MBA and Executive learning programmes. Several reputed B-schools, already have an inverted classroom model, where in a lot of conceptual learning happens outside the classroom.The faculty can then focus more time on application based learning inside the classroom.

EDU: How would you view specialized courses like Data analytics and digital marketing? Do you think they can replace the classical MBA courses?

David: Such courses actually began in Europe so these specialized masters aren’t really MBA programmes. These are one year (or shorter) courses dedicated to a particular discipline. So, while they have a career orientation, what they miss out on is the “being” aspect.This could create an even bigger competency gap later in the life cycle. Most of these specialized masters are compressed and focused on a topic that doesn’t provide the general sensibilities of management. So, one can be a great data analyst or IT specialist but when that person is promoted to the managerial level, and has to lead a team, that is when the real problem arises. In spite of the gaps in core MBA courses today, they still have the generalist approach and have dedicated courses for leadership, organizational behaviour and project management which come in handy in the long run.

Vivek: It is much like the traffic situation in India. When the Delhi-Gugaon toll opened up, the bottle neck shifted to another part of the city. So while these courses can solve the employability aspect for students as soon as they graduate, they might not equip the graduate in the long run at the leadership/managerial level.

EDU:  So if a young graduate takes a short course and gains employment, will they have to do an executive MBA later on?

David: Yes. Either an executive MBA or their organizations would then have to intervene with learning and development programmes as they move to manager levels.

EDU:What is the effect of these compressed specialized management programmes in the Job market?

David: My guess is that students are signing up for these programmes primarily because they think they have a better chance of getting a job. This is in comparison with just graduating from college or spending three-five years in a job and then investing time to do an MBA programme. It could also be a ripple effect of the economic slowdown that we witnessed recently, which led to fewer jobs being available for MBAs. Mostly MBA enrollments are countercyclical and hence there should be a strong correlation between these compressed masters and jobs that would explain the boom.


David Wan, CEO, Harvard Business Publishing and Vivek Chachra, Country Manager- India, on the emerging trend of specialized business courses and if they will one day replace the classical MBA.