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19th March 2024

Challenges Confronting MBA Degrees

Despite recession predictions, MBA interest hasn't spiked as expected

Rising tuition fees and the burden of student loan debt have prompted individuals to reassess the value of pursuing an MBA.

QS Magazine (a magazine offering higher education analysis and services) highlighted this month the strain faced by MBA programmes amid the ongoing challenging economic environment.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MBA programmes globally saw a surge in applications as people sought stability during economic uncertainty. However, recent trends indicate a surprising drop in MBA interest, challenging the assumption that economic downturns drive demand for business education.

In 2020, when the pandemic spread, many turned to MBA degrees due to job insecurity and career uncertainty. Business schools responded by offering virtual classes and easing admission criteria. However, this initial interest has waned.

According to upcoming data from the QS International Survey, before COVID-19, US business schools received an average of 1,499 applications in 2019-2020. During the pandemic peak in 2020-2021, applications spiked to 1,963. But by 2021-2022, applications fell back to 1,465. Despite recent job cuts and recession predictions, MBA interest hasn’t spiked as expected. This is surprising given the traditional link between economic downturns and higher MBA demand.

Shifts in Education Choices

The deviation can be explained by shifts in work dynamics post-pandemic. Remote work and digital advancements have led people to seek alternative avenues for developing skills and avoiding interruptions in their careers.

Specialised master’s programs and online certifications are gaining traction as cost-effective alternatives to traditional MBAs. These qualifications offer more targeted skill development and potential career advancement.

Rising Tuition Costs, Debt, and Cost of Living

Rising tuition fees and the burden of student loan debt have prompted individuals to reassess the value of pursuing an MBA, especially in light of an uncertain job market. As a result, business schools are evolving by providing more flexible programmes and specialised degrees. For example, Warwick Business School’s new ‘Hybrid Accelerator’ programme, launching this month, offers a two-year course with 80% face-to-face learning at the Shard in London, catering to the needs and ambitions of working professionals in the business world.

Changes in International Student Dynamics

In early January, Rishi Sunak made an announcement on X platform regarding changes in visa regulations for international students, stating, “Starting today, the majority of foreign university students will no longer have the option to bring their families to the UK. In 2024, we are already delivering results for the British people.”

As outlined in the Financial Times, this announcement refers to the changes in visa rules impacting students, particularly those bringing family members. International students on MBA programmes can often make up a significant portion, sometimes as much as 90%, of the student body. With these legal revisions, foreign university students are now prohibited from bringing family members under the new visa guidelines. Furthermore, the 66% increase in the NHS levy paid by international students could also reduce UK university competitiveness internationally.

Strategies for Adapting MBA Programmes

In essence, the pandemic has reshaped how people view and pursue business education. Universities seeking to market their MBA courses effectively should focus on highlighting flexibility, targeted learning, and cost-effectiveness. Providing options such as fully online degrees, blended learning with on-campus components, and specialised MBA tracks can appeal to diverse student needs.

It is crucial to address challenges such as increasing tuition fees, student loan burdens, and visa regulations impacting international students. Universities can enhance their competitiveness by offering and promoting financial aid options, addressing student debt concerns, and providing clarity on government policies. Adaptation of marketing strategies for MBA programmes is essential, emphasising flexibility, specialisation, cost-effectiveness, and inclusivity to meet the changing needs of prospective students.

For instance, Heriot-Watt University offers a fully online MBA, catering to students looking for remote learning opportunities without compromising quality. Similarly, Henley Business School and Oxford Brookes University provide a mix of online and in-person teaching, allowing students to choose a learning format that aligns with their preferences and circumstances.

These strategies will help universities attract and retain students in a competitive educational market, offering tailored educational experiences that meet the demands of modern professionals.

Read all about how we embraced the market conditions during the pandemic to turn the tide on low numbers through a clever content strategy that appealed to the market.

Henley Business School – The Career Workout

If you want to leverage our years of experience building brands and award winning campaigns for Business Schools, contact kim.mclellan@hunterlodge.co.uk

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