How business schools compete in a disrupted market

The digital economy is not a promise but a reality. Rather we would say that we live in a digital society on a global scale within which the digital economy is a first-rate player. In this complex environment, the competitiveness factor appears as always, and this in all sectors. Thus, schools that are willing and able to keep their courses up-to-date and relevant to the digital economy can survive and prosper. As simple as that.

Online executive education was being considered the greatest opportunity for many business schools and especially, as of 2020, due to the pandemic. However, technological change and the growing number of educational institutions that offer postgraduate alternatives to traditional universities and business schools, have made this sector one of the most competitive in the field of training, which challenges the natural growth that a business school is supposed to have it in a stable and continuous way.

The point is that where we look, it is technological innovation that drives market changes and its expansion in certain niches, for example, in postgraduate training, it requires short programs that teach practical skills in short courses, because there is a need in organizations for employees to retrain to be productive in the digital age.

The international university consortium for executive education (Unicon), which represents more than 100 business schools that offer this type of education, gives an overview of the market in reference to that it has a total value of 2 billion dollars and has grown 20 percent in the last five years. In other words, for those who still have doubts, beyond the pandemic, training is not that they cannot stop it, but that it is the only way in which organizations, institutions and countries can have a better level of knowledge of their citizens , which will result in better jobs that in turn will be increasingly demanding with the quality, capacity, speed of adaptation to change and the NT’s, which will increase (will trigger in many cases) training in all its forms, but especially the one that is online and with short courses.

A survey by the Chartered Association of Business Schools of UK-based deans and senior managers at the end of 2018 found that executive education programs were seen second only to new online degree courses as a source of growth for revenue for the next decade. There has also been a change in the choice of course type based on duration, as the demand for executive education has also been favored by the change in postgraduate education of two-year MBA courses, which cover a wide range of business subjects, to one-year business master’s degrees specializing in management or finance.

From what can be deduced from the latest market movements in these two years, there is a high probability that there is a demand for executive education of short courses instead of the traditional full-time MBAs, since this gives students the opportunity to retrain in specific emerging concepts such as fintech and data analytics as required. It is not that the MBA is attacked, because as we have argued in this rostrum it still has a long life, but it will be continuous and necessary training aspects that will operate as a complement in the training and development of young professionals.

The problem for business school program designers is keeping them highly up-to-date in an age where courses can be delivered via smartphone apps or immersive role-play exercises, rather than classroom seminars. What we need to understand in our postgraduate training sector is that the market is no longer dominated by classroom learning or executive retreats, but digital is at the fore with everything from micro-badges to digital badges to stackable certificates.

Mike Malefakis is Associate Vice Dean of Wharton Executive Education and has been involved in the executive education market since 1992. He says that the sector has changed “radically” in the last five years, in particular due to the introduction of teaching models in line. However, he believes that business schools with strong brands like Wharton have the opportunity to outperform the new competition, simply maintaining educational quality in a necessarily disruptive and changing environment, which will require adjustments and introductions of new programs, but it helps them the backing of a track record and brand prestige.

Associative forms will increase in the coming years

A picture of a man holding a graduation hat

We are not referring to the natural process of mergers between educational institutions, which we have referred to in a previous article, but the way in which business schools can defend themselves against competition from other players in the field executive education market by creating partnerships between schools and agencies and / or institutions that need to train senior officials.

An example is the association established by the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington DC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority of the United States, for which they have created a professional program certified in regulation and professionals (officials and / or specialized personnel) in matters of the financial sector and especially in terms of regulatory regulation of the sector and supervision. This is the first year that Georgetown McDonough School has been involved, but the program has been around for almost 20 years and has an active network of 1,200 students.

As the only program of its kind for professionals and specialized officials, it attracts people from a variety of roles, such as investment advisers, senior and mid-level officials, as well as industry regulators. While it focuses on US market regulations at the state and federal level, it is also relevant to foreign regulators who are in similar positions, which further adds the advantage of introducing a quality of discussion and depth of shared knowledge in each session.

According to David Asch, director of quality services at the European Foundation for Management Development, which is the accreditation body for business schools, “all this training mechanism makes it more valuable for the participants of any postgraduate course that is established through this associative mechanism and which requires very specific knowledge that they can use the next day at the office”.

We find it interesting what Mireia Rius, associate dean of executive education at the Iese Business School in Spain, affirms regarding the current situation and the outlook for the coming years: “now there is a constant need for lifelong learning at all levels of organizations , which increases the market for everyone, as companies are changing thanks to technological disruption and longer work lives, which means that for the first time we can have four or five generations [Generation X, Generation Y, etc.] in the same organization, all of which requires a new type of leadership and means that today’s executives and companies need to develop different capacities and abilities ”.

She believes, and so do we, that business schools are challenged to continue to meet the needs of customers whose skills, as well as the demand for recycling, are changing. This is not achieved in a day, you must investigate, see how the European market is behaving in general and especially, how American business schools have evolved in the face of this unstoppable disruption in the most competitive market in the world in executive training.

Therefore, partnerships with clients are viable and will be more than necessary to cover those gaps in very specific training needs in sectors that are also very specific and in general, which are regulated and supervised, such as finance.

Antonio Alonso, president of the AEEN (Spanish Business School Association) and general secretary of EUPHE (European Union of Private Higher Education)