October 20, 2013 10:21 pm

The challenges facing the EMBA

EMBA illustration©Nick Lowndes

In 2010, Konstantin Sidorov had one objective when he began his executive MBA programme – an MBA for senior working managers. “I had been dedicated to my IT business for 20 years and it was one of the biggest IT groups in Russia. But I had no financial education,” he says.

However, it was neither the advanced number-crunching nor financial modelling that gave him the idea for his latest venture, but the day-to-day practicalities of the Trium EMBA programme, run by NYU Stern in New York, LSE in London and HEC in Paris. In the taxi run from his hotel to the Stern campus, he was intrigued by the entertainment available in New York cabs and the way passengers can pay electronically.

This was just what was needed in Moscow, he decided, where taxi rides take double the 20-minute New York average. So, he and his classmates developed the idea as part of their Trium project. As he says, “You don’t want to spend your time on something that can’t be implemented as a real project.”

Trium is one of a number of top programmes on which participants learn in multiple locations around the world – London and Columbia business schools, the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, Insead, Chicago Booth and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania all run multi-campus courses. And even top programmes based in one location are increasingly adding overseas modules to give a global experience.

More

On this story

IN Executive MBA

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia developed its EMBA three years ago to internationalise its professors and case study teaching. George Allayannis, associate dean for the programme, believes the move has been essential. “You cannot have relevance unless you can speak to the world,” he says. “You cannot speak to the world unless you understand it.”

In China, where the EMBA and other part-time programmes are the degree of choice, the age and seniority of participants mean that most programmes are taught in Chinese, precluding the sorts of overseas experiences common on English-language programmes. That said, Chinese schools teach some of the largest programmes in the world. Ceibs in Shanghai enrols about 750 students a year, while neighbour Fudan, which teaches three EMBA and three part-time EMBA programmes a year – some with international partners – enrols more than 1,200 students annually on these programmes.

But even in China there are changes. At Tsinghua University, which enrols 400 participants a year on its Beijing EMBA, the past year has seen a drop in applicants from large state-owned enterprises, and an increase in those from private enterprises, says Yingyi Qian, dean of the School of Economics and Management. On its joint programme with Insead, nearly half the enrolled students this year (46 per cent) are from China, compared with a quarter of applicants in previous years.

However, David Schmittlein, dean of MIT Sloan, warns against generalising across programmes, which vary in length, curriculum and student profile. When Sloan launched its EMBA in 2010, it was intended for US participants, unlike the school’s full-time Sloan programme, which attracts a global audience. “Half the [EMBA] participants are from greater New England and half from the rest of the US,” says Prof Schmittlein. “They are from [largely] technology-based and innovation-driven companies.”

One of the biggest differences between programmes is the cost – fees of $150,000 are relatively commonplace. This could call into question the long-term sustainability of the EMBA as Moocs – massive open online courses – become increasingly prevalent. The question has been brought into focus by the Wharton School, which is giving free access to its core MBA courses online. Its programme is one of the most expensive, with fees in excess of $175,000.

Unsurprisingly, business schools dismiss the idea that Moocs will replace the face-to-face degree. “Giving free access to knowledge and giving the skills to implement the knowledge are different,” says Kathy Harvey, EMBA programme director at the University of Oxford’s Saïd school. “While you can teach the nuts and bolts of the MBA online, what you can’t do is demonstrate through face-to-face interaction the impact of that knowledge. It’s hard to have a Eureka moment if you are sitting at home in front of a computer.”

Yet she agrees business schools have been shaken by the Mooc revolution. “All universities and business schools have woken up to the fact that Moocs are changing the model and making schools think about how they can give wider access to knowledge … Business schools will have to think about their culture and ethos, because the identity [alumni] feel will be more important in the years ahead.”

As for Sidorov, since his graduation in 2012, he has developed a mobile payment system for Russian taxis and installed it in more than 400. He is in discussion with Moscow’s leading taxi company to rapidly expand the business.

He has also adopted an idea from another of his colleagues to build a sturgeon farm in Switzerland to address the market for caviar. “The biggest wealth of the programme was the people,” he says. “Those connections you make are really inestimable.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.