Listen to this article
Gold mining in Sweden, silver mining in Mexico and exploring tar sands in her native Canada are just three of the varied experiences on Luisa Da Silva’s curriculum vitae. Next year she aims to add another selling point to her CV: an executive MBA from Warwick Business School.
Like many scientists, Da Silva felt she needed an extra qualification to be taken seriously at executive level. Although she was taking on managerial responsibilities, they often remained unacknowledged. “What I found was that people were still looking at me as if I was still [just] a scientist.”
After looking at EMBA programmes in the UK and North America, she opted for the weekend programme run by Warwick on its London campus in the Shard building.
Although Warwick opened in the Shard just two years ago, a majority of the school’s EMBA participants choose to study in London — 100 of 180 students this year, says John Colley, associate dean. Prof Colley firmly believes that London has now become a global hotspot for business education.
Data from other schools support this. At London Business School, applications for the EMBA are up by 10 per cent this year and 18 per cent on two years ago, says Arnold Longboy, executive director of leadership programmes. At Imperial College the EMBA market is also buoyant in spite of a hefty price increase, from £46,000 to £55,000, says George Yip, associate dean for executive programmes.
Though many business schools feared the Brexit vote in June 2016 would damage applications, so far this has had no effect on EMBA students, who are usually in their thirties. “By the time people get to their late thirties they are pretty much settled in where they want to live,” points out Prof Yip.
What is more, the drop in the pound following the Brexit vote has actually benefited UK institutions as their degrees are now 10 per cent cheaper for international students. By the same token, studying overseas is proportionately more expensive for UK-based managers looking for an EMBA.
The EMBA market has been further boosted by a surge in applicants among managers who were reticent to study on a full-time MBA following the 2007 financial crash and who are now eager to improve their qualifications. The London market has also received a lift because of localised economic growth and its cosmopolitan nature. While 90 per cent of the Warwick students at the Shard come from the London area, 40 per cent are not British passport holders.
The increases in EMBA applications come at a time when there is huge investment in business school infrastructure in London from both established and new players.
In September, London Business School officially opened its Sammy Ofer Centre in the Old Marylebone Town Hall and at the end of 2019 it will take possession of the building adjacent to its main campus in Sussex Place, Regent’s Park. The two additional premises will increase LBS’s facilities by about 40 per cent.
Meanwhile LSE, the London School of Economics and Political Science, has plans to bring together its accounting, finance and management departments in a single state-of-the-art £140m building in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, substantially increasing teaching space.
Two years ago, University College London (UCL), one of the UK’s elite Russell Group universities, opened a school of management a stone’s throw away from both London Business School and LSE, and this August King’s College London, another Russell Group university, launched a business school, with big plans for a central London campus for 1,700 students.
However, Prof Colley at Warwick thinks that the biggest reason for the upswing in London’s EMBA population has been the flexibility of programme formats — be they evening, weekend or block week schedules.
Imperial recently launched a weekend version of its EMBA, for example, and its second cohort in April already had 78 students, says Hannah Daniels, assistant director for MBA programmes. “They’re dynamic and ambitious. They don’t want to give up work because of the opportunity cost and because they are doing really well.”
Flexibility also resonates at Cass Business School in the heart of the City of London, says Sionade Robinson, associate dean for MBA programmes. “Some of our [London-based] EMBA students opt to take electives in Dubai, some students will also do electives in the full-time format because it exposes them to different networks,” she says.
At ESCP Europe, Simon Mercado, head of the school’s London campus, believes flexibility of format and specialisation are the key to its school’s steady growth in EMBA applicants. “Personalisation of the product is important because we are increasingly selling to individuals rather than corporations,” says Prof Mercado.
As schools in London and beyond see a drop in company-sponsored EMBA applicants, it is a view also endorsed by Kathy Harvey, executive MBA director at Oxford Saïd, where enrolments on its programme have increased from 75 to 127 in just a year. “Senior executives think it is more important to create an identity for themselves... rather than relying on what the company offers.”
For Da Silva, Warwick’s programme does just that.
“For me, the most important thing is the cohort. We came from all different fields. The vibe is right.”
China’s business school deans vent frustration
Once seen as the flagship programme of China’s emerging business education market, the EMBA has now been virtually brought to its knees in most Chinese universities by sweeping government intervention.
Regulations introduced less than a year ago mean that would-be EMBA students, usually in their thirties, have to sit the same MBA entry exam as full-time applicants, who are a decade or more younger, with comparative scores required for matriculation. As the more mature EMBA students have not achieved equivalent scores in these academic tests, the number able to study for an EMBA has dropped to 2,500 from 10,000 a year ago.
Business school deans are frustrated. Xiongwen Lu, dean of Fudan University’s School of Management in Shanghai, believes it could be damaging to Chinese businesses. “It is harmful for high-end business education and it hurts the talent development for business and the economy.”
The government move has been particularly divisive because the top universities in Beijing, Tsinghua and Peking University, have been allowed to set their own tests and so have their full quota of EMBA students this year. It is a distinction that Lin Zhou, dean of Antai College at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, describes as “purely political”.
Fudan has challenged the ruling and this year has enrolled a full class of students, but few other schools have spoken out.
Many business academics hope that the Chinese government, from which business schools still receive half their funding, will have second thoughts on this and an earlier dictate banning government officials and managers from state-owned enterprises from studying on high-end EMBAs, for fear of corruption.
Prof Zhou is more philosophical and believes the crackdown could open new opportunities for non-degree executive programmes.