This is a year many of us will want to forget. But it is shaping up to be a strong 12 months for providers of executive MBA courses. For those in management roles who are fortunate enough to have kept their jobs, there is a strong incentive to invest in improving their technical and leadership skills as well as growing a network of contacts, all while working, which is what an EMBA offers.
In general, EMBA course leaders are not reporting the high double-digit increases in applications seen on many full-time MBAs this year. However, there is relief at many business schools that EMBA demand has held up despite travel restrictions and classes often being taught online rather than face-to-face, something these part-time students particularly value.
Applications for the incoming EMBA class at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business were up about 7 per cent this year. Marjorie DeGraca, assistant dean and executive director of admissions, had been concerned that many of the 70-strong class would pull out at the last minute because campus teaching and study trips remain on hold, probably until next year.
“The EMBA is a really special community network and students get to know each other before they come on the programme,” DeGraca says. “We know there was a lot of chatter between them and that they were either all going to drop out or all going to stay. Luckily, the sentiment became ‘Let’s do this’.”
Demand for the course is holding up because there tends to be only one period in someone’s life when it is possible to balance part-time study with full-time work and raising a family, DeGraca says.
“EMBAs find this pocket of time when they say, ‘This is when I am going to do this’,” she adds. “Although it won’t be ideal for them to do this in 2020, many will know they will not have the opportunity again.”
The lockdown might also have encouraged some people to apply to EMBA courses because they find they now have time to fit in some additional study. “We have seen more people applying this year who have advanced degrees, a JD, MD or PhD,” DeGraca says. “Such people who are drawn to education say, ‘Maybe I should get another degree’.”
Applications to the one-year EMBA at EMLyon Business School in France are up 20 per cent year on year, partly because the school acted quickly to get course tuition back into the classroom, according to Rhoda Davidson, director of MBA programmes.
At the start of the crisis, EMLyon adapted to online tuition, with professors modifying the content, exercises and live cases to make teaching relevant to the crisis. For example, the school introduced a new case study on its collective performance course in which a senior human resources director explained how his organisation was handling the crisis and the move to remote working.
Students on the EMBA were offered personal leadership coaching to help make sense of the changing nature of work. EMLyon also launched a series of “Wednesday webinars” with experts from the school teaching on topics such as resilience, crisis management and risk management. “Participants [said this] made them feel much more connected to the MBA community and much less alone,” Davidson says.
The school has tried to offer flexibility for those students who are struggling to balance full-time work with part-time study during the pandemic. “We have provided personalised options for those who need to take a step back . . . for a few months, and a small number of executives have chosen to delay part of their studies by a year. It is a tough time for executives, so offering flexibility is very important so that they can pursue their MBA in the best conditions,” Davidson says.
A long-term trend is the growth of the EMBA market in Asia. In China, the part-time format of EMBA courses has long been seen as a better way to study for a postgraduate qualification and the degree is valued by employers. Schools in China and other parts of Asia have been moving steadily up the Financial Times ranking. Schools elsewhere have also capitalised on demand by setting up Asian outposts.
Insead offers three EMBA sections, starting on different dates from the school’s campuses in Fontainebleau near Paris, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Prospective students apply to a particular campus and while demand for the European and Middle Eastern programmes was flat compared with last year, applications in Asia were up 2 per cent. The contrast was even more striking for Insead’s EMBA run in partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing — the Tiemba programme — for which demand was up 36 per cent.
Location is important in a year when global travel has been limited, and Insead’s multi-campus structure has enabled it to be close to some of the biggest markets for EMBAs. Insead’s success in Asia is a combination of the growing number of EMBAs in the region and the school’s international reputation, says Virginie Fougea, global director of admissions and financial aid. “We certainly observe stronger brand recognition for Insead in Asia.”
Numbers have not increased on all EMBA courses. Applications this year were down slightly compared with 2019 for the top-ranked Kellogg-HKUST (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) EMBA, according to programme director Judy Au, although she stresses that the standard of those seeking places on the course remains high. “We have not sacrificed the quality of students or compromised their learning experience for the sake of filling the classroom,” she says, adding that participants must fit the programme’s ethos of “high impact, low ego”.
Nor have travel constraints been an impediment to many Kellogg-HKUST students getting to campus, according to Au, with candidates attending from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Some high achievers want to “make use of this time to . . . go for the best possible opportunity and get ready for the next surge”, she says.
Top EMBA: Kellogg/HKUST
Kellogg and HKUST Business School’s EMBA tops the ranking this year, retaking the crown from HEC Paris. The programme has been number one in four out of the past five years. Alumni receive the largest average weighted salary three years after graduation, at $528,057. Among the degree’s strong performances was third place in the work experience category, measuring participants’ seniority and years in employment before starting their EMBA.
Top single-school EMBA: Ceibs
In second place, the Shanghai-based school is the top-ranked solo provider of an EMBA. This is Ceibs’ highest ever position in the ranking. In addition, alumni took home the second-highest average salary, at $482,674. The location is part of its appeal. “Sharing a class with senior, energetic executives in one of the most dynamic cities during the most breathtaking economic growth in history” was an eye-opening learning experience, one survey respondent said.
International experience: Trium
Ranked fourth, this joint EMBA by HEC Paris, London School of Economics and New York’s Stern is top for international course experience for the eighth time since 2010. This category measures the percentage of teaching hours carried out abroad. One graduate said: “The international locations of the modules gave me a more in-depth understanding of working across various cultures.”
Top for salary increase: Shanghai Jiao Tong: Antai
Antai alumni reported an average salary increase of 123 per cent from before their EMBA to three years after graduation. Overall, the school rose five places to sixth. Graduates have the third-highest average salary at $451,744. Alumni also rate the network highly. One executive said: “The course has increased my industry knowledge and broadened my network” so that “unknown business challenges” can be discussed with peers.
Top for work experience: IE Business School
Moving up to 12th place, the Spanish school is top for work experience, based on graduates’ pre-EMBA career profile. This category includes information on seniority and the number of countries they worked in. IE performed well in other categories, including second place for coverage of corporate social responsibility in its core curriculum. The school is also seventh for international course experience, measuring the percentage of teaching overseas.
Biggest rise: Edhec
With a leap of 24 places, the French school is the biggest riser at 45 thanks to improved performance in several categories, in particular average salary and salary increase, which helped Edhec to its highest overall rank since 2017. Positive feedback came from one survey respondent who wanted deeper insights into business overseas and praised the trips offered by Edhec for the practical experience.
Highest new entrant: IBS-Moscow Ranepa
The Russian school is the highest new entrant, in 52nd place. Its success is partly due to an average alumni salary of $316,009. One graduate said: “My income has highly increased, I’ve found new clients and my understanding of business and management is completely different now.” The school, established in 2010, also performed well in two diversity categories, with women making up 50 per cent of the faculty and 56 per cent of the advisory board.
Top for gender balance: Aalto
Finland’s Aalto University is top for student gender balance, with an equal split between men and women. This compares with an average of one woman to 2.1 men and is up from Aalto’s 42 per cent female students in 2019. Alumni commented on the positive, supportive atmosphere created by the faculty. Many also remarked on the programme’s ability to improve self-confidence. The school’s overall rank is joint 88th, up from 92nd last year.
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