The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has never been one to rest on its laurels. Although it moved back up the FT ranking this year to regain its joint number-one slot, the world-renowned MBA programme is already gearing up for change.

After a year and a half of discussions, the 227-strong faculty at Philadelphia-based Wharton has agreed changes in the structure of the full-time MBA programme, 17 years after the last significant review.

“What we have done is to create more flexibility by eliminating a couple of core courses,” says Professor Thomas Robertson, the dean, who took up the post in August 2007.

The advantage of the changes, he says, is that students will be able to focus earlier in the programme on the topics that interest them, such as finance. “It will give them the ability to gain more in-depth knowledge.”

The intention is to help prepare students for the company internships they begin at the end of their first year, and which often result in permanent job offers. The shift also reflects changes in the type of recruiters. “The centre of gravity has changed from New York to Washington and from the City of London to Westminster,” says Prof Robertson.

In particular, the new programme will allow students to select different courses even during the first-year core. Currently, students all study the same course. The results will be flexibility for the students and innovation in course design, says Karl Ulrich, vice-dean for innovation. “At the moment, the whole institution is set up to teach 12 sections at a time. Everyone becomes risk averse as a result.”

There will be a partial launch of the programme this year, with full implementation for students entering the programme next year.

Students enrolling in 2012 will see advances in teaching technology (such as online material) to emphasise different learning styles, as well as a greater choice of content, including 200 elective courses. There will be a greater emphasis on faculty-led overseas teaching, and the school is investing in additional staff to give students a more personalised experience, including coaching. This has always been difficult in a programme that enrols 820 students a year in the two-year programme.

“What I would like to see in my time here is to get the scale of Wharton with some of the intimacy we have on the executive MBA programme,” says Howard Kaufold, vice-dean of the MBA programme. “We want each student to feel there is someone who knows them.”

In addition, graduates will be given free executive education courses every seven years for the rest of their lives, although details of how this will be implemented are still vague. “When you are a student here, you want hard skills,” says Prof Robertson. “Ten years out, you want more leadership and communications.”

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