The MBA Is Still Exceeding Student Expectations And Delivering Great Value For Money Despite COVID-19

MBA students from around the world are still very happy they signed up for the degree with 80% believing the program is good value for money, despite the pandemic wreaking havoc on campuses and classrooms throughout 2020.

The Association of MBAs (AMBA) recent International MBA Survey asked 752 students from around the world, including from Australia, how they were managing to balance their studies and other commitments, in the face of the pandemic. 

More than half (51%) said that the MBA experience was exceeding their expectations. In fact, a sizeable 84% said the MBA experience either met or exceeded their expectations so far. 

AMBA Director of Marketing and Communications David Woods-Hale said 2020 had been a year defined by worry, disruption and lockdown for most of the world’s population. 

AMBA’s International MBA Survey sought to take a pulse of how students are managing to balance their studies and other commitments, in the face of an unprecedented pandemic,” he said.  

“The results showcase a discerning group of students, with a shared passion for lifelong learning; but with a diverse set of views around their own ambitions and how their Business Schools can – and should – be supporting them on the path to their aspirations.” 

The findings reveal that, for the most part, the class of 2020 was riding the chaos of the current global uncertainty and making the most of their unique MBA experience.” 

Participants also recognise the work being done by their Schools to mitigate the challenges caused by social distancing and remote learning, with several remarking that the continuity arrangements were impressive, allowing them to still enjoy their experience, despite the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns, that were out of the hands of their Schools.” 

Key findings 

  • 84% of MBA students said that, at the time of completing the survey, the MBA experience was exceeding or living up to their expectations, despite social distancing and lockdown policies.  
  • A quarter of MBA students (25%) rated their teaching as excellent; 43% said it is very good and 24% said it is fairly good. 
  • 80of MBA students rated the services provided by their Business School’s careers team as excellent, very good, or fairly good.  
  • 65% of MBA students rated their School’s networking with employers as excellent, very good, or fairly good.  
  • 80% of MBA students said that the MBA had provided very good or fairly good value for money. 
  • The most popular reason for choosing an MBA among current students is ‘to acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’ (cited by 70% of participants); this is followed closely by ‘to expand my area of expertise’ (cited by 69%).  
  • 60% of current students applied for just one MBA programme; 18% applied for two and about 16% applied for three or more.  
  • The number of offers received was largely in line with the number of applications made, with 60% receiving one offer; 21% receiving two; and 16% receiving three or more. 

The decision-making process 

MBA students were asked to share their main reasons for wishing to complete an MBA. The most popular reason (cited by 70% of the sample) is ‘to acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’; this is followed closely by ‘to expand my area of expertise’ (cited by 69%). 

The next most frequently-cited reasons for completing an MBA include ‘to get a broader understanding of how business should be managed’ (53%); ‘to change career’ (51%); and ‘to help differentiate myself in the job market’ (49%). 

Fewer participants cited reasons such as ‘to learn how to run an ethically sound business (20%); and ‘to earn more money in the short term’ (12%).  

The participant pool is roughly evenly split in terms of whether they had chosen to study at home or abroad, with 43% saying the programme they had chosen was based outside of their country of origin; and 55% saying it was based in their own country. Just under a third (31%) travelled abroad to enrol onto their course; and 68% stayed in their native country.  

The survey moved on to ask students to explain their reasons for choosing a particular programme.  

More than six out of 10 (61%) said it was the ranking of the MBA programme, that led to their decision. Other popular answers included the reputation of the programme among businesses (cited by 50% of students); the quality of teaching (38%); and the way the programme is delivered (38%). 

SOURCE: AMBA and GBA International MBA Survey 2020

Student experience 

The next section of the survey sought to ascertain students’ perspectives on various aspects of their Business School experience, including the application process, onboarding, careers support, course design and delivery, and accommodation.  

The first question of this section polled participants on the application process.  

Encouragingly, current students are largely positive about their application experience. Almost three quarters (71%) said the open days were very good or excellent; 71% said information about the programme was very good or excellent; 75% said information about the country was very good or excellent; 70% said the entrance exam process was very good or excellent; 71% rated communications from the School as very good or excellent; and two thirds (66%) said communications with current students to candidates was very good or excellent.  

In saying that, 43% believe that the application process could have been improved at their School, with 29% saying it couldn’t be improved and 28% not being sure if it could be improved or not.  

In terms of onboarding, again students are positive about their experience, with 74% saying their onboarding experience had been very good or excellent. However, 53% said that their onboarding experience could have been improved.  

Half (50%) of participants said the onboarding process at their Schools could have been improved with more information about how programmes work in practice. Other areas in the onboarding process participants think could be improved, including the direct interaction they had with Business School staff (cited by 34% of participants); functional information to enable them to start studying (e.g. passwords, provision of software, provision of learning materials) (30%); and information about how the Business School operates (29%). 

When prompted to suggest other enhancements that could improve onboarding, participants’ ideas included a buddy programme; guest lectures from students/alumni during induction week; and more detailed information and about work/life balance while studying.  

Work/life balance 

According to the results, 66% of students surveyed were working full time, 12% were working part time and 23% were not working while completing their MBA. Of those continuing to work, 72% are doing so because of a need to financially support the costs of taking the MBA; 50% need to financially support dependents; and 48% believed the work experience complements their MBA. 

While a large proportion of participants had chosen to work and study simultaneously, a massive 91% admitted that this is very challenging or fairly challenging. 

Seven out of 10 (70%) student participants were living in their own homes, alone or with family while studying. Just under one in 10 (9%) of respondents were living in Business School accommodation; 8% were with living with siblings or parents; and 7% were sharing with other students.  

Almost nine out of 10 (87%) of this group agree that their chosen type of accommodation suited their needs very well or fairly well.  

Value for money 

The MBA represents a significant investment for students, but overall survey participants agreed their MBA was delivering good value for money. Just under a third (32%) said it had provided very good value for money; and 48% said it had provided fairly good value for money.  

At the other end of the scale, 7% believe that the value for money they had received from their MBA was fairly, or very, poor. 

While students polled are positive about the MBA experience and the value  for money, as outlined above, seven out of 10 survey participants (69%) believe that the delivery and/or content of their MBA programme could be improved.  

Half of those who answered this question (50%) think there could be better opportunities to network (although the research was carried out at a period in time when most countries in the world were experiencing enforced lockdowns or travel quarantines due to Covid-19); 43% think partnerships with their Business Schools and corporates could be improved; and 43% suggested improvements around teaching modern business trends (such as AI and data).  

PostMBA planning 

The final section of the questionnaire sought to investigate how MBA students were considering their future and their plans for post-study. 

More than half of those surveyed (54%) do not intend to return to the same job they held prior to undertaking their studies and 17% are not sure.  

Those who were not returning to the same job that they held before completing their MBA were asked what their post-MBA plans were. 

Three quarters (33%) of student survey participants are planning to move to a new company in the same sector in which they currently operate – but with a different job function – following the completion of their qualification; and conversely, a similar proportion (29%) are planning to move to a new company in a different sector with a similar job function.  

Just under one in 10 (9%) want to return to the same company, and the same job role but at a more senior level, when they complete their MBA; and 7% hope to have a different role in the same company. An ambitious 16% have plans to launch their own business. 

Notably, 6% of participants still did not know what their post-MBA plans would be, at the time of completing the questionnaire. 

More than half (55%) are making plans to stay in the country in which they are completing their MBA; and, while 24% are planning to move elsewhere, 21% still are not sure where the future will take them. Of those that are choosing to stay in the country in which they completed their MBA, the largest proportion (39%) are doing so because it is their home country. A third (33%) rated the career opportunities in the country where they studied; 29% like the social life in their country of study; 20% consider it ‘home’; and 12% had met their partner in their country of study.  

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Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (rgcmm.com.au).

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