‘No longer the place to be’ the Economist October 6th and ‘Finding Happiness the MBA way’ Management Today October 2012

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These two short articles have the same theme, the ways in which the MBA is changing.  The Economist article is the better of the two, because it is based around their own survey of Business School rankings.  The main theme is the way in which the European business schools are struggling to keep up their numbers as the recession continues.  Apparently a recession is good for MBAs if it is short – a convenient break until things recover – but has the opposite impact if it goes on for several years.

The drop in numbers is most serious among Asian students who previously believed that schools like London, INSEAD and IMD had the right cachet but were not so long and expensive as the top American schools.  They are now thinking again for a number of reasons; Europe is not exactly an example of economic success right now and countries, particularly the UK, are tightening up on visa regulations.  This has caused UK schools to suffer an 11% drop in volume this year.

It is surprising where these lost students have gone; not to the USA where many of the above problems still exist and costs are even higher, but to Australia and Canada where the reputations of their schools have grown markedly.  Apparently Australian MBAs are the highest paid in their first jobs after graduation.  Asian students have also decided to opt for the emerging schools in their own region, with China and Indian academic reputations on the increase.

While this is very interesting, it is not borne out by their own ranking survey, a summary of which is shown at the end of the article.  The ranking is based on four factors; career opportunities, personal development, salary levels and networking potential.  Despite their cost and duration, American Schools still take the top 8 places (Chicago 1st, Harvard surprisingly only 5th), Europeans in 9th, 10th and 12th places, and the top Canadian school only 16th.  There is not an Australian or Asian school in the top 25 that is shown.  If the changes they describe in the article are part of a trend, it seems to have a long way to go.

The Management Today article is less well researched and falls into the familiar pattern of such populist magazines by quoting a few examples and suggesting that it’s a significant trend.  The suggested trend is for MBA students to be forsaking the quest for more money after qualification and instead going in for life changing projects, like helping African children or developing ventures in third world economies.

This leads into a broader argument that the MBA is more than a degree, it is a life changing experience and, unsurprisingly, there are senior people from Business Schools – Cranfield and IMD – who agree with this suggestion.  IMD even include in their MBA an option to work with a psychologist, which nearly everyone goes for. There is also mention of an ‘Anti-MBA’ run by the McGill School (Canada again) which was originally developed by long standing behavioural guru Henry Mintzberg; this MBA deliberately sets out to boost a ‘reflective mindset’ and includes pilgrimages to places of worship, including a spell in India.

These may be examples of life changing opportunities but it is a long way from arguing that this is the norm.  More credible is the assertion that many MBAs from developing countries are tending to go back to their home countries more quickly, rather than looking for higher paid opportunities in the USA or Europe.  This would seem to tie in with the Economist article and is probably more to do with the lack of opportunities in the West rather than a desire to change the world.

The individual who is singled out during the article – the IMD graduate who is working in Africa – rounds off the argument by saying ‘I have friends in big companies who earn more than me but that alone wouldn’t make me happy; happiness is the ultimate kick’.  I hope that he means it and that this really is the start of a wider trend.  But I would need more evidence to be sure.

Read the original articles;

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