Nigel Hayes and Roland Siegers look at the seemingly irresistible rise of the specialised masters business programme.
For over a decade, European business schools have stolen a march on their US counterparts by offering candidates the opportunity to study one year business masters programmes.
One reason for US schools’ reluctance to embrace these masters programmes has been their perceived threat, particularly from the masters in management (MiM) programme, to traditional MBAs that have been the financial and reputational backbone of all leading US schools.
The thinking has been that although a lower-cost, one-year programme offered to applicants with an undergraduate degree but little work experience may not directly rival an MBA programme, it could stall future demand for MBAs as employers would already have capable and qualified employees. Hence the incentive to take two years out of a career to study an MBA (at a substantial cost) would be reduced.
Yet it seems these fears have been largely unfounded and some of the big-brand US business schools, including Fuqua, Kellogg, Michigan Ross and MIT Sloan, have started to offer MiMs and other specialised business masters programmes.
So if the US big guns are getting on board, where does this leave European business schools and their flagship MiMs?
To answer this question we must first turn to the colossi of Asia, China and India. According to a recent report from GMAC, prospective students from China and Hong Kong favour business masters programmes over MBAs.
In fact, the most sought-after programmes were masters in finance, with 54% of students considering these programmes; accounting with 32%; and management with 30%.
This compares with 28% of prospective students saying they were considering a full-time two-year MBA programme and 24% considering a one-year MBA programme.
Similar trends are occurring in India, where, according to a 2014 Financial Times report, there is little differentiation between an MBA and a MiM.
The Indian government, recognising the need for high-level business education to complement its rapid economic growth, has been opening new Institutes of Management around the country that offer two-year management programmes.
As far as employers and prospective students are concerned these are comparable with MBAs but have the advantage of providing more specialised skill sets.
As the pioneer of MiMs and specialised business masters programmes, European business schools are well placed to offer students and businesses the programmes they demand.
Looking at recent applicants to masters programmes internationally, foreign candidates constitute the largest component of the applicant pool for MBA and non-MBA masters programmes and are responsible for the changing numbers globally.
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