The traditional MBA, under pressure from specialized masters programs and online learning, needs to adapt and change to remain relevant. Courses on artificial intelligence and big data analytics are examples of how the MBA curriculum is registering the changing demands of its candidates and corporate recruiters.
With help from MBA directors and faculty from top business schools, we bring you the five hottest topics on the MBA curriculum in 2020:
1. Big data
By 2025, it’s predicted that there will be 175 zetabytes of data globally—four times the amount of data that exists today.
Big data is already one of the best tools available for making decisions, whether this is in marketing, economics, or political behaviour. For MBAs, it is quickly becoming an essential skill.
“Analytics is showing up across all areas of the curriculum,” explains Maura Herson, assistant dean of the MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management, “We’ve got marketing analytics, finance analytics, human capital analytics. Everyone’s applying analytics frameworks to gain new insights.”
MIT Sloan offers a business analytics certificate on its MBA, an offering which is becoming pretty commonplace on MBA programs around the world. In addition, the school has launched a Master of Business Analytics (MBAn) degree program, As well as giving students the hard skills of understanding large quantities of data, there is a soft skill application of analytics, such as asking the right questions and communicating with data.
“It’s about how do you take the insights that you’ve gained, and persuade leaders to make decisions based on that,” Maura adds.
Overlapping business with elements of ‘science’ doesn’t stop at analytics. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills are fast becoming a useful tool for the polymath MBA graduate.
This is largely a result of the digitalization of business, and in particular the increasing number of MBAs going into tech jobs after graduation. It also plays to an interdisciplinary approach to education—MIT Sloan students, for example, can take up to three courses at different schools at MIT.
It is also a reaction to two crises in the US: declining international applications to US schools, and, as a result, an impending STEM skills shortage.
Graduates with a STEM designated degree or certification can extend their optional practical training (OPT) period by an additional two years, meaning they can stay and work in the US for up to three years without an H1B visa. Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley are just two schools who have announced a STEM designation on their MBA programs in the past year, with many more expected to follow.
3. Sustainable development
There’s no ignoring the impending threat of the climate crisis. Business is recognized as the most effective way of tackling it, and an increasing number of applicants are seeing the MBA as a means of having an impact.
Corporate Knights already offers a rankings system based on sustainability; while the Financial Times Global MBA rankings this year continue to include the weighting of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
INSEAD has seen a marked increase in students looking to do good with their business degree. The French school last year opened the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, an institute dedicated to implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) through INSEAD’s curriculum.
“We’re implementing sustainability, via these goals, as a manifestation of the global effort to tackling climate change,” insists Minh Huy Lai, managing director of INSEAD’s MBA.
Sustainability, previously offered as an elective course at most schools, is being rolled out across elective and core courses, such as courses on sustainable finance, climate finance, and circular economies. The latter understands how to view economies as circular, rather than linear, keeping and reusing resources for as long as possible, a key part of which is innovation.
“Innovation through technology remains relevant to solving the major challenges faced by business and society, with circular economy approaches on our curriculum offering a fresh lens to look at new business models,” says Jackie Bagnall, MBA director at University of Exeter Business School.
4. Emotional intelligence
A backlash to the ‘strong man’ style of leadership exhibited in global politics, MBA curricula are beginning to emphasize a more emotionally intelligent leadership for its candidates. This includes allowing students to reflect on their own personal approach to leadership, including their strengths and weaknesses.
“The softer, more behavioural attributes such as empathy, critical thinking and creative intelligence serve the contemporary business leader well,” Jackie from Exeter explains.
INSEAD is launching a moral philosophy elective on its MBA. This combines traditional philosophical outlooks, and applying it to a leadership which is guided by ethics.
UBC Sauder School of Business has launched an emotional intelligence assessment as part of its MBA, allowing students to understand how emotions shape their thoughts and actions. It can pay off, literally—those with a high EQ can earn up to $29k more each year.
5. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning continue to influence and shape the way business is done. It’s not as simple as robots taking our jobs—it’s about creating tools to make our jobs easier.
MIT Sloan is launching an elective in global business of AI and robotics; at INSEAD, the MBA is introducing a course in AI strategy. Business schools are starting to think about how AI can create opportunities that didn’t exist before by mechanising processes and removing human error.
It’s even changing the way courses are being taught, such as Imperial College Business School’s AI chatbot, which can answer students’ questions faster than the professor.