Undoubtedly the biggest story of 2020, it seems as if COVID-19 has left no area of our lives untouched.
Business school candidates felt the impact of COVID-19 no matter where they were in their b-school journey, from application to admissions to courses in progress. Even recent graduates approaching the job market faced a dramatically changed landscape.
Rarely has a year given us as much to process as 2020—and yet the coronavirus pandemic was not the only challenge business schools were faced with this year.
Here are five events which shocked the business school world in 2020:
By March 2020, a third of those who’d already been accepted onto MBA programs were considering deferring their degree due to coronavirus, and many were deterred by the risk of committing so much time and money during such an uncertain time.
Meanwhile, coronavirus was rewriting the MBA application process. Some schools waived GRE and GMAT scores altogether. Schools shifted admissions deadlines and even starting dates for their courses, while ditching campus visits and moving the interview process online. Several even worked to formulate conditional offers for students in changed circumstances.
Budgets were cut; campuses closed; recruitment, internships, and admission events transitioned online; faculty had to learn new online methods of delivery. Coronavirus impacted the entire business school ecosystem in 2020 and the changes schools have made may impact the business school experience for many years to come.
2. The Shift Online
What started as a stop-gap solution may have produced the most drastic and long-lasting cultural shift to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. As coronavirus imposed quarantines and travel restrictions, business schools suspended in-person classes and moved their courses online.
They were not alone: across the world business and institutions have shifted to remote working wherever they can. Now that it’s been done, going forward, more workers are likely to want to work from home and businesses are likely to retain practices that will help them cut costs.
The shift to online wasn’t painless for business schools and students. Many MBA candidates felt cheated of the peer interaction and networking opportunities which are a major benefit of attending a top-ranked school. Others, facing constricted finances, called on schools to reduce their fees, only to find that schools such as Harvard were facing massive losses themselves.
Nevertheless, the move may pay off in the long run, equipping graduates with valuable skills for navigating the new professional landscape.
Check out: The 20 Best Online MBA Programs For 2021
3. US Visa Disruption
On top of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration caused even more concern for those looking to study at the range of top schools located in the US—not to mention the schools themselves, who faced a severe threat to their applicant pools.
The suspension of H-1B visas restricted the opportunities foreign MBAs had to work in the US after graduation in 2020. The ban will stay in place until the end of the year.
In July, the Trump administration announced its plan to revoke the visas of foreign students who would be completing their fall semester online rather than on campus, which in the midst of COVID-19, was a far-reaching decision. Harvard and MIT promptly sued, as did 17 US states and the district of Columbia, and the administration backed down.
The outlook is more positive, however: incoming President Joe Biden has already announced plans to attract, rather than discourage, foreign students.
4. Black Lives Matter
The anti-racist Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started in the US but in 2020 protests spread across the world after the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in police custody. Many prominent business schools responded to the call for action, with both deans and students reaffirming their commitment to diversity.
The influence of the BLM movement aligned with a rising trend in recent years: prominent businesses becoming actively concerned with their social impact. Schools such as the University of Georgia Terry College of Business took measures to incorporate social impact training into their MBAs, to equip the business leaders of tomorrow with the knowledge they need to make difference.
5. The US Election
The fiercely fought US elections generated a lot of uncertainty in 2020. As this year’s visa controversy shows, the political regime in the USA has a profound impact on American business schools, which include some of the world’s most prestigious programs, and for them the election results would be far-reaching.
International enrolments have contracted sharply under the Trump administration. More broadly, it was predicted that a Democratic government would be more efficient at restoring the economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, affecting the value of an MBA in the long term. The tumultuous election and contestation of results have made for a bumpy ride for US Schools.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty and huge, sometimes overdue shifts in our societies. Business schools have spent the year scrambling to reposition themselves and stay relevant. Whether schools can keep up with the pace of change in 2021 remains to be seen.