It’s time for online MBAs

Rekha Sethi

Online management education has gone mainstream since the covid outbreak. With the option of on-campus education taken away and online education being the only option for the entire academic year, there has been a change in attitude. The global trend of growing popularity of online MBAs has got accelerated during the pandemic. In the past couple of years, the applications for conventional MBAs were declining and those for online MBAs were increasing in most management education hotspots in the world.

In India too, there is a shift in demand because of the pandemic and B-Schools are expected to respond. Currently, most online management courses in India are aimed at the middle managers who are looking for promotion through qualification or students who cannot afford or qualify for the on-campus MBA. The lack of placement facility and general recognition of online MBAs is a drawback right now. However, because of the pandemic, that is being also being addressed by both the B-Schools and the employers.

The cost of MBA has become a key factor in a pandemic-affected economy. A lot of people who questioned the return on investment on MBAs are now willing to go for it online because of the savings of time and money. Another key advantage of online management courses is that they do not require taking an entrance exam since the capacity is not a constraint in online education. The arrival of the digital-native generation in the market is also contributing to the shift.

The ongoing uncertainty about travel and stay is influencing education decisions. More students are preferring local and online MBA programs over those that require going and staying in distant cities or countries. Also, demand is shifting towards accelerated, shorter, flexible MBA programs. B-Schools that do not respond to the market will lose to those that do. Today, every B-School has to invest in technology infrastructure and skills for rapid and flexible delivery of learning, testing and certification.

Even the major B-School brands are worried about getting disrupted by new tech-enabled education business models. Though the MOOCS start-ups have not made a dent in the formal education market so far, because of their pursuit of scale instead of quality or recognition, B-Schools are still worried and are trying to pre-empt disruption. The market for business education is too big to remain confined to campus for long. Certain niches that are not protected by regulation, such as digital management skills, are open to dominance by innovators. Entrepreneurial teachers are already developing their personal brands independent of the B-Schools by offering lessons online, positioning those as ‘mini MBA’.

Online MBA students have to be self-sufficient in technology skills, digital network building and finding employment opportunities. They have to build their own brand rather than rely on the brand of the B-School to carry their career.

Online management students need to have an adaptive mindset, as online education allows quick changes in curriculum and introduction of new courses relevant to the immediate circumstances. They need to stay with contemporary trends and take up courses that teach immediately relevant skills. For example, managing business resilience, running business remotely and data security have become critical this year. Online courses are perfectly suited for learning new management skills in the areas such as business automation, machine learning, fintech, e-commerce, telehealth etc.

Accreditation is critical to the market value of online MBA, as it is a new thing. Quality assurance by the regulator or a respected body goes a long way in making the employers pay well for a qualification.

Online MBA is here to co-exist with the on-campus MBA on equal terms. In fact, as the economy and life become on digital and virtual, they would converge with a bias towards online education.

The writer is Director General AIMA

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