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MBA programmes expand globally despite cost pressures

Providers offer experiential learning programmes through disruptive technologies.

As the modern workforce evolves, MBA education is changing to keep pace with the new demands. However, inflation pressures are driving up the cost of traditional MBA programmes, prompting providers to explore cost-effective solutions. From launching online MBA programmes to expanding experiential learning initiatives, schools are adapting to meet the needs of a diverse range of students. These efforts are reflected in the latest Singapore Business Review rankings, which show that top MBA providers are still able to accommodate large enrollments.

The rankings showed that 11 MBA providers enrolled 3,501 students in 2022, which represents a 2.4% growth from 3,418 enrolled in 2021. But despite the higher number of students, the number of providers who participated in the rankings edged down to 11 from 12. The count of programmes also declined to 23 this year from 25 in 2021.

INSEAD was still offering the largest MBA programme, with 843 enrolled students in 2022 from 915 in the previous rankings. The business school is also the top MBA provider. 

Ranking the programmes, James Cook University MBA, with 345 enrolled students in 2022 from 252 in 2021, placed second. S P Jain Master of Global Business ranked third with 300 students in 2022 from 239 in 2021.

Meanwhile, amongst the MBA providers, the runner-up was S P Jain School of Global Management, Singapore with a total of 460 enrolled students in 2022 for its three programmes. Next is the National University of Singapore Business School, which has a total of 430 students for its four MBA programmes.

International programmes 

When borders became barriers to travel in 2020, it prevented the S P Jain School of Global Management from getting international students on their campus.

“[MBA programmes] did get affected during the COVID-19 pandemic except for our Executive MBA Programme, which was a part-time programme meant for the locals who are residing in Singapore,” Rashmi Udaykumar, S P Jain School of Global Management’s director of administration and admissions, told Singapore Business Review.

Udaykumar said their MBA programmes are nearly 100% composed of international students, who are primarily from India. She explained that classes continued as scheduled but international students could not go to the Singapore campus.

“As a global school, that became our strength because Dubai was still very much open. We were able to funnel many of our students to our Dubai Campus,” added Rashmi.

Now, as the economy revives and Singapore is at the forefront of opening early, S P Jain’s MBA global programmes have revived especially multi-campus learning. This is being offered in Dubai, Singapore, and Sydney. Recently, S P Jain established a campus in London, UK.

Through the multicampus model, Udaykumar said it would help students become heavily equipped with different industry practices, society, political systems, and nuances in every country.

“They will benefit from seeing how there is an impact of culture and politics or environment on business decisions. That makes them more industry ready and more resilient and a lot of exposure to the global practices and global collaborations,” said Udaykumar when asked what sets their MBA programmes apart.

The out-of-class learning course helps raise the employability of an MBA graduate because courses will develop students’ global intelligence, global collaborations, and multicultural competencies, said Udaykumar.

Another example of an MBA global programme is PSB Academy’s MBA for Global Business programme. Dr. Calvin Tan, PSB Academy’s head of the school of postgraduate studies, said it prepares students with leadership skills in different cultures and borders.

“The programme features a blend of theoretical and practical learning, which helps students to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world business scenarios,” said Tan in an interview with Singapore Business Review.

Kaplan Singapore President Susie Khoo said their school has been collaborating with Murdoch University to provide a double master’s degree choice for students, which develops MBA and a master’s degree.

“These Double Master’s Degrees equip our graduates with a more extensive set of skills, enabling them to take on more responsibilities and unlock more opportunities, as they progress in their careers,” Khoo told Singapore Business Review.

For example, graduates of combined MBA and master of information technology degree programmes will be equipped with business skills and a specialist data science degree. This will set MBA graduates apart from the rest of the workforce in the digital economy, said Khoo.

Professor Leon Choong, Amity Global Institute ASEAN CEO, said their partnerships with the University of London, University of Northampton, and Teesside University, helped them to receive international recognition, experienced faculty, and offer a practical learning approach.

“In a challenging and complex economic climate, there is an ever-increasing demand for reflective, entrepreneurial, and responsible business leaders with the necessary skills, understanding, and acumen to tackle the difficult challenges facing organisations of all sizes,” said Choong in a Singapore Business Review interview.

Disruptive technology

MBA providers included a state-of-the-art innovation in their curriculum as employer demand for advanced digital skills heightens. 

Professor Jochen Wirtz, National University of Singapore (NUS) vice dean of MBA programmes, said they are looking into launching its app called, programme builder. 

The app allows the student to choose which industry they want to be in and then the app will send an email to the student a PDF of their recommended MBA journey.

“All of the courses, the electives, whatever experience, everything is in that [app] and then you get the link where you can find the modules,” Wirtz told Singapore Business Review.

Wirtz revealed that amongst the common programmes, students go into are finance, entrepreneurship, or business startups. He also revealed most students are also into the energy business.

For S P Jain, Udaykumar said one of their patented innovations, Engage Learning Online (ELO), helped the school to have a “futuristic business education system.” It uses a robot tracking camera that features a synchronous replica of a live classroom. ELO allows students to collaborate on assignments, discuss and debate, and participate in polls, quizzes, and breakout sessions. 

Urs Peyer, dean of degree programmes and associate professor of finance at INSEAD, said business schools are being disrupted by AI. 

“At INSEAD we have always focused on educating our students to consider the impact business has on society; whilst that principle remains—the challenge of AI likely exceeds anything we have a blueprint for. Thus, an MBA education and the learning journey students and faculty go through together will be even more important in the future,” Peyer said.

Choong said they also incorporated more specialised and technically-focused master's programmes in areas such as data science, machine learning, and AI.

Cost-effective solutions

Prateek Nayak, vice president of South East Asia at Amity Global Institute, Singapore, cited rising operational costs, an increase in demand for business education, and inflation as some of the reasons behind raising tuition.

“It is also important to note that business schools are often private institutions, which means they don't receive direct government funding, making tuition a primary source of revenue,” Nayak told Singapore Business Review.

Nayak also said they offer “flexible and affordable education” through flexible payment plans that allow students to pay fees in instalments. Kaplan Singapore also offers alternative payment options, instalment plans, and interest-free credit card instalment options.

Tan said they invested in a STEM Wing facility, located in PSB Academy’s city campus in Marina Square mall, to house some of their cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printers, renewable energy machine trainers, and hydraulic benches.

This new wing also allows the academy to strengthen its programmes in AI, blockchain, data science, and robotics.

“By focusing on these key strategies, PSB Academy has been able to remain competitive and attractive to students, even amidst inflation,” said Tan.

In S P Jain Master of Global Business, the minimum fee for students increased from over $38,000 (US$28,469) to $68,434 (US$51,270). One of the reasons behind this is sustainability initiatives, such as the incorporation of energy-efficient LED lights and motion sensor lighting throughout the campus.

“If it's very energy-intensive equipment, we're trying to dispose of them and replace them according to the energy rating system approved by the Singapore government,” Udaykumar said.

For INSEAD, if students may not afford the fees, it offers scholarships, which prompted the school to double its funds for scholars.

“There are over 100 types of MBA scholarships available, which apply to both our campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore. They allow the school to attract top candidates, support students with limited financial means, and keep INSEAD competitive on a global level,” Peyer said.

For NUS’ MBA, the minimum cost for students grew to $91,090 for the intake joining in 2023 from $69,550 in 2021. Wirtz emphasised that the rise in fees went up due to their “massive investments” into experiential learning and scholarships. 

NUS has acurriculum that focuses on experiential learning. NUS MBA offers participation in deep tech and health tech start-up ventures, overseas immersion trips, and business plan competitions. These enable students to learn-by-doing.

In INSEAD, it updates elective offerings every six months, Peyer said. Changes include energy transition finance and sustainable finance. Most recently they added crypto entrepreneurship and an elective on non-fungible tokens.

“Content of our core courses also adapts. Although the foundational theories do not change as much, the applications do change with new business challenges,” he said.

“For the intake that starts in the summer of 2023, we do have an updated core curriculum incorporating into all core courses a learning objective related to sustainability,” added Peyer. 

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