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Online MBA programmes emerge as pandemic prompts temporary closures

Some of the top MBA providers are planning to launch online programmes in the future.

In this year’s Singapore Business Review rankings of the largest MBA programmes, INSEAD MBA emerged on top, with a whopping 1,008 students enrolled in the programme. It is followed by S P Jain Master of Global Business with 239 students, and Manchester Global Master of Business Administration by Alliance Manchester Business School with 219.

Amongst MBA providers, INSEAD with just its sole MBA programme still has the most number of MBA students, followed by S P Jain School of Global Management and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School with 509 and 373 students, respectively. As a whole, the overall number of students in the top 33 MBA programmes and top 13 MBA providers fell 12.86% to 3,671 in 2020, compared to 4,213 in 2019.

In contrast, online MBA programmes have been on the rise. Aventis School of Management academic director Stanley Soh told Singapore Business Review that they received a spike in requests from prospective students who are considering taking an online MBA, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing digitisation of business school offerings.

In response to such demand, MBA providers have increasingly been bringing such programmes in Singapore. For instance, a spokesperson from the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) shared that they are offering five online or e-learning MBA programmes through Edinburgh Napier University with different specialisations, namely Leadership and Innovation, Marketing & Sales Management, Events Management, Hospitality and Tourism Management, and Health Management.

Aventis is also currently in talks about launching an online MBA programme, after digitising some of their Graduate Diploma programme. Further, Kaplan Higher Education is considering the possibility of launching online MBA programmes. Currently, they are offering an online Master’s programme for Executive Master in Leadership and Strategy and Innovation, in partnership with Murdoch University.

“We believe an online MBA programme will help our students as it offers greater flexibility in terms of managing their time and not being confined to a classroom setting. This will particularly benefit professionals who need to travel frequently for work,” Kaplan Singapore COO and provost, associate professor Rhys Johnson said.

Amity Education Group is also moving towards this, Amity Global Institute’s regional director for South East Asia Prateek Nayak shared. “We are fully supportive of the idea of Online MBAs - particularly given its usefulness in allowing lessons to go on as normal despite the rise of global crises such as COVID-19,” he said. 

Complement to traditional MBA
For Kaplan, an online MBA works an online MBA works as a complement or alternative to the more traditional MBA programmes, as it provides flexibility to those who need it. Johnson notes that students still seem to prefer the traditional face-to-face delivery and teaching model, reflected by their growing MBA students.

“One reason for this is that they value the networking opportunities made possible through face-to-face interactions, which cannot be easily replicated in an online environment,” he said.

MDIS believes that online MBA programmes are tipped to grow. “As executives become strapped for time, balancing their careers and personal commitments, online MBA programmes will see a surge in popularity. MDIS is poised to ride this growth in demand with five online MBA programmes,” MDIS Business School head Ignatius Teo said.

Johnson sees future opportunities in adopting the online delivery structure, especially when situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak are expediting its use. However, he felt that there is still more work to be done to be able to deliver the curriculum online. “Programmes will have to be structured differently or undergo redesign to ensure that quality and learning outcomes are not compromised by a change in delivery mode,” he said.

Either way, Soh believes that the traditionally-taught MBA programmes are not going anywhere. “The physically taught face-to-face MBAs are here to stay as graduate students still value networking, which form a critical part of the MBA proposition,” they said.

Blended learning
Further, Nayak expressed that the market’s appetite is geared towards a blended learning approach, which involves a combination of face-toface sessions with an online blend. “We’ve responded with flipped classrooms where students can absorb much of the simpler material remotely, yet come together for more complex discussions over less easily understood concepts and issues. Plus, it’s easier to progress as a cohort when you have a strong support group of classmates urging you on in the real world,” he said.

Beyond online programmes, Kaplan is also focussing on a blended learning approach. “Our academic faculty utilises a myriad of digital platforms and online resources to facilitate their lessons, allowing students to better absorb knowledge and access learning resources on-thego,” Johnson added.

Aventis in particular has digitised all of their MBA contents, and provided live Facebook recording virtual networking sessions through Zoom of each class as a supplement to on-ground teaching. The incorporation of digital materials and on-demand teaching videos could help schools that lean towards on-ground teaching amidst the rising popularity of online MBA, Soh said.

MDIS is also adopting the use of cloud-based video storage platform Echo 360, which is designed for students to learn anywhere and anywhere they wish. This aims to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of learning for their students. “Cloud computing has enhanced the learning for students through  anytime-anywhere accessibility of teaching materials. Information stored in remote cloud servers allow students to access courseware from any device as well,” Teo said.

Attracting more students
The landscape is expected to become more challenging with the rising popularity of specialised business master programmes, the wider adoption of online MBAs and softer demand for graduate programmes partly due to weakening economy, Soh shared.

However, Teo remains optimistic about MBA programmes for 2020. “This year, MBA programmes in Singapore will continue to attract students, especially as corporations around the world compete to attract executives equipped with solid management training,” he said.

According to QS Global MBA Rankings, Singapore captured four out of the top 10 universities in Asia for MBA programmes, with INSEAD at first, ESSEC Business School at third, NUS at fourth and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) seventh. Globally, these four universities were ranked third, 30th, 32nd and 43rd, respectively.

An article by admissions consultancy firm MBA Crystal Ball says Singapore is considered to be a hub for an MBA degree due to its multicultural society that is open to foreign nationals and offers a high quality of life for MBA degree holders. 

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