While interest in the MBA (Master of Business Administration) has declined slightly in the United States (US) in recent years, programmes outside of the US are thriving, according to the latest Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey of MBA trends.
Degree courses in Asia-Pacific had an 8.9% surge in applications, demand in Europe rose 3.2% and in Canada growth was up 7.7% GMAC reported, demonstrating that the degree is still delivering on expectations.
Yes, it can be costly, and it takes time and commitment, and it has come under fire since the 2008 crisis for encouraging unsustainable thinking, but the MBA remains a life-changing experience, with a track record of opening doors to a large range of rewarding careers.
There are many good reasons why thousands across the globe still flock to get into competitive MBA programmes
1. It can help you to make a difference
Today many MBA candidates reflect a strong social and environmental consciousness. A global study by Yale University of more than 3 700 students at 29 top business schools found that one-fifth were unwilling to work for companies with bad environmental practices.
And GMAC’s 2016 Global Graduate Management Education Segmentation Study, which canvassed 5 900 MBA applicants in 15 countries, found 12% of applicants were driven by the desire to make a difference. GMAC calls these candidates “impactful innovators” and progressive MBA curricula are adapting to meet this demand, offering rigorous, high-impact learning experiences that demand analytical thinking and help students to re-frame business problems and opportunities in order to drive change.
Interestingly, impactful innovators are more likely to be self-employed and live in Asia or Africa — emerging markets with very real socioeconomic challenges that are crying out for innovative solutions.
The University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business building
2. It is an extremely versatile degree
Unlike many postgraduate programmes, which are skill-specific, an MBA is versatile and the skills you learn, particularly soft skills, are readily transferable. This will become increasingly important as the 4th Industrial Revolution takes hold. Indeed, the World Economic Forum ranks skills such as creativity, complex problem-solving and critical thinking as among the top skills required in the next decade of work.
Business school education is shifting accordingly from a pure focus on quantitative analysis in finance and operations towards a broader focus on strategy, organisational behaviour and leadership, which includes an emphasis on these softer skills. This offers students an authentic, versatile and rich personal development experience that translates into value for future employers.
GMAC research in 2017 also found that 86% of companies across the globe plan to hire MBA graduates, up from 79% in 2016.
3. It gives you the skills to go it alone
Fortune.com reports more MBA students than ever are using their MBA experience to incubate new companies, while business schools are boosting their entrepreneurship teaching capabilities.
While the entrepreneur nursing a start-up idea may be averse to investing time and money in it, there is no price to be put to the leadership savvy, decision-making skills and the strategic insights a solid MBA programme offers.
An MBA will teach you everything from writing a business plan, acquiring venture capital to the running of your Initial Public Offering and business in general. Working through case studies offers invaluable insights into patterns and successful businesses.
Research has shown that the failure rate for small businesses started by an MBA graduate is 50% less than the standard failure rate.
4. It is a gateway to the world
An MBA opens a world of opportunities in a global economy where multinationals seek out graduates who are able to work with people of all cultures and language groups. A recent QS Global Employer Survey Report, which canvassed 10 000 employers in 116 countries on five continents, found more than 80% looked for graduates who have studied overseas in a quest for international experience, intercultural skills, and adaptability.
A top business school attracts students from a wide range of countries and cultures, and can give you the opportunity to work in teams to solve real problems and learn through experience. Most good MBA programmes also offer study exchange opportunities and other travel experiences to participate, for example, in global competitions such as the John Molson MBA Case Competition that provide students with unrivalled access to global networks.
5. It can bump you out of a career rut
A 2016 GMAC study of 14 651 alumni from over 1 100 business programmes found that more than half (52%) were employed in an industry or job function different to their pre-degree employment. Two in five worked in an industry not even considered prior to business school.
Rebooting your career in this way is a tactical move. Most top-tier business schools offer expert career coaching and support to help you career pivot and it is worth maximising this opportunity. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, examine gaps in your current skill set and those needed to shift into a new role.
There’s one last reason – it’s social
Ask any MBA graduate for highlights of their experience and they will always mention the people they meet. You will be in an academic hothouse with a group of smart thinkers, both students and teachers, from a wide range of backgrounds. It will be pressurised, but I guarantee there will be fun, and you will emerge with a solid network of friendships that will set you up for a lifetime of success.
Darren Ravens is marketing director of UCT’s Graduate School of Business, one of three triple-crown accredited business schools on the African continent
For information about the globally-recognised MBA at the UCT GSB please contact www.gsb.uct.ac.za/mba