As the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year, and new threats to global security emerge in the form of war in Ukraine, many prospective MBA students will be pondering the impact on their business school plans. Uncertainty seems here to stay for the foreseeable future, but schools have already been agile in their response to the disruption of the pandemic.
The emergence of new strains of Covid (Delta and Omicron) will have given some would-be students pause for thought — the risk is a return to online instruction given the recent outbreaks of coronavirus on some business school campuses. While these institutions have become better at remote teaching, those pursuing a full-time, classroom-based MBAs expect the full student experience.
Staying safe on campus
Many schools have put in place digital back-up plans, but their first point of call is making campus instruction as safe as possible. From the start of the pandemic, IESE Business School in Barcelona worked quickly to adapt its classrooms and put in place a rigorous set of health and safety measures for both students and staff, for example.
These efforts include restricted campus access and temperature controls, mandatory mask use in all common spaces, combined with an air-renewal and renovation system. And as the pandemic evolved, these safety measures were further updated for the 2021-22 academic year to include new protocols on vaccination and testing.
“These measures enabled us to be the first top school to successfully return to face-to-face classes back in June 2020,” says Marta Escardó, executive director of the MBA program at IESE. “Thanks to the successful deployment of these measures, we found that we did not need to make any further changes for the Omicron wave.”
With that said, some of the school’s international electives have been put on hold or have been moved to different locations, depending on local travel restrictions. But most schools have returned the MBA experience (almost) to its pre-Covid norm, though many institutions have kept in place a number of measures aimed at minimizing transmission risks: compulsory masks in all indoor spaces including for faculty, as well as social distancing measures.
“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff remains a priority,” says Andrea Masini, associate dean of MBA programs at HEC Paris.
The business school follows the guidelines put forth by the French government: it requires that students are vaccinated or can show a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours in order to attend restaurants on campus, bars, indoor sports facilities, or other organized social events outside of formal classes.
“Since September 2021, our MBA program returned to normal: all courses have been and continue to be delivered in-person and students have access to full utilization of our facilities,” says Masini.
“A digital back-up plan was put in place allowing students who tested positive to continue to study virtually while they were recovering,” he continues. “Over the summer, we upgraded our infrastructure, equipping our lecture theatres with better AV systems to facilitate a seamless and smooth interaction between participants and lecturers in the classroom and participants connected remotely.”
Economic recovery from the pandemic
The economic recovery from the pandemic is another consideration for prospective students. MBA applications are counter-cyclical. So the hot job market makes it less likely that people will want to pause their careers and forgo their salary for one or two years to earn the MBA.
Yet schools present a strong case for doing an MBA now, even with persistent tightness in global labor markets and rising wages. “MBA programs are more important than ever today,” argues Masini. “Companies are in need of employees who can make decisions during uncertain times, who are adaptable, agile and resilient. MBA students acquire these competencies during the program, making them very attractive to recruiters.”
Escardó at IESE agrees. “Now is a particularly good time to consider an MBA,” she says. “The pandemic has put in to sharp focus the need for businesses to be able to adapt quickly to an uncertain context and spot opportunities for growth. These are qualities that are prized in MBA students.”
According to IESE’s latest employment report, 94 percent of MBA alumni secured a job offer within three months of graduation, and many switched careers, employers or geographies.
“One consequence of the pandemic is that it kicked-started a reflection process for many people,” says Escardó. “Many started reflecting deeply on what they want their next career steps to look like, and have now had the time to fully consider and research the idea of taking some time out to do an MBA.”
John Miles, senior consultant at admissions firm Admissionado in the US, sees early signs of strong interest in applications for MBA classes starting this coming fall. “More students are considering alternative paths to their long-term goals, and they are expanding how they seek job opportunities while in school,” he says.
“Perhaps it is the uncertainty of the pandemic that has found its way into the thinking around salary prospects: applicants are focusing less on the money element and much more on the position they want to be in career-wise after school.”