A recent conversation with an aspiring MBA applicant had an increasingly common theme – does it make sense to do an MBA during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? The key concerns revolve around the comparability of the online classes experience against the traditional in-person classroom sessions and consequently whether one is getting good value. My response has been consistently a yes. It certainly makes sense to do an MBA during this pandemic; in fact, I would say it makes more sense to do it during the pandemic. I will marshal three key arguments on why aspirants should continue to focus on getting into an MBA program despite the pandemic, even if it is online classes.
The first argument is about the increased relevance of an MBA during the pandemic. The pandemic has disrupted business all over the world. Previous models such as just in time supply chains have been shown to be vulnerable. Assumptions that employees need to come to office in order to be productive have been shattered. New assumptions and models are taking their place and skilled, trained, and capable managers are critical to help business make the transition to the post-COVID ways of doing business. When things are going smoothly, the emphasis on adept managers is limited; it’s the crisis that fuels the need for people who can get things done.
Business schools have traditionally done well during recessions. And the reason for that brings me to the second argument. A crisis period brings with it greater volatility in the workplace resulting in potentially reduced short term rewards and promotions. The aspirant now has lower opportunity cost of doing an MBA compared to growth periods, as her chances of missing bonuses and promotions is much lower.
Finally, global disruptions such as this pandemic cause seismic shifts in the way business is done. We are already seeing a remarkable shift in acceptance of online shopping, use of e-wallets, virtual meetings, and so on. Many of these trends are here to stay – we are unlikely to now hop into a cab to be stuck in traffic for an hour each way for a half hour meeting across the town when it can be conveniently done on a video meeting platform. This means new businesses will come up and old companies will need to shift to new, and predominantly digital, ways of doing their business. IIM Udaipur, for instance, has been systemically increasing the Digital content in its courses. As a matter of fact, it also has India's only 1-year full-time MBA in Digital Enterprise Management. The digital savvy graduates of these updated offerings will be in greater demand.
The COVID-19 pandemic did to global higher education what the recommendations of enlightened and empowered committees could not; it brought the venerable old universities and institutions online. Just two years ago most educational institutions would have placed digital as a context and online as potential platform in the ‘wish-list’ but would have carefully avoided it for immediate implementation due to the disruptive nature of such a change. It took an even larger disruption to accelerate things, and I would argue, for the better. It has brought digital ways of business to the forefront.
Our own experience at IIM Udaipur has show that the online model of teaching has certain advantages that, when leveraged, makes these classes comparable in experience to the in-person sessions. However, a big part of an MBA program is the campus-based peer interaction and learning experience. While online classes have certainly proven to be a viable alternative during the pandemic, they cannot supplant the on-campus experience. Many of the top schools including IIM Udaipur, ISB and the older IIMs have facilitated students to access the campus, creating a safe bubble for them to work together and interact, even while the classes continue online.
While the pandemic has been truly a devastating experience for the world, there is in fact no better time than now to do an MBA.
Prof. Prakash Satyavageeswaran is the Chairperson for the 2-year MBA program at IIM Udaipur
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