Innovation and creativity in MBA delivery: the biggest challenge to world-leading Business Schools

Ensuring that MBA programmes are taught in ways that maximise engagement with students and do not conform to typical teaching models is the biggest challenge facing senior Business School decision-makers, according to a global study by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Education Centre of Excellence at Parthenon-EY, a global strategy consultancy.


Ensuring that MBA programmes are taught in ways that maximise engagement with students and do not conform to typical teaching models is the biggest challenge facing senior Business School decision-makers, according to a global study by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Education Centre of Excellence at Parthenon-EY, a global strategy consultancy.

Among the range of potential challenges listed in the Global Business School Leaders’ Survey’, being innovative or creative in MBA delivery’ was ranked the most significant challenge by Business School leaders. Survey respondents cited this as a more significant challenge than other issues including: ‘recruiting sufficient numbers of students’; ‘careers support’; and ‘retaining high quality staff.’

The Global Business School Leaders’ Survey sought to identify key trends, challenges and regional perspectives on the future of post-graduate business education from leading Business School’s staff from across the world.Opinions were collected via an online quantitative survey and a series of in-depth qualitative interviews. More than 170 Business School staff participated in the survey and 10 gave personal insights into the challenges, trends and regional issues affecting the MBA industry, through extended interviews.


The findings revealed that the second biggest challenge, cited by Business School leaders worldwide, was recruiting a sufficient number of students. This was particularly prevalent in responses taken from Business Schools in the Americas.

The survey also sought to identify where Business Schools are focusing their recruitment efforts and what specific attributes they desired most from applicants.

It found that approximately every $3 in $10 spent on marketing MBA programmes to prospective students was spent on social media advertising. Interviews suggested that this was due to social media being the most targeted and effective in terms of return on investment. In contrast, more ‘traditional’ methods of student recruitment (such as MBA fairs) accounted for a substantially lower proportion of participating Business Schools’ marketing budgets.

When Business School staff were asked which attributes they desired the most in candidates when recruiting MBA students, prior experience in business or leadership positions was ranked the most desirable attribute. In contrast, forms of standardised testing – be that academic or Business School specific examinations – were ranked among the least desirable when making offers to prospective MBA students.

The survey also aimed to gain further information on the profitability of the MBA. Findings indicated that three-quarters of respondents indicated that their MBA programmes made a profit, however only 47% of respondents from Business Schools in the UK stated that their MBA programme surpassed breaking even – much lower than the 85% reported in the Americas.

Looking forward to the future of MBA study, almost 70% of respondents indicated that specialist MBA programmes were a growing trend, despite this, less than a third offered an industry-specific MBA programme at the time of completing the survey.

In terms of international students enrolled at respondent’s Business Schools, Chinese and Indian nationals were the most represented among respondent’s MBA cohorts. Of the 17 respondents from UK Business Schools that participated in the survey, 10 stated that Chinese people made up the largest proportion of their their international student populations and on average accounted for 18% of their total MBA cohorts.

In analysing the findings, Parthenon-EY identified four major themes across the study; innovation and competition; internationalisation; relevance and employability and digitalisation.

These have a major impact on the student lifecycle whether that recruiting students, delivering their course and supporting students to find roles upon graduation.

Danish Faruqui, Managing Director in Parthenon-EY’s Education Centre of Excellence, said: ‘The focus on innovation and creativity in MBA delivery is one of the most compelling findings of the study and indicates that business school leaders are keen to differentiate their offerings in an increasingly crowded market.’

The study’s findings were presented to a packed room of Deans and MBA Directors at AMBA’s 50th Anniversary Global Conference in Dubai by Parthenon-EY’s Managing Director Ashwin Assomull.

Summary of Key finding

  • The need to be innovative and creative in MBA delivery was the biggest challenge cited by senior Business School staff worldwide. The interviews suggest this is linked to the necessity to adapt to a changing culture among students, as well as the need to adopt and update supporting digital technology that is used to deliver MBA courses.
  • The second biggest challenge cited among senior Business School staff was recruiting sufficient numbers of students for programmes. This was notable in responses provided by participants from the Americas.
  • Almost seven in 10 (69%) Business School leaders said specialist MBA programmes were part of a growing trend, despite less than a third of respondents offering such programmes at present. Of the current specialist MBA programmes on offer, the most popular type of programmes were those orientated towards the finance industry.
  • Three quarters (75%) of respondents indicated that their MBA programmes generated a profit for their School. Among the respondents who indicated that their MBA was not financially profitable, 80% noted that prestige was a key reason why the MBA remained on offer.
  • In interviews, MBAs were described as ‘flagship’ programmes. Ranked or highly regarded MBA programmes were viewed as indicative of the quality of a Business School and these MBAs supported the recruitment of both executive education and specialist MSc students.


 The survey was conducted via two methods: an online survey and ten in-depth telephone interviews with ten Business School Deans and MBA Directors, representing six continents, the results of which were anonymised.

A total of 173 Business School leaders (Deans, Associate Deans, MBA Directors and other senior management team members), based in Schools in 43 countries, took part in the online survey. In order to ensure accuracy, regional sampling and percentages have only been provided for findings from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the UK. Eastern Europe features respondents from Business Schools based in Greece, Cyprus and Russia. North and South America, as well as the Caribbean, have been grouped together as the ‘Americas’; however, it should be noted that 85% of respondents from this region were located in Latin America.

Almost three in five (58%) respondents worked for public institutions, while 33% worked for private not-for-profit institutions. Only 9% of respondents represented private for-

profit institutions.

About AMBA

The Association of MBAs (AMBA) is the impartial authority on postgraduate management education and is committed to raising its profile and quality standards internationally for the benefit of business schools, students and alumni and employers. AMBA established that vision in 1967 and it’s as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

Our accreditation service is the global standard for all MBA, DBA and Business Master’s degrees, currently accrediting programmes from the top 2% of business schools in over 83 countries.

We are the only professional membership association that connects MBA students, graduates, accredited Business Schools and MBA employers worldwide.

Through our proprietary research centre we produce a rich body of reports exploring global trends in the sector and drivers of thought leadership

As of early April 2017, AMBA had a worldwide membership community of over 25,000 members and a presence in every continent. This forms a rich network of varied insights that are shared through an active online community.

Networking opportunities online and in person are offered across all continents with corporate partners, alongside access to a database of career advice and knowledge and an MBA jobs portal. Accredited Business Schools, their students and alumni are provided with access to a range of services and benefits, including superior world-class events and training.

About Parthenon-EY

Parthenon-EY is a strategy consultancy, committed to bringing unconventional yet pragmatic thinking together with our clients’ smarts to deliver actionable strategies for real impact in today’s complex business landscape. The Parthenon-EY Education practice — the first of its kind across management consulting firms — has an explicit mission and vision to be the leading strategy advisor to the global education industry. Parthenon-EY has delivered more than 1,000 education sector engagements across over 95 countries in the last 10 years. Parthenon-EY is a member of the global network of EY Firms.