THE BLOG

Why the MBA Is More Important Than Ever

17/06/2015 13:27 BST | Updated 14/06/2016 10:59 BST

This week is Adult Learner's Week, a "national celebration of lifelong learning" and a chance to throw the spotlight on opportunities, events and qualifications that make a real difference to students of all ages.

For me, it would be remiss to let this week pass without discussing the MBA (Masters in Business Administration), as I believe is it one of the most important qualifications of our time, both for adult learners and the UK economy.

The MBA's roots date back to the 19th Century - a fact which may prompt some to question its place in a modern, fast paced world. Those people would be wrong. Because, perhaps uniquely, the MBA is one qualification that has always evolved to meet the ever changing requirements of both students and employers across the world.

You only have to look at recent figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) for proof. Its poll of global businesses found that 84% will hire somebody with an MBA in 2015, a figure which is up 10 percent on the previous year. Although the qualification's roots span back two centuries, the qualification is certainly not dated.

One of the ways key ways that the MBA has evolved is in its diversity. Perhaps once considered a predominantly financial or general management qualification, a broad range of specialisms are now available to students, from healthcare to human resources. In fact, alongside marketing, human resource management is predicted to be one of the biggest areas of demand for major companies.

In addition to MBA graduates being in demand from employers, I also believe the qualification is particularly important for an economy targeting entrepreneurial growth, particularly in relation to technology innovation. Having a great idea, a great design and a ground-breaking product or service is one thing - having the management expertise to evolve those into a successful business is quite another. The combination of the two is a powerful thing.

It's fitting to highlight the potential importance of MBAs for supporting technology led business growth as, arguably, technology has played one of the biggest roles in the MBA's continuous evolution.

Given its particular appeal to students already working and developing careers, the MBA has benefited massively from the rise in online distance learning.

Changing attitudes to this mode of study have played their part, but that has only been made possible through the development of technologies that make the online student learning experience so equipped to stimulate and benefit modern learners.

Interactive student forums, real-time webinars and peer-to-peer study groups that span continents and cultures in terms of the students taking part, provide an ideal environment for developing business men and women of the future that are able to compete on a global stage. Add to that growing array and performance of devices, from smart phones to tablets, and it is clear to see why online learning has had such an impact on MBA study.

Indeed, Clayton Christensen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, has been quite vocal in his belief that in time the whole education system will be transformed by new technology and that almost all learning will take place online.

While I don't necessarily agree that such a dramatic overhaul will or should take place, the very fact that such a prominent figure has expressed such views - particularly in relation to the MBA - demonstrates just how big an impact online opportunities have had on the sector.

All these factors, the economy, the need to develop entrepreneurial talent and the flexibility and accessibility courses mean that right now, a perfect storm is brewing for the MBA. However, that is not to say there are no challenges to overcome.

For example, while MBA graduate recruitment is on the rise - Europe is currently lagging behind compared to other regions. As the area continues to pull its way out of the recession, this will no doubt change but we need to make sure it does. Greater communication and collaboration between academia and business will be essential to this, particularly in terms of developing courses based on real world demand. Supply led models - a legacy higher education model - will no longer cut the mustard.

I think there is also a need for businesses to reflect on their own structures and mechanisms. For example, research has shown that female MBA graduates earn much less than their male counterparts - bonuses awarded to male MBA graduates also almost twice as high. It's a situation that needs addressing in the long run if we are to further nurture take up of MBAs.

These are not insurmountable issues and certainly don't detract from my firm belief that the MBA has truly come of age. The qualification may be a familiar one but we need to ensure that familiarity doesn't mean that the MBA starts to be dismissed as 'old hat'. It isn't. In fact it has never been more relevant to modern business and modern lives.