Feature Article

Race to
the Top

More providers, greater student mobility, and raised expectations mean that business schools must do all they can to make sure their programs stay ahead of their fiercest competition.
By Trisha Bisoux September/October 2012

How has competition changed for business schools? This story from the UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles may be one indication. The school's dean, Judy Olian, tells of an Anderson alum who has three sons. "His first two sons attended Anderson," she says. "His third son attended Tsinghua University in Beijing." That third son's choice shows just how global competition is changing patterns of enrollment, Olian says.

"Ten years ago, schools like Tsinghua, London Business School, and INSEAD were outliers in our market. Today, they're in the mainstream. I imagine in a few years that list will include new schools in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries," she says.

Globalization is just one force intensifying the competition among b-school programs. The presence of for-profit providers is growing, online programs are flourishing, and consultant firms, design schools, and engineering schools are beginning to offer their own brands of business training.

To learn more about how business schools are responding to these competitive pressures, BizEd queried participants on AACSB Exchange, AACSB's online community. Administrators from around the world responded, sharing the challenges they face and the strategies they've designed to have maximum impact for minimal cost.

Taking Energy Online

University of Tulsa
Collins College of Business
United States

Administrators at Collins College have been acutely aware of the competition presented by the proliferation of online programs, says Linda Nichols, associate dean and director of graduate business programs. While the school does not offer a general MBA online, its administrators decided to enter the virtual education market by drawing on one of the university's signature strengths—a focus on the energy industry.

The school's online masters in energy business (MEB) degree, launched this fall, involves professors from the business and law schools who specialize in the energy industry, as well as experts from the university's McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering. The MEB program will be delivered completely online, although students will be required to come to campus for an initial two-day orientation.

The school expected to enroll about 20 students in its first MEB cohort, but the program actually has enrolled more than twice that number. This year's cohort includes students from Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania—and even Nigeria.

Energy "is a unique niche that we believe we can fill well," says Nichols, who specializes in energy accounting and financial reporting. If successful, she adds, the MEB could be a foundation for future online programs.

Emphasizing Accreditation

T.A. Pai Management Institute (TAPMI)
Karnataka, India

In India, the market is "very saturated," with approximately 3,700 business schools, says R.C. Natarajan, director of TAPMI. He explains that India's higher education system also is very regulated, which leaves self-financed private schools at a disadvantage.

But that kind of saturation means that only the strong survive. "Close to 150 schools have filed for dissolution with the regulatory authority," Natarajan says. Moreover, new campuses for the government- supported Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are opening at a faster rate. "The IIMs are increasing their student intakes," says Natarajan. "That competitive scenario means that private schools fall below the IIMs in the pecking order of choice among potential students. While a dissolution frenzy has begun at the bottom, the competition at the top has become more fierce."

TAPMI will remain competitive by highlighting its AACSB Accreditation, says Natarajan. TAPMI and the Indian School of Business are the only schools in India to hold that credential. By stressing that distinction in the media and through its promotions, TAPMI will position itself to forge stronger alliances with Western schools in its management development programs to "make us more visible to executives," Natarajan says. He believes this strategy also will give the school an edge when it comes to student recruitment and academic partnerships.

Joining Up

UCLA Anderson School of Management
Los Angeles, California

UCLA Anderson views models of shared delivery between and among schools as a key strategy to address the industry's need for more global programs. Most recently, the school entered into shared delivery models for two of its executive MBA programs, the UCLA-NUS Global Executive MBA with the National University of Singapore and the UCLA-UAI Global Executive MBA for the Americas with Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Santiago, Chile. Students in both programs attend classes on both campuses, as well as other sites, and receive degrees from both institutions involved in the partnership.

Such partnerships allow schools to design more comprehensive global programs while still playing to their strengths, says dean Judy Olian. "Business students know that they need this kind of program to become future global leaders," she adds. "We know we have to take the steps to offer it."

Becoming Learning Consultants

Ashridge Business School
Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Ashridge's heavy focus on customized executive education means that its main competitors aren't just other business schools, says Toby Roe, the school's corporate communications director. "We also face competition from management and HR consultancies, as well as specialist training providers, that are moving into this space."

In August, Ashridge took its customized approach one step further to strengthen its position against its competitors—it formed a new learning consultant. Before a program begins, the consultancy—which includes faculty, researchers, and external experts—will provide participants two reports. The first report, which draws on a proprietary metric, predicts how well participants will be able to transfer what they learn in the program to their organizations. The second report offers recommendations for how participants can use their new knowledge to benefit their employers.

The learning consultancy's other role is to provide post-program evaluations and feedback to participants, and help them develop cultures of learning within their organizations.

The objective, says Roe, is to ensure that Ashridge's programs meet and exceed participants' expectations.

Getting Noticed

Tecnologico de Monterrey
EGADE Business School
Monterrey and Mexico City, Mexico

European and U.S. schools are recruiting more students and faculty from Latin American and Caribbean countries. They're also exporting their executive education programs into the region, says Laura Zapata Cantu, director of MBA programs at EGADE Business School. Those trends led EGADE to rethink its outreach efforts and curriculum.

To make the school more visible amidst its competition, EGADE's marketing department is engaging in an all-out push on social media channels. The marketing department has established a presence on seven social networking sites to reach different audiences, for different reasons. It's using Twitter and Google+ to grow its influence, Facebook to build reputation, YouTube to share multimedia, LinkedIn to reach an older and more experienced demographic, Foursquare to engage in location-based marketing, and Pinterest to appeal to audiences on a more visual level. Together, these strategies will help the school establish an online presence, says Cantu.

EGADE also is drawing attention to its focus on corporate social responsibility, she adds. The school highlights research generated by its Center of Economic and Social Value Integration and assigns a variety of MBA field projects related to corporate social responsibility. For its efforts in this area, the school has earned international recognition, including a spot in Beyond Grey Pinstripes, the Aspen Institute's ranking of MBA programs according to their emphasis on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Establishing a Specialty

Group Sup de Co Montpellier
Business School
Montpellier, France

In France, business schools are vying to capture different shares of the market, says Didier Jourdan, dean of Montpellier Business School. "Some are international schools with an established presence, some are regional players looking to expand, and some have merged with peers to strengthen their positions," he says. "Our school has chosen a niche strategy. We're focusing on managerial innovation to differentiate ourselves."

The school defines managerial innovation as "practices that help companies sustainably improve performance." It has integrated this focus by making a number of changes:

• Redesigned courses now include more real-life scenarios and opportunities for student reflection, as well as activities such as simulations, public speaking, and debates to enhance students' creativity and critical thinking.

• A new apprenticeship program allows master's-level students to spend one week at school and three weeks working at host companies. That cycle repeats every four weeks throughout the school year. Participating companies pay for students' tuition and give them time to participate in blended learning activities. Students who do not have an apprenticeship must spend a mandatory year abroad.

• A Pearson e-book with material related to managerial innovation has been created by faculty. Students can access it in French or English, through platforms such as Moodle, Speechi/Alexandra, OpenPortal, and SharePoint.

• A new administrative structure gives managers more autonomy and allows different groups to collaborate more easily.

• New recruitment centers in Thailand, Morocco, Greece, and the Dominican Republic attract a more international student body, and centers in Tunisia and Algeria are planned. To accommodate international students, some course content is delivered in French and English.

• A network of corporate partners connects the school to firms in France, Europe, and the 21 Mediterranean countries. The school is in the process of forming the Mediterranean Schools of Management Consortium, a network of business schools that want to study managerial innovation and contribute to the development of Mediterranean countries.

So far, Jourdan is pleased with the school's niche strategy. He says, "We believe our niche in managerial innovation positions us well as we reach out to national, European, and Mediterranean markets."

You Have to Stand for Something

These educators are excited about what increased competition means for the industry. Their schools are rethinking their programs and designing new ways to approach business education. Their efforts, they hope, will translate to more innovation, greater efficiency, and quicker responsiveness to market trends.

But even as the market grows more crowded, the old rules of branding will continue to hold, says Olian. If schools want to compete, they'll have to create distinct positions that deliver on their promises. "It's the old-school answer. You have to be excellent at what you do and distinguish your school from the competition," she says. "You have to stand for something. You have to show why a student would pick your program over those of your peers."

The way today's competitive landscape is shaping up, the market ten years from now is certain to be different from what it is today, Olian adds. In the eyes of many educators, that may be a good thing for everyone in the business education community.

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