Applications to MBA courses in the UK have risen sharply since lockdown began, with several British schools celebrating record numbers of applications for courses starting this month, according to the Financial Times’ global MBA ranking list.
Business schools not only run the most popular degree programmes on UK campuses, but generate higher returns per student than other academic departments from their postgraduate qualifications. They also attract greater proportions of overseas students, who are more likely to pay full tuition fees for their studies than domestic applicants.
Their bumper enrolment this year will help their parent universities as they invest heavily in online teaching and battle demands for refunds from students upset about being unable to attend campus lectures due to Covid-19.
Among those experiencing a jump in student numbers is Warwick Business School, where applications for its full-time MBA class are up 56 per cent this year. It has expanded its intake to 137 students, 105 of whom are from outside the UK and the EU, compared with a cohort of 119 students with 91 from overseas in 2019.
Robert MacIntosh, chair of the Chartered Association of Business Schools, the UK industry body, said: “There is a strong correlation between a healthy business school and a healthy parent university because of the amounts of fees and students business schools contribute.”
Liz Starbuck Greer, MBA programme director at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, where applications are up 35 per cent this year compared with 2019, said demand was lifted by “significant interest” from people contacting the school ahead of its April application deadline.
Oxford’s international reputation was a factor in the higher numbers, with much of the increase in applications coming from overseas students — although applications from the UK were up too, according to Ms Starbuck Greer.
She said the school was working hard to ensure that overseas applicants arrived on campus in time for the start of term on October 5. “Figures may still settle over the coming weeks as our incoming students navigate visa requirements and changing travel restrictions.”
Another challenge for MBA course organisers will be to meet the expectations of students signing up for a course marketed as a premium academic qualification given the need to teach some classes online.
Imperial College Business School reported a year-on-year increase of 41 per cent in applications for its full-time MBA programme, compared with 2019.
However, the school is taking on just 56 students this year, compared with 70 in 2019, because it believes that having fewer people will make it easier to retain the quality of classroom interaction should teaching have to be switched from face-to-face to online lessons due to coronavirus.
“We have kept the class size intentionally smaller this year to allow easier facilitation with the multi-mode teaching approach,” said Joel McConnell, executive director of marketing, recruitment & admissions at Imperial College Business School.