ESMT Berlin Wants to Revolutionize MBA Education with Flexibility

ESMT Berlin Wants to Revolutionize MBA Education with Flexibility main image

ESMT (European School of Management and Technology) Berlin is a rebel with a cause among business schools. Driven by the belief if MBA programs will fail if they continue to follow traditional paths, the school is attempting to innovate by providing flexibility to students.

“People see an MBA and say, ‘So, what?’” says Nick Barniville, associate dean of Degree Programs at ESMT Berlin.

As a result, ESMT is changing the structure of its offerings and, in some instances, bucking norms. The main purpose is to help students get jobs after graduation.

“Recruiters are looking for those who can motivate, integrate, and delegate,” says Barniville.

In fact, ESMT is in a unique position to provide perspective on employers. After all, 25 global companies and institutions founded it. The school offers a full-time MBA, executive MBA, executive MBA/MPA, a masters in management, and open enrollment and executive education.

Evolving business world

Having this connection to employers and outlook on the world has led to a major shift in how to deliver business education. ESMT is trying to reflect a modern workplace in its programs; with the MBA, students are constructing their own program from a set of options.

For instance, some are choosing to arrive on campus early to take a course in coding or learn German, while others add those kinds of electives on the back end of their coursework. Also, there will be less emphasis on the core. Students are provided the opportunity to specialize by following career-oriented tracks, such as portfolio management.

“At ESMT, this is a work in progress”, says Barniville, who adds the school aims to allow for this flexibility by 2019.

Some critics may read this and think, “Students will change direction constantly or lack fundamental skills.” But Barniville says that no one will be able to run amuck in the program.

“We envision it as though students will have a lot of choice up front,” he says. “There must be some level of commitment to the chosen pathway.”

Applicants, he suggests, should study their options, give great thought to their preferences, and conduct self-assessment to determine what they want to do with their lives after graduation. Then, it’s up to them to make the most of the choices available to develop the necessary skills and network, and follow that path through to graduation.

Need for change

Traditional business school programs follow a basic formula that dates back to the late 1800s when business schools first came into existence, says Barniville. At the least, it needs a refresh and at best it needs an overhaul, he adds.

Innovation in delivery methods and timing of programs is necessary, says Barniville. Many ESMT students are career changers, who need to gain real world experience in addition to understanding basic theory. As a result, Barniville and his colleagues plan to incorporate more live projects as the program becomes more flexible and specialized.

As the future becomes the present, he adds, MBA programs face dilemmas. They have to provide more value and prove themselves.

“The full-time MBA is in danger,” says Barniville. “Mid-tier schools will disappear.”

He expects more schools will provide blended and modular learning and move into undergraduate studies if they haven’t already.

“Less people are going to be willing to stop their career and go to school full time,” he says.

In fact, his predictions about his own school’s prospects and destiny are tied into these same beliefs about business education.

As ESMT builds its brand, Barniville realizes it needs to optimize its program to satisfy rankings and accreditation organizations – to ensure it is noticed and proves its validity. But those endeavors can limit the innovation of educators, especially if they worry about them to the exclusion of everything else, he adds.

That’s why he envisions a more independent future for ESMT. In this light, the school will be mostly unencumbered and able to take action that’s a little more outside the box.

“I see us developing a much sharper profile for what we’re excellent in,” he says. “We will have a larger geographical reach with a new position as we develop capabilities in blended and online pedagogy.”

Of course, he expects programs across the board to be more inclusive, too. Already MBA programs are increasingly attracting those outside the worlds of banking and consulting. Tech geeks, social impact junkies, and health care professionals are among those who have been drawn to business school recently.

“An MBA,” says Barniville, “is not only for suits.” 

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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