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Redesigned MBA Adds Hands-On Experience to Challenge Status Quo

Redesigned MBA Adds Hands-On Experience to Challenge Status Quo main image

This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business Universiteit International MBA. Learn more.

Responding to the fast-changing needs of corporate employers is challenging. Business schools walk a tightrope. Those slow to change risk being perceived as hidebound traditionalists. Those that regularly alter their programs can be seen as easily influenced by prevailing winds.

The ongoing debate about business schools’ use of case studies is just one example. Although case studies can prepare students for a range of different outcomes, Li Chong, senior manager of the World Economic Forum, complains they “don’t take into account the way the world really works. The information is so clearly laid out that it doesn’t take into account the ambiguities of the world… In the real business world, you see lots of ambiguities and uncertainties.”

Even as employers question the value of some MBA programs, schools are responding by altering their curriculum, incorporating new specialties and changing teaching methods. At a recent curriculum conference, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business conducted a survey. It revealed some 64% of attendees were changing their programs. Keeping up with the rapidly changing requirements of modern businesses can be difficult but for 21st century MBA programs – especially international MBA programs – it’s vital.

Still, one’s business education is meant to endure while corporations that are unresponsive to market forces usually disappear. To discover how one business school grappled with that dynamic, let’s take a look at the recent changes at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, where the MBA program has been redesigned to focus on general management rather than specialized niches.

Redesigned curriculum focuses on hands-on experience

The only private university in the Netherlands, Nyenrode Business Universiteit’s origins are inextricably linked to the business community. Located in the shadows of a 13th century castle, the school was founded in the aftermath of World War Two. Hoping to rebuild the Netherlands’ economic power, a group of executives from Dutch companies like KLM, Shell, Unilever and Phillips designed a school that would be responsive and innovative, taking “for and by business” as its motto.

Today, the school works to be on the forefront of business education in an era of global innovation. When it began redesigning its International MBA program, Nyenrode conducted research into what business education should consist of and what it should deliver. The university reviewed business programs from across the world. They also conducted focus groups with their own students and alumni to gather their input.

“The redesign of the program offers the opportunity for participants to shape themselves in a practical way,” explains Alda Shabanaj, an alumna of the International MBA and customer service manager at SABIC Netherlands, “by providing real-life business exposure in the environment of some of the most prestigious multinational companies."

For Nyenrode Business Universiteit, the best way to prepare for the future in business is by immediately connecting students to it. This means reducing the amount of time students spend in classrooms and on case studies in favor of a hands-on approach to learning. Students master core business skills by working with companies. This provides invaluable work experience and puts business practice at the heart of learning. Faculty members serve as business advisors as well as learning facilitators.

According to Christo Nel, Program Director of the International MBA, “Business isn’t run as separate courses but as a set of integrated real-life practices. It is our commitment to run a degree program which prepares people for business. To do so, the content needs to be as close to this reality as possible. The restructure of our program reflects what students and employers want to receive from an MBA.”

Traditional offerings like accounting and statistics remain part of foundational learning, as they remain part of the foundations of business and management. A focus on what Nyenrode Business Universiteit calls “essential business practices” also sees a selection of varied topics like information innovation and digitalization, strategy, markets, globalization and competitiveness, and numerous others on offer; a multidisciplinary approach which reflects the complexity of modern business.

As part of the redesign, these business practices don't exist as separate islands but will be interconnected, ensuring that you will be prepared to meet the demands of executives. Classroom skills will be put to the test during in-company projects providing hands-on work experience.

Further real-life examples can be gleaned during regular ‘Meet the CEO’ sessions. The university will be tapping a large network of companies with which it works, with working executives giving a presentation and making project recommendations.

In an online press release, Nyenrode Business Universiteit explains how, “The new program leapfrogs the tradition in MBAs of providing standalone courses and modules. Instead it focuses on teaching core business skills that reflect the demands of business and management. This enables students to master those skills by working with companies on real-time business projects.”

The redesigned program includes a 30% reduction in time spent in lectures. This allows time for more hands-on experience with in-company projects along with a focus on career development and personal leadership development. Redesigned business courses are coupled with coaching and personal leadership development training.

Leadership development

Perhaps more than any other, the one area lacking in so many MBA programs is leadership development. There are numerous reasons for this, but Forbes contributor Drew Hanson highlights three. Hanson feels that while leaders have to understand people, too many MBAs focus on numbers, and that too many MBAs focus on strategy, instead of implementation. Perhaps most significantly, he worries that while, “[L]eaders see the big picture, MBAs, unfortunately, learn about business in discreet parts. Leaders are created in the crucible of life, not a classroom.”

The International MBA already uses tools such as peer group coaching and critical leadership event reviews as part of its leadership development provision. Nyenrode has also developed new tools which allow for the measurement of leadership skills – and the improvement thereof – throughout the International MBA program.

By incorporating personal leadership development training throughout its International MBA program, Nyenrode Business Universiteit aspires to produce the next generation of managers who will develop products and services that impact lives across the world. The changes to the International MBA will be introduced over a three-year period from October 2015.

 This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business Universiteit International MBA.

Written by John Bankston

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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