The core MBA curriculum: Breaking down the content of an MBA |

The core MBA curriculum: Breaking down the content of an MBA

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated March 11, 2021 Updated March 11, 2021

As the foundation blocks of all MBA curriculums, core modules also reflect the current essential learning for today’s business climate.

Over the century or so that MBA programs have existed, some modules of the core MBA curriculum have continued to define the differing programs available, while others have been introduced, or evolved to reflect modern management.

It’s a well-known concept, but one worth reiterating: no two MBA curricula are the same. The content of an MBA program differs from school to school.

While one institution’s offering might be the perfect fit for a particular applicant, it does not mean in any way that it’s similarly as suitable for another applicant, with variations arising from a school’s faculty, the geographical location, a program’s cohort, even the teaching mode for example.

Arguably one of the largest differentiators between MBA programs are the core modules that form the very basis of a program.

Of course, there will be a number of elective modules and optional learning programs on offer to enrolled students, but each program will have a core curriculum of MBA modules designed to cover the essential knowledge and skills for graduates looking to succeed in today’s business climate.

“Core term courses include subjects like financial accounting, competitive strategy, corporate finance, managerial economics, entrepreneurship, investment analysis, marketing management, and operations management,” explains Varsha Ratnaparke, associate director at the Indian School of Business (ISB), which offers a two-year full time MBA program.

“Each of these modules is carefully put together to provide the fundamentals in order [to prepare] the student for the specializations which are offered in the second half of the program.”

The core MBA curriculum: Preparation through evolution

Like all highly rated business schools, the ISB regularly reviews the core MBA curriculum and the modules of its program in order to best educate the business leaders of tomorrow.

“The ISB does a comprehensive review of its curriculum once in every five years. We are now in the process of one such curriculum review, which will come into effect in due course,” says Ratnaparke.

During the program, the first four terms cover the core modules which are compulsory for all enrolled MBA students. Here, the student learns the fundamentals of management, which lays the foundation for advanced electives in later terms.

These core MBA modules are necessary for students to be able to achieve greater understanding of later, elective modules such as “statistical concepts and accounting techniques frequently found present in the subsequently offered elective courses in finance, strategy, IT, operations, marketing, and the like,” continues Ratnaparke.

Employers will expect MBA graduates to be ready, from day one, to add value to their organizations. Because of this, and just like ISB, business schools are constantly redesigning their core MBA curriculum, as well as elective courses, to better prepare students for their chosen careers.

Redesigning the core MBA curriculum

“As a result of intense research and discussions conducted with employers about how they develop their leadership pipelines, our faculty developed a new curriculum that will help students prepare to enter the marketplace with depth of expertise in their field - well before finishing the program,” explains Andrew Ainslie, senior associate dean of the full-time MBA program and associate professor of marketing at UCLA Anderson School of Management.

For example, one core module present in almost all MBA programs in one form or another is that of leadership.

At UCLA Anderson, the development of skills that support effective leadership are nurtured through the school’s Leadership and Management Communication module. The module is taught through “the combination of readings, lectures, cases, experiential exercises and class discussion, which allow entering MBA students to determine their own leadership strengths and limitations, and to develop a plan for improving their strengths and overcoming their limitations.”

Wendy Ma, assistant dean and director of masters programs at Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Canada goes into detail regarding her school’s modules.

“The core modules of our full-time MBA are comprised of five key themes and the Integrated Foundation component of the curriculum.

“The themes encompass five crucial business competencies that top employers seek in management talent: creativity, decision making, global issues and macro-economics, responsible business and value creation, and leadership development.”

Ma believes that with exposure to these themes throughout the program, in addition to modules dedicated to each topic, their students are equipped with the skills needed to thrive in their future careers.

“As the first module of the program, the Integrated Foundation incorporates information from a wide range of subjects to provide students with a base of business knowledge in all functional areas: accounting, marketing, responsible business, finance, IT management, organizational behavior and human resources, statistics, strategy, and supply chain management.

“The Integrated Foundation is important for our students because it not only allows them to build upon existing skills, but also to explore career options in a range of industries, and expand their understanding of various business fields.”

Defining future prospects through the core MBA curriculum

Like other schools, over the years Sauder School of Business have revised both their elective and core MBA curriculum based on feedback from industry and students.

In the past, creativity and sustainability were among the electives offered to students. However, research demonstrated they were skills of growing importance in the business world.
As a result, they have both been included in the five overarching core curriculum themes of Sauder’s newly revised program.

On many programs, the core module stages of an MBA adopt a holistic approach to management education, giving students both an overview of the field, and a basis to build, and specialize upon.

“It is a foundation to establish management knowledge, understanding and research skills, and provides broad multi-disciplined knowledge that can be further studied in depth during the elective phase,” says Marcia Hoynes, career development manager at Durham Business School in the UK.

Impossible to list here, the world’s business schools have hundreds, if not thousands of variants of modules on their core MBA curricula. Usually, these core modules will fall under at least one of ten fields: finance, leadership, corporate social responsibility, entrepreneurship, information management, strategy, innovation, operations management, marketing, or international management.

When offered as a module on the core MBA curriculum of a program, each of these defines the content of the MBA, the faculty, and the applicants it attracts, with MBA hopefuls looking to build upon existing skills they have picked up over the course of their work experience so far.

Perhaps more importantly though, it will define the employers that look to recruit a school’s MBA graduates.

This article was originally published in April 2016 . It was last updated in March 2021

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