Why is the Business Masters Such a Hot Topic Right Now?

Roland Siegers, executive director of the CEMS Global Alliance, talks about the growing popularity of business masters

Roland Siegers is the executive director of the CEMS Global Alliance (eighth in the QS Masters in Management Rankings 2018), a consortium of 30 top global business schools (one in 30 different countries) that each run a Masters in Management (MIM). We sat down with Roland and asked him why he believes the business masters is such a hot topic right now.

 

Tell us a bit about your role as executive director at CEMS

Discover why executive director of the CEMS Global Alliance, Roland Siegers, thinks business masters is such a hot topic right nowI’ve been in the industry, working in different roles for CEMS, for the last 15 years, but always close to the academic function. I’ve worked on strategy, rankings, and as the voice of the organization, always with a focus on the quality assurance of the program.

CEMS is an international organization with over 100 stakeholders (schools and corporations). My role is to keep the network together and to align the strategy, ensuring that all the partners are on board, and that we deliver on that strategy. I speak with many different people to make sure that everyone understands the journey of the MIM degree and our focus on educating responsible leaders in a more sustainable and inclusive world. It’s very much a political role.

The other part of my role is to explain who we are and what we do to the public. Specifically, I understand my role in the business as the prime advocate and lobbyist for the masters in management degree, which is not fully understood broadly. But, awareness is rising, and I’ve been speaking about this rise for quite a while now; what it constitutes, and why companies are starting to become interested in this qualification.  

 

How useful are rankings to prospective students?

Rankings are very useful because the world of business education (and the world overall) is becoming more difficult to understand…and for good reason. Many great international institutions are teaching in English across the globe, outside the Anglo-Saxon world, and they want to compete and be challenged against international quality standards.

This includes big players in small countries such as Sweden, Denmark or Austria, who have one champion that is never going to be challenged by Graz or Gothenburg for example. But it really wants to be challenged by its peers in Europe and across the wider world.

So, rankings ideally help to make some sense of this. Especially in a population of undergraduate students, (specifically when looking at graduate degrees) who are extremely mobile and for whom the location is as much a consideration as the educational journey, or the brand recognition of the institution.

However, rankings need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The first point is that ranking one-by-one is of course statistically very dangerous. It implies there is a big difference between number one and 10, whereas we know from statistical analysis that clusters and distances are what really matter. Students should ideally be educated to understand things like clustering and what exactly each ranking is measuring – as they measure very different things sometimes. If you actually match your expectations to what’s important for you within the ranking criteria, then you’ll have great information.

 

What do you look for from students / what type of people are cut out for management roles?

Management roles are changing because business is changing, and the world is changing. I think we have to start looking for people that are not just educationally smart, but also have character and well-rounded personalities. Most of all, they need solid ethics because we are seeing that business cannot continue the way it’s been going since the 1950s.

There are new environmental issues that need to be considered. There are very vocal groups of citizens, who are consumers, whose rights need to be respected and understood. So, a manager needs a much broader set of skills than ever before.

Also, managers today, and in the future, will need to have a stronger emphasis on communication skills. You need to explore more these days. You need to work in different cultural environments. You need a certain degree of humility. It’s become much more complex to be a manager.

 

Soft skills are crucial then? 

Yes, absolutely. I think that’s been the trend in what recruiters are looking for over the past few years. The next frontier for great graduate programs to deliver on is how to assess an individual’s personality traits and values, and then work with them to shape the best managers for the future.

It’s now more important for students to have value matches with companies, but even before that with their university. And I think that this is a good trend. They are choosing universities and companies that have value statements that they live up to and that match the students’ expectations.

Both universities and companies need to be aware of the choices that are being made by prospective students and recent graduates today.

 

Are institutions embracing and developing these soft skills?

My experience is that the university system isn’t up to the speed of change on a global scale. Companies have to be, but universities struggle because they’re not used to the speed of change that we’re seeing. Our company representatives call it ‘the new normal’.

Universities are used to operating according to the slow pace of research. So, the ones that are more agile, or the ones that challenge themselves better and ask the right questions, will benefit – What is my role as educator in the future? What is my role as facilitator of individual knowledge avenues for every student in the future? How can I challenge the role of my faculty?

The schools that change the way they convey not only knowledge, but who also offer the chance for their students to grow and development as managers and as human beings, are the ones that will prove the most attractive. The ones better able to embrace those challenges will be more successful in the eyes of the students, who are more mobile, and see established brands of the schools as less important in the future.  

 

What are the main benefits of a business masters?

The key distinction that needs to be made is that it isn’t about looking at the benefits of the business masters over an MBA. Rather, it’s why should I continue my studies after a decent bachelor’s degree and make that additional investment in a year or two. And why should I choose a business masters over a different kind of field such as engineering, for example. I think that as the world is becoming more complex, specialization is required. Where you could have jobs with a bachelor’s degree before, it is becoming more difficult to either get such a job, or to have a steep career acceleration, with just a bachelor’s degree.

With a business masters you gain a year in terms of not only knowledge, but also in access to a larger network and in maturity. A good business masters will give you a lot of experiential learning and also development opportunities, and you will come out as someone who has a more interesting personality, a more interesting resume, and the degree will be a career accelerator.

What you should not expect necessarily is to get a completely different, much better paying job after one year of additional studies. That’s not how a business masters works, right after a bachelor’s degree – that’s how an MBA works with pre-MBA job experience.

So, the main benefits are that you gain additional networks, you get to know yourself better, you get more exposure, and this sets you apart from the legions of bachelor graduates.

 

Have applications to your programs changed over the past year? Are you seeing a rise / fall in particular geographic locations?

No fall whatsoever. MIM is the program of the moment, that’s for sure. Rise – very clearly from China. One very important feature here is the whole global market of business masters outside of Europe has been totally US-dominated up to five years ago. The world has adopted the MBA as the gold standard, not because it’s the thing to do but because the Americans were better at making that offer.

Now our CEMS schools come with the offer of an MIM to markets that don’t have such a program or such an educational product. Quite a few of the top schools that have joined our consortium, joined us by launching the first ever MIM in the entire country. Without CEMS membership there wouldn’t be MIMs in China for example. What we’re seeing is that China has always done business masters (four years undergrad with two additional years consecutive; six years of study without work experience), but it was always taught in Chinese. Still, it’s the most reputed masters qualification that exists in China. Now that we’re finally creating this segment of the market as an international study program, that’s accessible to non-Europeans because it is taught in English, we are seeing massive intakes from Chinese and Indian populations.

I think 2017 has been a turning point. I’ve spoken to many people in the States who have said that they are thinking about developing MIM programs. Sometimes for good reasons, when they see the value of an additional year in management education right out of a liberal arts undergrad. And sometimes when the decision is financially driven – like when they see their own MBA reducing in numbers, and they think that launching an MIM will be a ‘cash cow’.

Others however have launched it because they understand changing preferences of employers and students, and react to that. But it’s a hot topic, I believe the hot topic of the moment.

 

What have been the most popular elements (electives / modules etc.) of your programs over the last year?

What I’ve seen is specific didactics that have been super popular, which we call experiential learning. It’s where you really step back as educator and tell students to simulate a real situation, or we put you into a situation where you need to make real-life decisions, or you need to reach out to communities that are physically present around the university.

What is very popular at CEMS are the student consulting projects that challenge real problems at our corporate partners. Here the students are placed in international teams working together over half a term’s workload before presenting solutions to the senior management. Those types of projects are super popular and it really is what students want to have, at least when we’re talking about graduate studies.

 

Why do you think business masters are becoming more relevant?

Well, if you take this geo-politically, the balance of power shifting in the world is leaning drastically toward East Asia, while China is reclaiming its space in the world.

We have China and India specifically, but I would also mention Indonesia. These are places with huge populations, of hundreds of millions of people, who really have only one goal – to give their children a better time than they had and better chances. And the answer is education. So, you have millions of people that want high-quality education, much more than ever before. From research we know that at least half of these people want business education, so there is a massive demand for high-quality business education solutions around the world.

This means that all of us in this industry, whatever degrees we’re offering - whether it’s part-time, full-time, specialized masters, or general management masters - the entire industry will grow.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just a little thought on the students themselves. While many less than positive things have been said about Millennials, I’m not of that mind – I love these students. I think they’re great people who just don’t take anything for granted anymore. They ask the right questions, and they want to see their value and their values delivered. They will probably change the face of business education as we know it, and we see it already in the industries that they are going into after graduation.

There’s been a massive shift away from energy and finance towards consulting and technology. We all know of the trend that many want entrepreneurship and eventually a start-up. The key point is that companies need to give an answer of, yes you will have responsibility, yes you will be seen, yes there is a future for you where you can make a difference and not just be part of a big machine.

Big multinational companies will have to think really hard about how they create those opportunities and that’s going to be an exciting venture.

With all the political hassles that we currently see – Trump, Brexit, Putin etc., graduates really want to be able to make a difference, and not just to make money and close their eyes, but to be able to say no. They want to make a contribution to save the planet and live by their own values. That is what I like about them and the smart companies out there are embracing this new generation of great minds.

phil_cottrell
Written by Phil Cottrell

Phil is the editor of TopMBA.com and has a breadth of editorial and digital marketing experience. He has worked across a variety of industries from e-commerce and commercial real estate to managing all content for a C-suite careers site aimed at UK and US professionals.

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