When Jeannette Purcell demands to “rip up the existing MBA and start afresh” as she just did at the Financial Times, it is no small matter. She used to be the Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) from 2003 to 2010 – and a successful one, judging by the comment of Sir Paul Judge, President of the Association of MBAs: “Under her leadership the Association rapidly developed and established its international profile and reputation as the authority on MBA education and the most respected accreditation agency for MBA courses.”
Still a keen observer of business as founder of Jeanette Purcell Associates, a consultancy for change management and responsible management, she claims the MBA is “unlikely to retain its pre-eminent position without a fundamental review of its purpose and content”.
Purcell believes that the MBA is not delivering. True, she admits, in part it works be-cause it has a longstanding international reputation and the best schools attract highly talented, ambitious people and in class those people are given the chance to reflect, engage with others and expand their learning. “This is all good stuff,” says Purcell, “but much of it happens regardless of what is taught”.
Even if business schools have already added new electives to the curriculum to better focus on leadership skills, the result is an overcrowded schedule for students. A typical one-year, full-time MBA today requires students to complete about 10 core courses followed by up to seven electives. That is 17 assessed courses in nine months. Purcell reckons this is all about breadth and not about depth and therefore “the MBA is losing its educational value”.
Therefore, she concludes, business schools in their haste to deliver yet more content have lost sight of the MBA’s primary purpose: to develop effective business people. Now is the time for a fundamental review, she demands, asking for an MBA that not only continues to be relevant and important but also “has real educational value”. The redesign she envisions “would allow scope for considering how to develop skills as well as knowledge, how to make better use of students’ existing experiences and how to incorporate innovative learning and assessment methods. There would be opportunities to develop a more integrated curriculum and to combine the benefits of e-learning with intensive face-to-face tuition or coaching.”
A few comments from MBA Channel:
The knowledge being taught in an MBA is indeed outdated rather quickly. And yes, an MBA is only a good investment if the experience is focused on building critical thinking and decision making skills, increased self confidence and rising awareness of business’ impact on society and nature. The value of business school also lies in the network one acquires in class. The return on investment depends on the effort students put into nurturing their communications skills and the relationships forged while studying for an MBA.
Asking to rather develop “skills than knowledge” is great. But so far Purcell’s suggestions lack detail: she seems to generalize about hundreds of programmes in many schools in dozens of countries but does not question how the curriculum may be improved and who might be leading the change. What exactly is needed? Where? When? How? We are very interested to learn about her suggestions.