The proportion of custom executive education courses delivered online rose sharply from 2022 to last year © Getty Images

Companies have asked for a growing share of executive education courses to be delivered online in recent months, in a reversal of a post-pandemic trend to return to in-person training, according to the latest FT rankings of leading business schools.

The proportion of tailored “custom” programmes provided online by schools to corporate clients rose sharply from 19 per cent in 2022 to 30 per cent last year. A further 22 per cent of courses were offered in “blended” format, with in-person and online components.

Insead, based in France and Singapore, was ranked first by the FT among 90 providers of custom executive education courses, ahead of Iese of Spain, IMD of Switzerland, and Duke Corporate Education of the US.

Executive Education Rankings 2024

Read the rankings of custom and open-enrolment programmes

Among the 80 schools providing open enrolment courses, France’s HEC Paris returned to top place, ahead of Iese and Esade in Spain and London Business School in the UK.

Ilya Breyman, head of Coursalytics, a company that analyses the executive education market, said: “Longer programmes must incorporate online elements to maintain student engagement. This shift is partly a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which necessitated the adoption of online learning, making it a new reality in education.”

Data from his analysis suggested that 38 per cent of open enrolment programmes were provided online or in blended format among leading business schools, rising to 50 per cent among those in North America.

Winfried Ruigrok, former dean of the Executive School of Management, Technology & Law at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, reports a nuanced picture. “The vast majority of clients want to go back to face-to-face, but we occasionally offer blended learning,” he said. “Clients always ask if you provide it online and schools have to be able to deliver it in ways that are attractive.”

Demand for non-diploma business courses for executives remains strong, notably on topics around leadership, sustainability and digital transformation. Josh Bersin, a human resources adviser, said: “Executive education is still a big market. It’s seen almost as a reward. People also want the brand of a business school on their resume.”

However, business schools have been forced to step up innovation and adapt to competition from commercial training companies. Sharmla Chetty, chief executive of Duke CE, said: “Our clients want practical and applied insights, and co-creating performance metrics with us. They are saying that, now we are adopting AI, what about you?”

Antoine Poincaré, vice-president of training at AXA Climate, a subsidiary of the French insurer which provides training on sustainability, said the alternative provider’s approach had received strong demand from companies. He focuses on providing specialist insights into the specific economic sectors in which his clients operate.

But Ruigrok at St Gallen said many business schools were more broadly holding their own in competition with non-academic rivals. “The others offer customer proximity and people who know how to deliver,” he said. “What they often lack is depth, independence and the ability to issue official paper. I don’t have the impression that consultants are always winning.”

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