© Gary Burchell/Getty Images

If demand for the Masters in Business Administration is being weakened by the appeal of more junior Masters in Management and even bachelor degrees, it is also facing fresh competition from above: from the Executive MBA.

While traditionally drawing from a pool of more experienced, older managers than for the MBA, in some business schools the EMBA — as the 2023 EMBA ranking and report show — is now also attracting more youthful applicants who like the flexibility of part-time programmes that allow them to continue to work while studying.

Historically, the EMBA has been a way for those with significant work experience, often in their late 30s, to reflect, reskill and potentially consider a reset: whether in their professional focus, via a promotion, a shift in employer or sector, or even by launching a start-up.

That aspiration for change is double-edged. Employers often funded promising current and future leaders on their EMBA courses, as a way both to strengthen their leadership capacity and to act as a means to retain their most promising employees.

But there has been a significant trend in recent years of employers cutting back on that financial support. The latest FT survey of alumni from 100 of the leading business schools shows a steadily rising pattern of self-funding, with almost half reporting no corporate support for their tuition.

FT Executive MBA Ranking

Read the EMBA ranking and report

That may, in part, reflect cost cutting during a period of economic disruption, such as the recent restructuring in the tech sector: training often gets trimmed in such times. Yet the shift appears to be part of a longer-term trend, and the FT survey shows that employers may be right to be cautious: a significant number of EMBA graduates report aspirations to quit their current company.

This has not undermined demand, but providers say it has put an ever greater burden on them to ensure the EMBA — which is far from cheap — provides clear value for money. That means a fresh focus not only on new ways to teach existing themes, such as innovative leadership, but also to add fresh insights on emerging topics from sustainability to artificial intelligence.

In particular, for those at these more senior levels, it also means business schools are placing fresh focus, alongside group work and sharing experiences, on more personalised, tailored executive coaching — a service some schools now offer long after the programme has come to an end.

Our latest FT ranking shows — at least for the leading schools — that there is little doubt the qualification can lead to a substantial increase in income, as well as a high overall satisfaction, a strong alumni network and a range of other benefits.

Despite fresh geopolitical tensions — notably between the US and Europe on one hand and Russia and China on the other — there is a strong appetite for international perspectives among EMBA providers and their students.

That is reflected in the fact that many of the degrees assessed for the ranking are offered across different countries, sometimes through partnerships between multiple schools: a way to offer exposure to different working cultures and people around the world.

As one academic describes, deglobalisation is causing many companies to rethink their supply chains and notably to ease back on connections to China in favour of “reshoring” or “friend-shoring”. Yet that can create new difficulties and greater complexities.

In our regular “caselet” for class discussion, we highlight in the style of a teaching case study attempts to reduce risks for companies trying to deliver health innovations in low-income countries.

As always, our rankings are simply a starting point: one of many sources of information for anyone considering whether or where to study for an EMBA. This year, we include more insights into the green credentials of each business school’s operations, as a yardstick for how far they are reflecting on climate change on their own campuses.

Participation is voluntary, and schools must be accredited by leading agencies, as well as having a minimum class size and sufficient responses from alumni to generate statistically significant insights.

We welcome your thoughts, both on current insights and possible future changes to our rankings methodology, as well as to trends and ideas about EMBAs more broadly. Write to emba@ft.com

Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article