Going beyond the MBA

Desmarais Building
The Desmarais Building at the University of Ottawa. (Photo by Padraic Ryan)

This editorial story is part of a special report on Graduate Management Education, sponsored by the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management as well as Carleton University's Sprott School of Business. Read their stories by clicking on the links above.

Enrolment at several of the region’s top business schools is on the upswing as universities roll out new programs specifically tailored to emerging and high-growth industries, experts say.

It’s a turnaround from roughly a decade ago, when the number of students applying for MBA and other graduate management programs slipped in the wake of the financial crisis, officials from several universities say.

That prompted some schools to closely scrutinize their programs and consider the changing needs of prospective students. This includes forging closer connections to the businesses and organizations in need of adept graduates as well as offering more flexibility for students through compressed programs, for example.

“After the financial crisis, around 2008, the demand started to increase for a mini-program,” said Eric Saine, executive director of the McGill Executive Institute Desautels Faculty of Management. “You’re finding people that don’t have the time, or budget, to take a (full) MBA or Executive MBA program but they still want to capture some key learnings that are taught in MBA programs.”

One of McGill’s unique offerings is a mini-MBA program that’s proving popular with students between the ages of 35 and 50 who are well into their careers.

The highly concentrated program – which comes in eight, 16 and 21-day versions – is not meant to supplant McGill’s traditional MBA offerings. Instead, it aims to provide an option for working professionals who don’t have the time for longer course offerings, but are lacking the tools they need to satisfy the future needs of their company.

“If you have the time and the resources to take a full-time program, do it. But not everybody has the time,” Saine said. “I get calls from people who have young kids at home or 60-hour workweeks and don’t know when they’re going to find time to get MBA knowledge under their belt. The mini-MBA is a way to ... hit the ground running,” he added.

Greater choice

In response to changing student demands, many universities are adding specialized programs and finding new ways of closely connecting students to employers.

For example, the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management offers both an intensive MBA – a 12-month program where students typically take a leave of absence from their jobs – as well as a 24-month professional MBA that’s geared towards working professionals who will continue working while studying outside of work hours.

Within those programs, students can specialize in consulting, entrepreneurship, public management, finance and business analytics.

Additionally, a co-op MBA is scheduled to be introduced next year.

“For us, enrolment has been on an upward trend for about three years,” said Gregory Richards, director of the MBA program at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. “We see a lot of students coming in with technical backgrounds like engineering and information systems, but we also see students from an accounting background. They’ve been working for six or seven years and decide it’s time to move on into broader management roles,” he added.

It’s a similar story at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, which also offers full-time and accelerated programs and has been developing new programs to ensure its graduates’ skills are tailored to new and emerging industries.

Over the last decade, the Kingston school has introduced programs focused on analytics, international business, finance and, most recently, a Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence – the first of its kind in North America.

“There is always a demand for smart, talented graduates,” said Amber Wallace, director of communications and external relations for the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Changing demographics

There is no such thing as a “typical” MBA student. Students have different budgets, interests and time available for their studies.

In addition to coming from a diverse range of professional backgrounds, graduate management classrooms increasingly feature students from around the world.

“As with all of our programs, we’re seeing increased demand from international students,” said Linda Schweitzer, the interim dean of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University.

She adds that Carleton has seen steady enrolment in its MBA programs over the past decade without decline.

The university has leveraged these changing demographics – international students, primarily from Asia, now comprise more than half of its MBA program – to the benefit of its broader student body.

Graduates benefit from the cross-cultural exposure and improve their international business literacy.

This global outlook has also taken Carleton itself farther afield. Since 2005, Sprott has offered an MBA program in Shanghai that’s open to applicants living in China or Canada.

 – By Marc Shaw