As a new academic year commences, I find myself reviewing our new cohorts. Historically, our postgraduate student body has over 90 percent in full time employment, with these subdivided into self-funding individuals and employer-funded candidates.
Recently this latter segment has been on the rise, despite some findings around the internet indicating otherwise:
“The days of a big company saying OK, we are going to fund five students every year for a set number of years…those kind of days are pretty much over,” says Richard Johnson, associate dean for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business EMBA program.
Michael Desidero, executive director for the Executive MBA Council, notes: “The trend for companies to shy away from picking up the full study tab is not going to suddenly reverse in the coming years.”
Why Are the Numbers Increasing for Us?
Employers from various sectors and of different sizes contact us to discuss potential mass enrollment of their staff onto our programs. Until recently, training and staff development was delivered internally, often by in-house staff or brought in experts. Reductions in budget have led employers to question the value of this traditional approach.
In addition, education providers have started designing programs that have increased relevance to the real world; programs comprised not only of academic content, but also higher level graduate skills that will be of actual worth in the workplace.
New themes such as data analytics and ethical management can be included within other more traditional areas such as marketing, project management, and general business programs, thus ensuring that maximum value is gained.
Previously, these program attributes were only found in better quality MBAs. However, at my institution for example, these components are included within each postgraduate program–not as some clumsy bolt-on, but as inherent facets seamlessly blended into the core content and assessment strategies.
Teaching teams which combine academic expertise with a plethora of industry experience help to add real clarity to the teaching and learning continuum. This, coupled with assessments that require application of theory to reality via case studies, truly helps with the development of praxis.
Returning to budgetary issues: employers find it hard to justify releasing staff from increasingly lean businesses for the sake of study. Distance learning gives students the flexibility to fit study around their personal and work commitments. Whilst undoubtedly the occasional compromise is required, the reality is that graduating with a postgraduate qualification whilst juggling family and full time work is possible.
In closing, employers require maximum return from their investment. Programs that in reality provided very little in terms of real world ‘industry up-skilling’ are of no attraction to the increasingly savvy employer base.
To remain attractive, education providers must create and offer genuinely useful programs that are relevant to the needs of industry, are not one-size-fits-all, and that can be delivered in innovative and flexible ways – allowing employers to keep staff at their posts for as long as possible.