MBA alternatives getting more popular
Pedestrians pass the bronze Charging Bull sculpture next to Wall Street in the Financial District. Source: AFP/Spencer Platt

Shorter alternatives are giving the traditional MBA a run for its money.

Business students are increasingly choosing the one-year MBA over the two-year MBA, a new analysis from Times Higher Education and Wall Street Journal reveals.

The latter option, offered mostly by US institutions, saw falling applications from abroad whereas most programmes in the Asia-Pacific, Canada, and Europe experienced an increase in applications from overseas.

“The market for these shorter MBAs is much more international: the top five institutions in THE’s analysis are the University of Hong Kong, the Indian School of Business, the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, the Australia-based S P Jain School of Global Management and Switzerland’s IMD,” said the analysis.

The analysis is based on performance data gathered from 114 business schools from 24 countries, with the notable exception of some prominent schools.

Almost 23,000 responses were garnered from a survey of business school alumni, supported by the schools, across a range of business programmes: two-year MBAs, one-year MBAs, master’s in finance and master’s in management

US business schools dominate the two-year MBA market – 44 out of 54 schools that took part in the analysis, are located in the US. They also count among some of the world’s highest-ranked business schools, occupying the top nine positions in the ranking of two-year programmes.

For all its reputation on quality, shorter alternatives are proving more popular among the time-pressed business school applicants today.

At HEC Paris, its 16-month MBA program is proving to be a “perfect compromise” in comparison to the 24-month US model.

Andrea Masini, associate dean in charge of the MBA programme at HEC Paris explained: “We’ve seen a double-digit increase in the number of applications [for the 16-month courses], which has allowed us to grow the programme and the quality of the programme.”

Part of the appeal of these shorter programs lies in its distinctiveness from the US model as well as its relatively lower fees.

A two-year MBA can cost around US$200,000, which explains the rankings finding two-year programmes scoring particularly badly when it comes to the socio-economic diversity of its students (whether their parents went to university).

While two-year programmes scored higher in most metrics, like strong alumni networks, one-year MBAs typically had more gender diversity among students and staff, as well as better performance in higher internationalisation.

Another attractive selling point for the shorter program is its ability to not only let students enter the job market sooner, but also to feed employer’s demands for more MBA graduates, according to John Fong, CEO and head of campus at the S. P. Jain School’s Singapore campus.

The MBA’s newer cousins, the more recently developed master’s in management (MIM) and master’s in finance (MIF) which are typically one-year at the full-time level, are also seeing an increase in applications in Europe.

Imperial College Business School in the UK is seeing growth in applications in recent years, despite the university having offered the MiM and MiF for decades.

Leila Guerra, associate dean of programmes at Imperial College Business School said: “The business school market was once dominated by the MBA, but MIFs and MIMs are now here to stay. Schools that were traditionally MBA-focused are now moving into specialised master’s.”

“It shows that [MIFs and MIMs] are global brands, and it means the qualifications will be more widely recognised, which is good for us,” she adds.

“MIMs and MIFs provide you with a career boost at 22, but if you need to refresh your skills [when you are older] you can come back for an MBA.”

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