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London Business School Reveals Newer, More Flexible MBA Curriculum

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An MBA program needs to continuously evolve to stay relevant. That’s why most business schools reevaluate their curricula every few years to ensure that they’re on the cutting edge.

The London Business School recently completed a top to bottom review of its MBA program to determine how it could improve. The school found that while it has a strong employment outlook, conversations with students, alumni and recruiters revealed than an overhaul of the program itself would help to better meet the needs of students and employers.

Why the London Business School Updated Its Curriculum

“There were two drivers,” Gareth Howells, Executive Director of the MBA, MiF and Early Career Programs at LBS, tells us in an interview. “In terms of inputs, we were seeing a diversification in our pipeline of the professional aspirations of our students. Historically, 80-85 percent of our students went into consulting and finance, but what we’ve found is that more candidates are coming to LBS and considering a much more diverse set of companies: tech, not-for-profit, luxury retail, etc.”

The need for this change was also reflected on the employer side. Though LBS still has strong recruiting representation from finance and consulting, Howells reported that Google and Amazon have become two of LBS’ biggest recruiters. In fact, 22 percent of last year’s LBS MBA graduates went into tech-related roles.

These facts made a compelling case for updating the MBA curriculum. “We’re not moving away from finance and consulting, but we feel that there’s a way we could restructure the program to better serve our diverse candidates and recruiters,” Howells explains .

Growing the MBA Program

To start, one of the first things that LBS did to better serve its MBA students was increase the size of its program. In the past, LBS has been considered a relatively small to medium-sized program. Currently, it enrolls about 420 students each year but, starting next year, they’re planning to add about 60 more students.

“Obviously, that will take us into that medium-size,” Howells says. “We felt it was right that the MBA should grow. We want to attract a bigger market share of applications. Since the launch of our updated curriculum, we’ve posted a 12 percent increase in applications, and we’re expecting this class to be our highest quality class yet.”

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The changes go far deeper than class size. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to customize their learning journey toward the business sector they’re most interested in,” Howells adds. “In addition, we also wanted to make the program more practical. We’re giving our MBA students a wide choice of courses so that they can choose to broaden and deepen their skills how they see fit.”

To keep up with the constantly changing global business environment, LBS reviewed all of its MBA courses, as well as the knowledge and skill sets that they felt were common to all industries—whether working at Google or Goldman Sachs. When they did this, they were able to pare down their core courses to a small set of “sector neutral” topics in areas such as teams, finances, etc. Core coursework now only comprises the first semester of the first year.

Then, by the second half of year one, students can tailor their studies to better fit their sector-specific interests. “This puts students and recruiters in the driver’s seat,” Howells says. “We offer courses on digital transformation, marketing, customer and market insights, value chain management, global economic analysis and more.”

There are also many new courses focused on digital competencies. According to Howells, recruiters said that they needed students who were comfortable with programming, coding and digital transformation. So, LBS developed a suite of courses around this technology—including FinTech—so that LBS MBA graduates are able to navigate the new digitally focused world.

Focusing on Practical Experience

In addition, LBS adjusted its courses to be more practically focused. “Just giving theory isn’t enough,” explains Howells. “Recruiters wanted students to have a more integrated and practical learning experience—pushing the dial from knowing to doing.”

To turn this practical focus into reality, LBS has added an on-the-ground London experience in year one. This new experience capitalizes on the school’s location to allow MBA students to undertake a business project with organizations around the city.

“Leveraging our London location is important,” says Howells. “London is a global finance leader as well as a great location for tech, finance, entrepreneurship and more. A lot of our projects will be drawn from all the sectors and students will be able to target the industry according to what they want to do.”

This experience is followed in year two by the global experiential experience. “Global is in our DNA. Ninety percent of our class is not from the UK,” says Howells. “We have over 70 different nationalities represented in our MBA program.” Recognizing this, LBS takes its MBA students on a global business experience to one of seven different locations around the world to learn in the local environment.

Flexible Scheduling

Flexibility in the length of the program was also important. “We wanted to give students the best possible chance of maximizing their career output,” he says. “So, we decided to offer multiple exit points for the MBA to offer students maximum flexibility.”

The traditional two-year MBA program is not very effective anymore. Too often, MBA students will complete an internship and be offered an immediate job with the company, and they want to start work sooner. Or, they find a job halfway through their second year and want to get a jump-start. With flexible 15-month, 18-month and 21-month exit points, each MBA student at LBS can choose what works best for them.

And LBS doesn’t make students choose their exit point at the start. They can change their schedule at any time and work with a counselor to determine what classes they need to complete to graduate when they want. “We put the student in the driver seat,” Howells notes. “We tell them what they need to do to achieve the exit time frame they want, but they have control over how they accomplish it.”

So far, the new program is being received well. LBS received more applications for their first class under the new design than in previous years, and Howells only expects that trend to continue.

“No one wants to be put in a box,” he says. “We provide opportunities for students to drive their learning journey. We’re giving them control.”