Business schools need to stop being too homogenous and engage in developing truly ‘different’ offerings if they are going to survive. Making changes and doing things differently will require some tough choices – but when you look at the competitive landscape, making those choices seems inevitable.

Business Schools have their days counted

While competition amongst business schools has been fierce for quite a while, the signs are increasing that business schools are under attack. Competition amongst business schools is increasingly global. United Kingdom business schools have a long track record of internationalising. Many UK universities – including Lancaster, Liverpool and Nottingham, to name just a few – already have highly international portfolios with partnerships and campuses in multiple countries.

But more recently, Chinese universities have started to internationalise as well. For instance, Peking University HSBC Business School is one of the first Chinese universities with a campus in the UK. Similarly, elite business schools in the United States are expanding internationally and offering degrees in London. Stanford’s Ignite programme is an example; a part-time offering focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, with parts of the programme delivered online.

Pure Business Schools are becoming too expensive

Business schools face competition from in-house universities run by large companies, those are very often cheaper and have already established networks. For instance ECLF, the Executive Corporate Learning Forum – a network of corporate universities and chief learning officers – has more than 60 members.

While the programmes delivered are often staffed by academics from leading business schools, corporate universities also directly compete with business schools, particularly in the executive education market.For instance, management consultancy McKinsey offers management education as part of its McKinsey Academy, in order to support client organisations’ strategic transformation. Again, provision is both online and face-to-face. The online provision of business education is eroding the traditional barriers of entry as investments in a campus are no longer necessary.

With pressure mounting in such a competitive industry, business schools have to show certain characteristics to be considered ‘legitimate’ and “worth the money” or they risk being punished by accreditation bodies and student applications.

The importance of rankings

Rankings are very polemic and many times some how “bought”. But Business schools that aim to compete on an international stage need to adhere to the criteria of major rankings, such as the Financial Times Full-Time MBA ranking, which features the top 100 MBA programmes worldwide.

Rankings like this emphasise students’ career progression measured by salary increase in addition to other criteria such as international mobility and student diversity, but also a school’s research ranking. The latter measure takes into account 50 academic journals recognised by the Financial Times. Thus, business schools very often create financial rewards for staff to publish in FT-listed journals.It would be a false conclusion to stop participating in global rankings.

Unfortunately rankings have been and are likely to remain a key signalling device for the quality of education. This is important as it is very hard for potential students and other stakeholders of business schools to judge quality from outside.