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Coronavirus accelerates switch to online MBAs


University campus shutdowns to contain coronavirus outbreaks are driving a switch to online teaching of business masters degree courses.

MIP Politecnico di Milano cancelled all face-to-face lessons this week after it was forced to halt teaching on its campus due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy. But both faculty and students were able to carry on as normal, however, by switching face-to-face classes to the school’s online learning platform.

It was a similar story at nearby Bocconi University, where within 24 hours of an announcement that all campus lessons would be suspended, students could log in to watch lectures for the core MBA courses online.

“I felt worried to begin with but then I became proud and committed to go further in this direction because it worked so well,” Federico Frattini, MIP’s dean, said. “The students were very happy.”

MIP is among 10 schools profiled in the Financial Times list of leading online education providers, published on Sunday. It shows a buoyant market for online education with class sizes much greater than the campus-based courses and high returns for graduates.

Students on the distance learning MBA at Warwick Business School, which retains the top position in the FT’s ranking list, achieved a 40 per cent increase in their salary three years after completing the course.

A survey of students found that 80 per cent of those on the Warwick programme felt they had achieved their goals from completing the course. The average salary from this group was $204,799 three years after graduation.

The future of campus-based MBA courses is being questioned following four years of decline in applications for these full-time postgraduate degrees in the US.

Most of the providers in the FT’s ranking of online education run both residential and digital versions of their MBA. But growth in student numbers is happening online rather than on the campus-based programmes.

A decade ago, the full-time MBA programme at Kelley School of Business attracted enough applications to fill 300 student places. Last year, however, this was down to 150 places.

Its Kelley Direct course has gone from strength to strength, however, with 454 students currently enrolled on the programme, up from 276 in the 2014/15 academic year.

“More and more students are coming into the online space who would previously have studied full time,” said Ash Soni, executive associate dean for academic programmes at Kelley.

“The reason for this is that the economy is doing very well. People are saying I can get a great experience on an online MBA course. Why should I take two years out and forgo the salary for full-time study.”


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