Blended MBA courses, which are completed partially online and partly on-campus, are less expensive and more time flexible than traditional degrees without sacrificing rigor. But are they suitable for everyone?
Not everyone fulfilled their parents’ usual Indian parental aspirations of becoming an engineer or a doctor. Getting an MBA is another option.
While the former two may be too late, pursuing an MBA is still an option even if you have a full-time job (or should we say, especially if you have a full-time job). These are not degrees from shady operators but from India’s top business schools, such as the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA).
Like other MBA programs, the e-mode postgraduate program (ePGP) in management offered by IIMA lasts two years. However, students are only required to be on campus for five weeks. The remainder of the course is delivered over 850 hours of live virtual sessions in designated classrooms in cities around the country (the program shifted utterly online during the pandemic).
The curriculum for these so-called blended degree programs is comprehensive, encompassing everything from management theories and economics to soft skills and analytical tools in practice. A mixed MBA degree course is sometimes confused with distance learning or part-time MBA programs, although it is neither. Firstly, it is a full-time course; secondly, there is significantly more student-teacher engagement (virtual or in-person) than in a distance learning course. A blended MBA combines virtual and in-person programs, also known as residencies or immersions in academic parlance. Typically, the program begins with a one-week residence during which students meet their classmates and professors in a regular classroom setting. This initiates the software for the virtual classes, which make up approximately 80-90 percent of the course. Some programs incorporate a residency every few months to sustain student interest and involvement.
A blended MBA education, in a nutshell, includes the complete general management syllabus, with the branding of a reputable university and without the need to attend full-day lectures. Furthermore, many courses have their entrance or aptitude tests and are not subject to the arduous CAT/MAT assessments that are required for B-schools. This makes it perfect for working executives and students, whose numbers significantly outnumber regular seats in leading B-schools. According to the most recent All India Survey on Higher Education, total enrolment in higher education increased to 38.5 million in 2019-20 from 37.4 million in 2018-19. Distance learning enrolled 11.1 percent of the entire population.
Blended MBA Programs are not common
Raghav Gupta, Coursera’s Managing Director for India and APAC said that degree spaces in prestigious universities and colleges are scarce, forcing hundreds of thousands of students to choose lower-quality institutions. “A blended model enables colleges to scale by combining the advantages of on-campus and online programs to serve a large student base.” Students who master in-demand skills at well-regarded universities are well prepared to thrive in the employment market.” Coursera also assists institutes in becoming online without having to invest in technology infrastructure.
So, while combined MBA degrees are currently the unusual, they will most certainly become the rule in the future, especially given recent advances. The Covid-19 epidemic, for example, has expedited the acceptance and usage of online learning. More crucially, India’s National Education Policy, which will be implemented in July 2020, emphasizes the significance of digital learning and application-oriented results. This means that blended MBA courses will be as rigorous as those offered by schools such as the IIMs. IIM Raipur, for example, like IIMA, provides a two-year hybrid MBA degree.
“In India, formal two-year degree programs in hybrid form are quite new. In reality, the first blended MBA program was launched 17 years ago by IE Business School in Madrid, Europe, followed by UCLA in the United States in 2013,” adds Jaskiran Arora, Dean-School of Management, BML Munjal University.
Liverpool Business School applied Blended Learning
UpGrad, for example, has partnered with Liverpool Business School in the United Kingdom to provide a mixed MBA course that is entirely online with the exception of a (optional) week-long on-campus immersion program. UpGrad also provides the’study abroad’ approach, in which students can take half of their courses from home and the other half on-campus in another country. “This allows learners to save up to Rs 50 lakh in tuition fees and living expenses when compared to the offline model, earn a globally recognized degree at one-tenth of the offline cost, and gain global mobility as a bonus,” says Ankur Dhawan, President-Study Abroad, upGrad, which became a unicorn this August.
The cost element is probably more appealing to students, whilst the flexibility of a blended MBA course is appealing to working executives. Education experts, however, point out that in their current form, these courses favor working professionals over students. They can further their education without interrupting their careers, and they can utilize their employment as a ready platform to implement and evaluate the principles they learn.
“Management education has traditionally been ideally suited to blended learning. “The learner—typically a postgraduate student—has the opportunity to learn the fundamentals online, discuss and reinforce the relevance and value of the application in classrooms with cohorts, and finally apply it in practice in their workplace/projects,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy, National Leader-Education and Skill Development, KPMG India.
Networking opportunity in the Blended MBA Program
The on-campus sessions also allow students to network with classmates and instructors for a few weeks, a crucial social component in MBA programs. That may be sufficient for executives further in their careers but not for those just beginning their careers. And particularly not for students, for whom campus life and immersion are indispensable.
“The significant differences between blended and face-to-face programs are networking opportunities, community or student-faculty connections, career support, and recruitment opportunities,” explains Jyoti Jagasia, Associate Professor-Information Management, S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR).
According to education specialists, this will necessitate institutions incorporating face-to-face contact into their blended courses for all participants, whether they are students or working executives. Raj Mruthyunjayappa, MD and SVP-International Operations, EMEA & APAC, Anthology Inc., explains, “Institutions offering blended MBAs will need to develop a structure that fosters collaboration and provides many networking opportunities throughout the program and after graduation.” The American company supplies educational institutions with technological solutions.
Blended MBA Programs – A Controversial Topic
Mruthyunjayappa’s statement regarding networking after graduation takes on added significance when you consider that blended MBA programs lack a critical component that on-campus programs provide—campus placements. Even the ePGP courses offered by IIMA and IIM Raipur do not include on-campus arrangements. This means that while working executives benefit from the training, freshers must begin their job search. “Blended MBAs rarely provide placement services,” says Ranjan Banerjee, Dean of the BIT School of Management (BITSoM). “Because they are aimed mainly at those now employed, the target audience is different and thus not strictly similar.”
However, there is another element that freshers must consider when job hunting: does a combined MBA degree have the same value in the job market as a traditional one?
“When it comes to blended MBA, freshers will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage because most organizations will probably not place as much weight to elected or online as offline, assuming both are coming from equally represented institutes,” says IIMA professor Pradyumana Khokle of Organizational Behaviour. “However, when it comes to working professionals, we notice a huge proportion who have had professional improvement, sometimes midway through the program, sometimes immediately after.”
While hybrid MBA programs can be more suited for working executives, some experts believe it is only a matter of time before the stigma associated with an online degree fades.
After China and the United States, India has the world’s third-largest higher education system. However, access to higher education, particularly equitable higher education, remains challenging for various reasons ranging from inaccessibility to lack of opportunity. Blended MBA courses are, if not the solution, at least a step in the right direction.
After all, as John Dewey, a tremendous American educational reformer, once stated, “If we educate what we taught yesterday, we rob our pupils of tomorrow.”
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