Graduate Studies Blog



Reports have indicated a decline in MBA applications in universities around the world. Is an MBA degree still relevant in the new digital economy? Our Associate Dean, Assoc. Prof. Sia, led a panel discussion with 3 of our MBA alumni to discuss the trending issue. Watch the video to learn how NBS is redesigning its Master’s programmes to stay relevant to cope with the new complexities.

Why an MBA remains relevant in today’s digital economy
Technological advances such as the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, electronic commerce and the Internet of Things are disrupting the world of business. Likewise, technology is affecting the role of managers, as analytics that analyse customer behaviour and operational efficiency are increasingly driving decision-making.

For business schools, this begs the question of whether their MBA programmes, traditionally focused on general management skills and areas of specialisation, are relevant in today’s digital economy.

Three alumni of the Nanyang Business School sought to answer this question at a panel discussion at the end of August.

What do you need from an MBA?
Tan Kim Leng, an MBA alumnus from the Class of 2004 and the managing director of KDI Asia, a consultancy that specialises in change and innovation practices, says instead of asking whether one should do an MBA programme, prospective students should ask what an MBA can do for them in their professional field. 

“The MBA’s value lies in what problem you’re trying to solve, what are the skills and problem space you want to be very good at?” he says.

“Can an MBA help you to better understand the nature of the problem? What are the networks you can establish (at business school) to get you to solve that problem? The question of whether an MBA is relevant is very personal.”

If prospective students wish to attain leadership roles rather than becoming a specialist in a niche area, then an MBA course is relevant to them, says Oliver Plogmann, the managing director of Accenture Aviation and Seabury Consulting.

An EMBA alumnus from the Class of 2015, Plogmann says business professors can help foster understanding of the importance of artificial intelligence or business analytics to one’s business. The challenge for business schools, he says, is to keep up with the pace of technological changes.  

Plogmann says his experience at Nanyang Business School showed him the value of seeking the views of his fellow students and the faculty in attempting to solve business challenges. “Critical thinking, people interaction, and the (professional) network are things that you actually also learn or foster through the MBA programme,” he says. 

Whether an MBA has relevance depends on one’s professional objectives, says Janet Young, managing director of group channels and digitalisation at UOB Bank, and an MBA alumnus from the Class of 1995. It also depends on whether the curriculum of the MBA programme keeps up to date with the latest trends, she says, adding that business schools should keep close contact with industry professionals.    

An asset in searching for jobs

In terms of exploiting job opportunities in today’s digital economy, having an MBA is certainly not a disadvantage.

“If we are hiring for positions that require active organisation and conceptionalisation, I would say that the MBA would definitely be an advantage largely because in today’s fast-changing world, business models are changing,” says Young.

Asked what changes the panel members would like to see in MBA programmes, Young called for new modules that focus on technology. As technology is very much part of today’s business world, it is important to be able to “appreciate, understand, adapt, embrace and infuse” technology in the various aspects of one’s work, she says.

Lifelong learning

Tan says he hopes MBA programmes could become a venue of lifelong learning for alumni, comparing it with military reservist stints that enable reservists to refresh and update their military capabilities.

Plogmann agrees with the need for lifelong learning. “Maybe in the past you could say I do an MBA and I’m set for my general management career and I will get good money and that’s it,” he says.

“It’s not going to happen in today’s world anymore. So we have to continuously learn and MBA can only be a building block.”

He likes the idea of returning to business school intermittently, but stresses that learning should happen on a daily basis.

“Technology is the core of any business. Anyone in this room who thinks it’s not going to happen for his industry, I think that’s not going to be the case,” he says.

“You are going to be disrupted if you still think that way.”