Live Updates: Coronavirus Impact On Business Schools

What is the impact of coronavirus on business schools? We bring you the latest updates including campus closures, changes to MBA admission requirements, and more


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IE Business School’s Online MBA Helped Advance My Career During COVID-19—Here’s How

Remote working has become the norm after the coronavirus pandemic shut offices globally. 

88% of businesses worldwide have encouraged employees not to come into the office, forcing people to become accustomed to working from home.  

Stephanie Robles had to adjust to remote work in her role as director of global accounts at Xaxis, a media and advertising company which uses artificial intelligence and data to create tech-driven digital media for more than 3,000 clients worldwide. 

Stephanie joined Xaxis in London in March 2020, as the UK became one of a number of European countries to announce lockdowns to fight the pandemic. She has never been to the office and has only met her colleagues once in 10 months with the company. 

Almost her entire first year has been spent remote working, but Stephanie hasn’t been troubled by this transition because of her experience on the Global Online MBA at IE Business School, which she completed remotely in 2018.   

Why an Online MBA?

After graduating with a masters degree in communication from the University of Amsterdam, Stephanie moved to Australia to work in marketing and communications for ING. After returning to Europe, she spent three years working in PR in France and the Netherlands, before finding a job with Maxus Global, a communications agency owned by British multinational communications and advertising company WPP.  

Stephanie worked in a variety of advertising consultancy roles for a number of clients during seven years at Maxus. She was promoted to client service director in 2017 when the company merged to become Wavemaker, and switched to working on the company’s internal business, focusing on improving partnerships with third parties and commercial models, and boosting company engagement.  

Introduced to the business side of things, Stephanie says: “I started to realize that our industry is very interesting and dynamic and things are constantly changing. 

“You always run out of time to learn, so I wanted to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. After the merge, an MBA felt like it was the right thing to do.”  

Although she wanted to take a step back, Stephanie still felt she needed to work at Wavemaker while completing a course. She felt this would allow her to continue her practical learning as she handled more of the business side of the company, including working on ways to encourage more appreciation of the new brand. 

“The online MBA opened up a whole world of opportunities for me because it meant I could look at London, Asia, and anywhere else in the world,” she explains. 

Stephanie chose IE because of the Global MBA’s top ranking and because the school’s focus on innovation matched with her interest in entrepreneurship.  

IE Online MBA

Global Online MBA students at IE Business School can customize their experience by opting for a 17 or 24 month blended program, depending on their workload. 

Modules cover key business elements including financial accounting and analysis, data analytics, and economics. They are taught via online video conferences and forums, as well as some face to face teaching which is spread across the course.  

The blended approach gives students the chance to meet and connect with the people they work with remotely throughout the course. Stephanie says this helped the MBAs to communicate well during team led projects.  

“We met face to face for the very first week, and if we hadn’t had that we wouldn’t have been as close,” she says. Meeting for a small amount of time meant the online section of the course worked well as students had a better connection with each other.  

“It was so diverse because you had people who were older and younger and in different industries and parts of the world but it can easily come together because it’s online,” Stephanie recalls.  

The online and physical teaching on the course aims to improve students in three key areas, innovation and disruption, management, and leadership. Stephanie found her leadership skills benefited most during the course.  

Through classes in critical thinking, influence and persuasion, and leading through emotions, students are taught the fundamentals of being a leader. Along with the independence of working online, Stephanie found this helped her develop her leadership skills.  

“You have to figure things out by yourself and have to learn how to adapt to new situations that you are not familiar with,” she says. “You don’t have time to go through books and books on it. You just have to go through it your own way and make it a success.” 

Remote working during a pandemic

After leaving Wavemaker, Stephanie became director of global accounts at Xaxis.

There, she handles both strategic and commercial planning for clients all over the world, including top 20 leading global brands like Uber and Proctor & Gamble. This involves coming up with creative advertising campaigns using AI and other technology, and analyzing how the company can improve to provide the best possible value for their clients.  

Handling clients from all over the world was important to Stephanie after her MBA. “The diversity of different minds was something I saw come to life in the program so that was definitely something I wanted in my next endeavour,” she explains.

She hadn’t planned to relive the online element of her MBA in her work at Xaxis, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen her handling her clients from home. 

She says her experience on the MBA prepared her for life working remotely, so she has been able to effectively work alongside her coworkers in her new role.  

“I have to network with my team and work very closely with them even though we’ve never met and they don’t really know me," she says.

"During the course, we were still a close group of people even though we hardly met each other, and we still are now.  You can still network and work from a distance, that is definitely something I learned from the MBA program."  

Why Study An Executive MBA In A Crisis?

Who do we look to in times of uncertainty? Our leaders. The COVID-19 crisis is like no other, but the skills needed to navigate the uncertainty of it are not new.

Executives must show adaptability; the current crisis has highlighted this the most, with leaders and their employees pushed into a world of work alien to the one that came before.

WU Executive Academy’s Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) is one program guiding leaders through the global pandemic and the challenges presented by COVID-19.

BusinessBecause caught up with students and faculty at the school to find out why now is the ideal time to pursue an Executive MBA.


Whether they sit at the helm of a business or the top of a department, executives need to lead. Not just for the sake of business stability and growth, but to help guide those they lead. This is paramount during a crisis.

That much is obvious to Barbara Stöttinger, dean of WU Executive Academy and academic director of the Global Executive MBA (pictured below).

Those who chose to start the school’s program this year, Barbara suggests, knew the timing was right. “It was a deliberate choice,” she says, “and the question that we asked them most in the interviews was: ‘why now?’"

The answer candidates gave most was that they knew they couldn’t rely on the knowledge that had brought them this far.

The global landscape has completely changed over the last 12 months. Now more than ever, executives need to take the time to reset and learn how businesses work around COVID-19.

Global supply chains have been disrupted, remote workers rely on strong digital communication, and the safety of workers has become a source of utmost importance for those at the top.

Barbara emphasizes how the classroom—albeit the virtual one—is still the best place to learn new business theory. That virtual classroom paired with the global insight from WU Executive Academy’s GEMBA creates an environment where the experience of a crisis can be molded into practical business lessons executives can take into the workplace.


The value of emotional intelligence

Simon Mashala, real estate manager and current GEMBA student, says executives need emotional intelligence to manage a crisis effectively.  “In a crisis, you need a leader with empathy and self-awareness about how their actions impact the performance of the team.” 

The choice to study a GEMBA is not one just for yourself, he adds. “Do you want a leader who micromanages? No—you want a leader who creates leaders.” The trickle down effect of an EMBA in regards to workplace performance is a motivating factor in choosing to study during the crisis.

WU Executive Academy places emphasis on real-world tasks and up to date management skills to impress on their students the contemporary relevance of business education, with modules such as leading people and organizations, and strategic marketing management.

Students on the program also work with their peers on The Global Team Project which gives the opportunity to work in a team environment across cultures, industries, and markets, further enhancing their ability to lead their own teams back in their workplace. 

While some executives, like Simon, chose a crisis as the opportunity to study the GEMBA program, not all executives were able to make that decision. 

Daniela Jaeger-Bergaus, head of procurement services at Borealis, graduated from WU Executive Academy’s GEMBA in summer 2020. The last few months of her time on the program were in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I didn’t lose anything in terms of content,” she says, “but I also gained new, more relevant leadership qualities thanks to the timing.” 

In her current role, Daniela is now involved in a large-scale acquisition project; she credits the transformational experience of the GEMBA with helping her ability to manage a real-time crisis management project. 

Whilst some of the expected components of a global program, like international travel, have been impacted, the longevity of executives’ abilities to work on a global scale will outlast the immediacy of current restrictions. 

EMBA lessons for the future 

There is a commonality between students now that wasn’t there pre-COVID, Barbara adds. Now that students have a crisis in common, they can work together towards stronger goals, creating a closer network of leaders. 

Simon credits the GEMBA for advancing him professionally and enhancing his ability to overcome challenges. Despite restrictions to in-person learning and networking, he says he's benefited from the global connections he’s made on the program.

Thinking back to the global financial crisis of 2008, Barbara asks students to consider: "What did we do out of necessity in the crisis that we can now keep for later?

"I was worried then that no one was thinking about education, or risking their money,” she says, “but exactly the opposite was true.” 

Like in 2008, applications to business schools increased in 2020 despite the economic downturn and many programs transitioning online due to coronavirus. As the economy struggles, more professionals are turning to education in the knowledge that they will be better prepared when the global economy and the job markets picks up.

The answer to surviving this crisis is similar to previous times of struggle, Barbara concludes.

“You want to be ready when the economy picks up. A crisis is a time of preparation to jump-start a better future.”

How Is COVID-19 Impacting International MBA Students?

Travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have left international MBA students asking themselves one question: Should I stay or should I go?

While online learning means you can technically study from anywhere, a huge part of doing an MBA is the on-campus experience. Moving abroad to study gives you the chance to immerse yourself in different cultures, make personal and professional connections, and gain specific local business knowledge.

While studying abroad is a challenge right now, international students on the University of Hong Kong (HKU) MBA are proving that it’s not impossible. 

A center for trade, and a bridge between eastern and western markets, Hong Kong has been fast to get a handle on the pandemic, and remains a top destination for business professionals from around the world.

Here’s how five international students have found moving to Hong Kong to study during the pandemic.

1. Thierry Hardy-Lachance, Canada 918655c82582a86d36d9301ad3c660d008b72d1a.jpg

The journey to get to Hong Kong was complicated. It took 30 hours to fly from Montreal to Hong Kong and spent two weeks in quarantine in a hotel. 

We were supposed to have field trips in Shenzhen and Shanghai, which sadly got cancelled. Otherwise, my studies have not been impacted too much by COVID-19. So far, my time in Hong Kong has been pleasant. There is much to learn from the professors and I appreciate my cohort.

I am glad I can go on campus and attend in-person classes. I find I am more productive on campus. I think my classmates who are studying remotely have it worse. So far, I have only been able to meet them virtually.

2. Hubert Streitler, Switzerland


It was a very long journey to Hong Kong from Switzerland, including a 14 hour stay at the airport waiting for my test!

Thankfully, the overall impact of COVID-19 at HKU is limited. I feel lucky to still have on-campus classes, while other universities have gone completely online, or postponed their courses. I get much more value from in-person learning, I like having to get up and look presentable, and interact with my cohort and professors.

The beginning of the program was intensive, but I’m now three months in and learning to manage the workload. Now feels like a good time to be doing an MBA.

3. Muhammed Manko, Africa

a6e2f7ddb001407a2c689ffd7f143810792804c9.png I flew into Hong Kong from Africa – it was a painful journey but smooth after I arrived!

I started the MBA online. For the first three weeks I was still in Africa, then I had a two week quarantine in Hong Kong. I chose to move to Hong Kong to meet my classmates and have the whole MBA experience. I much prefer face-to-face learning, and find I’m much more focused while with my cohort.

A lot of activities that usually come with the MBA are now limited, and I’d love to experience more, get out there and be with other people, especially as it’s my first time in Hong Kong.

The workload has been more than I anticipated, but it’s going well overall.

4. Medha Agarwal, India


I flew in, and had to delay by a few weeks as Hong Kong temporarily banned all flights from India. I found out I’d got a flight on the 7th September with two days notice to get my test results and say bye to everyone— everything changed so fast. I actually enjoyed my quarantine a lot since I was exhausted, it was good to relax after the long journey before starting such an intensive program.

COVID-19 has made things a bit difficult— originally my mom and sister were going to come to Hong Kong with me— instead it’s my first time staying away from my family.

But in terms of my studies, it’s not changed things that much and I didn’t do any online classes. We’re still getting face to face interactive lectures by professors. I always imagined doing my MBA in person, and HKU offers a great network to meet people, so I don’t want to miss a day.

I am super excited about spending this year with my cohort.

5. Nicole Yoo, South Korea d0b2701030a9048f8ccad0678a8e79b1c62c94e6.png

When I arrived in Hong Kong from Korea, the process was well streamlined, so I could get to the hotel within three hours of arriving. The coronavirus test process was easier and safer than I expected.

I took online classes until the middle of September, when HKU changed to the hybrid mode.

Online learning is famously flexible, especially for international students who had issues with flights and visas.

But, attending the classes in person allows me to interact with classmates and professors face-to-face, and makes me feel more responsible regarding meetings, assignments, and exams. I think it’s important to have a balance between both.

The switch to online has made me think about how to adapt and prepare for the smoothest transition into my future career. I was planning to attend forums and conferences on the Hong Kong luxury market, which have mostly been moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With the online advantage, I am making my own network actively via social media to create a rich network of experienced professionals, and build a sense of community.

Executive MBA Salaries Rise Despite COVID-19 Impact

EMBA graduates in 2020 had compensation increases of 14.1%—including salary and bonuses—after program completion, despite the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the economy hard and risking a halt to salary rises.

That’s according to a survey by the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), which found that the average salary and bonus package for graduates in 2020 rose from $169,269 before the EMBA to $193,200 upon completion. 

As the EMBA continues to grow in popularity–many schools have reported an uptick in applications—the survey found that 53% of EMBA graduates were also given new responsibilities after their program, highlighting the high return on investment the degree provides.

39% of EMBAs received a promotion during their program, with many crediting their coursework for aiding their leadership skills and other business acumen.

The Executive MBA Council facilitates the advancement of EMBA programs worldwide, with the research being pooled from more than 200 colleges and universities.

The EMBA and coronavirus 

The variety of changes that were made to programs this year, from adapting to hybrid models of learning to moving all operations online, caused uncertainty in terms of salary expectations and promotion for EMBA graduates.

But studying an EMBA is still worth it despite the challenges, thinks Michael Desiderio, executive director of EMBAC.

"Despite a year of unprecedented challenges that have impacted the global economy and workforce, the investment in an Executive MBA continues to be valuable to both students and companies,” Michael says.

“EMBA programs enrich students with new ways of solving business problems and provide them with tools to adapt in the face of adversity. Companies recognize how important these skills are now more than ever, and the increases in compensation and responsibilities given to professionals in these programs attest to that.”

As the world gears up for COVID-19 vaccinations, we’re on the way to businesses returning to some degree of normality. But to recover fully from the pandemic those same businesses will need to continue to draw upon the wealth of expertise provided by the world’s Executive MBA graduates.

Read next:

MBA Salaries Bounce Back After Coronavirus Uncertainty

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