Illustration of businessman holding shield against large pink virus molecules flying toward him

How Business Schools Are Battling Coronavirus

Business schools globally offer different types of courses, campus experiences, and expertise, but they are united in the challenge to overcome coronavirus.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is disheveling the world, straining the global economy, restricting travel, and confining millions of people to their homes.

The outbreak is also impacting business schools, with campuses closed, admissions disrupted, and many faculty and students forced into online courses.

As the epicenter of the pandemic has moved from China to Europe and now to the United States, business schools in different regions are dealing with the disruption in a variety of ways.

Shift to Online Learning

The first reaction to campus closures was an abrupt shift to online learning. At MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy, the country with the most coronavirus fatalities to date, this change is enabled by FLEXA, an online learning platform developed in partnership with Microsoft.

FLEXA’s machine learning technology categorizes course content for students based on data sourced from a series of online tests. If a student is weaker in accounting, for example, the tool will filter available content and suggest which courses the student needs to take to strengthen their accounting knowledge.

Elsewhere, adapting to online learning is something both students and professors are getting used to. At Vlerick Business School, in Belgium, Professor of Operations Management, Robert Boute, recently switched his Supply Chain Bootcamp, where students worked on a real-life business case with European rail company Lineas, to an online version.

Changing format was initially demanding, but students were able to carry out the project as normal, meeting in virtual breakout rooms on the videoconferencing tool Zoom, and then presenting their project results to Lineas executives online.

Schools that don’t have the capabilities to transfer their learning online independently can make use of online learning providers like Coursera and edX, for example, which are offering free access to their online teaching platforms to universities impacted by coronavirus lockdowns.

Prendo Simulations, co-founded by Alastair Giffin, who is also co-founder of The Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies at INSEAD, creates business simulations for schools including INSEAD, Wharton, and Kellogg, which are being specially developed to reach students at home during quarantine.

However, longer term, recreating the full-time study experience online will be difficult. This is a pressing issue in the United States—the home of the full-time, two-year MBA—where the importance of the campus environment, student clubs, and networking is amplified arguably more than elsewhere.

Full-time MBA students in the U.S. have expressed concern about being forced to study online. Some are wondering whether they will be reimbursed if they have to switch to a typically cheaper online format, which lacks many of the benefits of the full-time format, like international trips and the campus experience.

Still, some schools are planning for a future after coronavirus. CEIBS in China, which seems to be recovering from the worst of the crisis, is reducing the length of its full-time MBA program from 18 to 16 months for the 2020 intake, although the school says the student experience will remain the same.

Relaxing Admission Requirements

Coronavirus has also disrupted admission test providers, which have rushed to develop online alternatives. The GRE test is now available for candidates to take online, but only in some locations. The GMAT should be available for candidates to take online by mid-April.

However, with GRE and GMAT test centers closed, CEIBS is one of many schools relaxing its admission requirements, accepting applications without a test score, with conditional offers made dependent on the submission of a score at a later date. CEIBS has also introduced a new Round 4 application deadline.

Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands is offering GMAT and GRE waivers to candidates with outstanding undergraduate GPAs and to PhD-holders. Candidates will also be accepted if they score over 75 percent in two Harvard online courses, Mathematics for Management and Quantitative Methods, instead of the GMAT or GRE.

In the U.S., Emory University’s Goizueta Business School is waiving application fees for the remainder of the fall 2020 MBA application cycle, and is planning additional scholarship support for candidates whose plans are disrupted by coronavirus.

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, meanwhile, has transitioned to rolling admissions until July for its final MBA application round and is considering an expanded set of testing credentials, including undergraduate entrance exams.

With coronavirus making face-to-face contact impossible, business schools are also conducting their admissions interviews online and offering virtual campus tours. Some schools are making use of virtual MBA tour events to connect with candidates.

The MBA Tour, for example, recently hosted its first virtual meet-up event to replace a Jakarta, Indonesia, tour that was canceled due to COVID-19. Schools and candidates were connected via four 25-minute meet-up sessions on Zoom, with five candidates per session.

Communities Coming Together

With notices of students, faculty, and at least one known dean testing positive for COVID-19 at several business schools, it’s a difficult time for business education. But the strength of the b-school community is visible around the world, with schools coming together in the battle against coronavirus.

As the crisis hit China, companies owned by alumni from Beijing’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business raised over 570 million USD to support victims of the virus and provide medical supplies to affected areas.

Then, a team of Chinese INSEAD students founded Project GreenCross, mobilizing the school’s alumni network to help bring supplies to frontline medical workers in regions impacted by COVID-19. With the situation in China now improving, the project has shifted its focus to Italy and Iran.

Business schools are also showing their entrepreneurial flair. Wharton launched an online course that explains the impact and implications of coronavirus. Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty teaches students how to deal with unexpected geopolitical challenges.

Emory’s Goizueta school is encouraging its students to use a new online tool, developed with Emory’s medical department, to assess how likely it is that they’ve contracted the virus.

There is time for some fun, too, with a marketing professor from EDHEC Business School hosting an online plank-off with her master’s students.

Wherever business schools are based, the future is uncertain and the present is constantly changing. In the months ahead, schools need to be as proactive as possible in communicating to students how their learning experiences may be disrupted, and to maintain a pipeline of prospective learners, ready for a return to campus whenever that may be.


Marco De NovellisMarco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodn_bb.