Via Financial Times

MBA students at some of the world’s leading business schools are demanding a refund on their tuition fees as compensation for campus closures and the switch to what they view as inferior online learning.

A petition circulating among students at The Wharton School, where fees alone for a two-year MBA degree can exceed $160,000, has received close to 900 signatures, equivalent to a single year’s intake.

At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where the two-year MBA programme costs $150,000 in fees, an online petition has been signed by the equivalent to 80 per cent of the class. Students have made similar demands at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and at Insead.

“They have clearly shown that they do not care about us,” said Smith Kachhy, an MBA candidate at Insead’s Singapore campus who predicted the fees row would discourage future students. “Everything has been derailed on our end and we’re also not sure if we’ll get absorbed back into the workforce upon graduation.”

The high cost of an MBA, which has been rising by more than inflation for several years, was a cause for concern even before the coronavirus crisis forced schools to close their campuses and switch to online lectures. Alongside a clampdown on international student visas in some countries, high fees are blamed for a fall in applications at most US business schools.

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Fee increases have pushed the cost of a full-time MBA degree at some leading business schools, factoring in living costs and other expenses, towards $250,000.

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The high cost is borne by many students because it is widely accepted that an MBA qualification leads to a significant salary increase after graduation. But the virus pandemic, and the long-term economic damage it is causing, has undermined that belief.

Business schools have responded to their students’ concerns by offering extended payment periods but none of the institutions petitioned have agreed to cut fees. Schools are loath to reduce MBA fees because fixed costs such as teaching facilities and staff wages have not reduced.

Ilian Mihov, dean of Insead, said: “We cannot comment on individual requests for fee reductions but have been flexible with payment terms and admission deadlines for students so that we can continue to welcome people from all over the world and keep the business school for the world as open and collaborative as always.”

However, MBA students complain that replacing classroom lectures and one-to-one tutor meetings with YouTube videos and group calls on video app Zoom has reduce their learning experience.

Vyasa Shastry, a first-year student on the MBA course at Kellogg, said students felt impotent to challenge the increasing use of online lectures — although he stressed he also understood why schools were doing this. 

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “People are disappointed about it but we wish the school would see our point of view and reduce our tuition.”

Kellogg said: “We are confident that the value of the Kellogg degree is undiminished, and that we will deliver an excellent academic experience even in the midst of this unprecedented health and economic crisis. 

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Stanford pointed out that, even in normal circumstances, tuition fees do not cover the full cost of a degree.

“Effectively, all students, including those paying full tuition, receive a significant discount relative to the university’s actual cost.

“Our endowment and other sources of revenue, which we use to supplement tuition to cover the cost of education, are now greatly challenged because of the pandemic crisis.

“We believe the value of a Stanford education and degree, whether in-person or remote, continues to greatly exceed tuition.”