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Business schools offer a growing number of specialty programs as alternatives to MBAs

The once-ubiquitous MBA degree is being replaced by shorter, more targeted master’s programs.


Canadian business schools are increasingly offering specialized graduate programs as alternatives to the traditional MBA. The “non-MBA” often focuses on a specific area – for example, finance, business analytics or information technology. And, unlike the MBA, it usually does not require work experience for admission.

This is part of an international trend. As reported in the Globe and Mail, a recent survey of business students by Carrington Crisp, a U.K. education consultancy, found that a slim majority – 53 percent – favoured specialist programs while 47 percent preferred a generalist MBA. (The online survey queried 1,300 students in 39 countries, including Canada.)

In July 2018, McGill University enrolled the third cohort for its Masters of Management in Finance (MMF) program. This 12-month program, offered by the Desautels Faculty of Management, is designed for recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering, economics, arts or commerce, and who have proven quantitative skills. Current enrollment is 43 students.

The MMF equips students to work in the financial industry or in a finance role of a business. The curriculum integrates advanced financial concepts and quantitative methods with real-world business practices. MMF students intern as analysts at Desautels Capital Management Inc., a Montreal investment management firm.  

Jan Ericsson, academic director of the MMF program, says its students take many more courses in finance than MBA students who specialize in finance. The MMF students “are people who know exactly what they want: as much finance as they can handle.” Of the first and second cohorts, 94 percent found jobs within six months of graduation.

“The MBA concept is losing some of its lustre,” says Dr. Ericsson, who notes that the Desautels faculty finds it much easier recruiting for the MMF than for the MBA. The same is true, he says, for the Masters of Management in Analytics (MMA) degree, another 12-month specialized program that McGill offers, also without a work experience requirement. It emphasizes managerial problem-solving using data analytics.

Management science

At least 14 Canadian business schools now offer a Master of Science in Management degree. The MSc(Mgt) – a.k.a. MScM, or MSM – builds expertise in management research and analysis. It is aimed at students interested in a career as an academic, consultant or research expert in the corporate world.

Western University’s MSc in management offers a specialization in either business analytics or international business. The program runs 16 months. The business analytics stream had an intake of 55 students in January, the International Business stream, 69 students.

Greg Zaric, the MSc faculty director at Western’s Ivey Business School, says work experience is not required. “In the international business stream, most of the students would be commerce graduates. In the business analytics stream, we’re targeting students with backgrounds. A sizable portion of the class is coming from engineering, computer science, math or economics.”

MSc in management degrees are a relatively recent offering, says Dr. Zaric, “so there’s work that still needs to be done, not just by us but by other schools offering these degrees, in making sure the marketplace knows what they are. That said, on the analytics side, the marketplace has a pretty good idea of what it’s getting.”

The University of Toronto’s Rorman School of Management, as alternatives to its MBA, offers a 20-month Master of Finance, a nine-month Master of Management Analytics and a 16-month Master of Financial Economics (MFE). The MFE, offered jointly by U of T’s economics department, is a non-thesis program intended for students who did an undergraduate degree in economics and want to pursue careers in banking, investment banking, financial analysis or corporate finance. There are currently 26 students enrolled in first year and 23 completing the program, which includes a summer internship in the financial sector.

“We’re more focused than the MBA program,” says Angelo Melino, co-director of the MFE program. “Our students take only second-year MBA finance courses and they don’t take other MBA-kinds of courses such as human resources or marketing.”

The Master of Management (MM) program at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business was one of the first of its kind in Canada, according to the school. At least two other universities – York University’s Schulich School of Business and University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business –offer similar programs. In contrast to most “non-MBA” programs, the MM is not a specialized degree. It covers a broad range of business disciplines, including marketing, strategic management and operations.

The MM at UBC is designed for students who have recently graduated with non-business bachelor’s degrees. Unlike Sauder’s 16-month MBA program, the nine-month MM program “is a kind of finishing school that gives students the language of business, enabling them to leverage their undergraduate studies,” says Darren Dahl, director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at Sauder.

The enrollment has been stable at about 50 students during the past five years; about half of the class is international students. “They have certainly become a target market for us,” says Dr. Dahl. “When it started, it was much more popular with domestic students.”

Of the class of 2017, 88 percent were employed within three months of graduation. “Employers actually look for these MM graduates. They tend to be more well-rounded than a BComm [graduate] and more affordable than an MBA [graduate] because they can come in at an entry level and bring a different perspective than the typical business student because of their first degree.”

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  1. David Stangeland / January 31, 2019 at 17:52

    The University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business offers a one-year Master of Finance (MFin) program that gives students over 80% coverage of the CFA curriculum (levels 1, 2 and 3). Most students take it full time, but some take it over two years. 2018/19 is its second year in operation. The MFin program is in the CFA Institute University Affiliation Program.

    Here’s a link for those that might be interested:

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