THE CONVICTION that the secrets of commerce can be taught in a classroom, whether real or virtual, shows little sign of fading. In America, more master’s degrees are awarded in business than in any other discipline—over 189,000 in the 2013-14 academic year, the latest for which figures are available. Business is the most sought-after master’s qualification in the world. The majority are masters of business administration (MBA), covering a broad range of business skills, a qualification that is close to a mandatory requirement for a budding tycoon. At any one time, around two-fifths of chief executives at Fortune 500 companies are likely to hold an MBA.

Yet a fresh case study on the MBA may be in the making. Interest in the full-time variety has waned markedly in recent years. Applications to most programmes are either falling or static, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), an association of business schools. Data from The Economist’s own latest ranking of full-time MBA programmes tell the same story. Five years ago, a business...Continue reading