Understanding and navigating the changes in the candidate pipeline

Ashish Bhardwaj, Senior Vice President and Head of Market Development

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GMAC™ is committed to providing solutions necessary for schools and candidates to discover and evaluate each other. Market Development teams in all parts of the world work closely with member schools to realize this mission and enable them to understand the macro and local trends affecting the global candidate pipeline. Looking back at 2021, and forward into 2022, here are 3 key trends that will be the focus of GMAC’s Market Development teams as we seek to further our collaboration with schools and serve our mission in a changing, complex environment:  


Mobility of the candidate pipeline has always been a critical aspect of global graduate management education (GME hereafter). Because of the pandemic, and other factors including geo-politics, 2021 saw a significant shift in mobility trends. The year started on a positive note with the result of the US presidential election creating a positive momentum for candidates – in India, Middle East and Africa particularly – in their pursuit of GME in the US. While the devastation caused by the Delta variant temporarily disrupted candidate plans in the second quarter, a significant portion of that pipeline resumed its journey by year end. Stringent policies around visa issuance pursued by some countries (China and Australia are examples) slowed down the flow of international candidates to their GME programs, while the introduction of a more attractive post study work visa program (UK is a case in point) created a rebound of interest in others.   

The quality of GME programs continues to rise in several parts of the world, offering opportunities to candidates to study locally, rather than globally. This trend was assisted by pandemic related disruptions and perceived geo-political and safety concerns. For instance, the candidate pipeline for the domestic admission test for graduate education – National Postgraduate Entrance Exam – in China grew for the 5th straight year, rising in 2021 by 30% over 2020. Along with this trend, the interest of the Chinese candidate pipeline in UK and key European GME destinations also grew in 2021.

Through 2021, Market Development teams hosted fireside chats, where we shared GMAC’s global research, and insights from ‘market experts’ to help you craft a locally relevant strategy by market to engage with the candidate pipeline. This will remain a priority for Market Development teams in 2022.


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Even prior to the onset of the pandemic, GME was evolving to offer greater flexibility to the candidate pipeline. In 2021, this trend continued to accelerate with schools offering a myriad range of programs and modes for candidates to pursue their GME journey. As US schools launched new Online and Hybrid programs to expand their reach and relevance, some growth in this segment happened at the cost of Professional / Part Time programs as the value proposition shifted from geographic proximity based reach to time zone proximity based reach. GMAC™ longitudinal surveys on candidate preference, and data from other organizations engaging with the candidate pipeline, showed that MBA candidates still overwhelmingly prefer the in-person experience, though they appreciate some flexibility and hybrid features being offered by schools.

In some parts of the world, schools offered online / digital delivery of programs due to the pandemic, but eventually plan to return to the in-person experience fully. The leadership of schools offering Online GME programs shared their concern about the high drop-off rates and are engaging with GMAC™ and other organizations to build solutions that help them assess candidate readiness and preparedness for their programs. More schools collaborated with EdTech companies to expand the set of offerings for Online GME programs. At the same time, several schools decided to offer Online programs on their own, having acquired the required knowledge and skills due to the need to evolve program delivery during the pandemic. In some key markets – India is an example – regulators started to issue guidelines around the collaboration between schools and EdTech companies.

The impact of greater flexibility on different segments of GME needs be unpacked since it is nuanced and complex. Building from our core strength of serving the marketing, recruitment, and admission needs of full time, in person GME programs, Market Development teams are now actively collaborating with Online / Hybrid
 programs to understand and engage with their target candidate pipeline. Given the continued candidate need for flexibility and schools’ experimentation with new formats of GME, this will be a focus area for Market Development teams in 2022 and onward. 
Diversity has long been a priority of business school leaders and is now an urgent imperative as they seek to create classrooms that are truly global, connected, equal, and inclusive.  

Globally, leadership, management, and therefore, business school cohorts, need better gender balance and that is a shared goal of all diversity initiatives. GME’s focus has now pivoted to diversity that truly addresses the needs of the future – racial inclusion, non-cognitive skills, and gender parity – and is also rooted in the local context. GME in situations in large economies such as China and India have different diversity priorities, international talent in the former and women participation in the latter. European schools are seeking to increase women in GME programs, and in faculty positions and leadership. Racial inclusion is the bedrock of GME’s diversity priorities in the US.

At its core, diversity is about addressing any bias that might exist. Fundamental to the building of diversity in a fair, transparent, equitable and sustainable manner without dilution in quality is the data that standardized assessments such as the GMAT™ and Executive Assessment™ provide. Armed with this data, which is reliable, predictive, and valid, schools can make decisions about crafting diverse cohorts for their GME programs, with the certainty that they are creating managers who will contribute to society and the economy. Market Development teams partnered with schools in 2021 to help them discover and learn more about women candidates in markets as diverse as Latin America, East Asia, Middle East and Africa, and schools leveraged GMAC™ services such as The MBA Tour™ and GMASS™ to engage with the Black and LatinX pipeline in the US, and with candidates in the powerhouse economies of the future such as Nigeria, Vietnam and Indonesia.

In 2022, your Market Development teams seek to work ever more closely with your school’s teams to better understand your strategy and goals, and enable your success in discovering, recruiting and admitting your preferred candidate pipeline.