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Strathclyde Business School

Doing an MBA in the time of COVID-19

By Ryan Joshua Mahindapala - Posted on 11 June 2020

As COVID-19 changes our ways of working, studying and living, MBA student Ryan Mahindapala provides an account of doing an MBA during the pandemic and how he feels we will come out the other side with new attitudes. 

When I began my MBA journey, the world was a very different place. An invisible disease was unheard of, life was as per normal, the machinery of the global economy operated relatively smoothly and despite the fact that we did have our own problems to deal with, we did not think that life could get drastically worse.

COVID-19 hit the world like an axe coming down hard on a tree stump. The blade that is COVID-19 has cut deep into our lives causing permanent scars. With no end in sight, the only thing to do is to adapt, keep working and stay positive. That essentially is where the world is at right now.

Despite this, life still goes on and that also applies to my learning journey on the MBA programme. I can confidently say that no senior executive, CEO or any leader for that matter who has an MBA did their studies under the current conditions that we are facing. The pandemic is by far the biggest challenge to the MBA. The administration of the programme has changed drastically and technology - which I am very thankful for - has a big part to play in it.

Human interaction

A huge part of the MBA, and also one of the reasons why I decided to do an MBA, is the human interaction element of the course: meeting new people, forging new relationships and expanding my network, to name a few. COVID-19 has significantly decreased opportunities to interact with my fellow course mates and lecturers in person. However, with the efforts of the staff at Strathclyde Business School, the rate at which they adapted the syllabus to suit the online realm was astonishing. Using video conferencing applications and online forums, I can interact with fellow students and lecturers just as if it were in the classroom or lecture theatre. I would say that as far as human interaction is concerned, I would not worry about that now.

Applying knowledge gained to the workplace

Learning is one thing; putting the knowledge gained into practice at the workplace is another. With the new parameters of how the MBA course is delivered, and information ready at my fingertips, I am eager to utilise my newfound knowledge at my workplace. Although it is still possible to do so even when working from home, there are just some things that will not be possible. For example, I miss those “water-cooler” moments where I can spend a minute or two of down-time during my workday to speak to my colleagues and ask how their day is going. As I have learnt in the 'managing people in organisations' module, getting feedback and views from co-workers is crucial to achieving performance objectives and targets. Meeting clients face-to-face to give a more personalised service is not possible. As I have learnt in marketing management, this is important because customer service is about delivering an experience. That said, our options are limited and adjusting the way we operate is needed to remain competitive.

Opportunities for career development

I feel like the MBA is giving me a whole range of skills, knowledge and accumulated business acumen that will propel my career. But will there be sufficient opportunities in the market, post-graduation, taking into account that companies are closing down, going bankrupt and even those that are able to survive this pandemic, are implementing a hiring freeze because they have no clue how the next 2-3 years will pan out? There is no easy answer to this question, and I don’t think that anyone has an answer either. One thing is for sure, the current situation and the coming recession will be a good avenue for MBA students and graduates to put into practice the business and management skills picked up on the course and that is essentially the value of the MBA: being able to make the decisions when times get tough. That, in my opinion, would be the MBA holders’ biggest selling point.

Adapting to technology

If not now, then when? That is the mantra that I have chosen to adopt during this unprecedented time. Now is a good time to read up, watch video tutorials and learn about new technologies in the market. It also helps that I am taking the international technology management module this semester. Concepts learnt can be applied straight away as I rely heavily on technology to get everything done, from work and studying to ordering food on a regular basis. With nothing else to do but sit in front of my laptop, the instant application of knowledge gained from the course has made me more aware and proficient in the use of existing and future technologies that will change the way we work and play. I must say that I have used this lockdown period quite productively.

The new normal

As I go through the experience of temporarily doing my MBA online, I am unable to stop myself from thinking, “What if this is the new normal and is this what the future of education is going to be like? Is this a better way of receiving an education?” Part of studying for an MBA is being able to question the status quo and devise solutions to complex issues. Online education certainly has its benefits, but my opinion is that it really depends on various factors: the individual’s preferences, the requirements of the industry that the individual works in and also the general perception of online education that the community of the individual may hold. To me, a good mix of both would be ideal. We are technologically driven, and the emergence of machine learning and AI will only accelerate our use of technology. Technology can only do so much. We must not forget what it means to be human. Empathy, integrity and mutual understanding are some qualities necessary to further the cause of humanity.


The Strathclyde environment is one which is positive and supportive. Completing an MBA is something that I have always wanted to achieve, and nothing is going to change that. This pandemic, no matter how terrible it may be, should not be seen as a hindrance but rather an opportunity. This is the time to seek transformation, renewal, start afresh and re-organise priorities. Periods of adversity yield new habits of mind. COVID-19 has forced us to slow down and spend more time in personal reflection, away from the busy world. I would say that it is a good time to re-acquaint ourselves with the wisdom, peace and strength that lie dormant in each one of us. Coupled with a transformative MBA experience, it is highly possible to emerge stronger, wiser and more resilient.

You can connect with Ryan on Linked In.

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