The future of business education transcript

In January 2021 the BSIS published a report about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on business schools. The BSIS Impact Survey was undertaken between October and November to learn about the challenges which business schools face across the world, as a consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic. The survey seeks to build a picture of the impact of the pandemic, how the sector is responding to these unprecedented challenges and how business schools see the future.

In this podcast we speak to the authors of that report, Michel Kalika and Deborah Leighton, about the future of business education, followed by Andreas Kaplan, who is the Dean of the ESCP Business School in Paris. We will then conclude a conversation with Britta Gammelgaard who is based at the Copenhagen Business School and is editor of Emerald’s International Journal of Logistic Management.

Daniel Ridge: Okay, well thank you so much for joining me today.

Deborah Leighton: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

Michel Kalika: Hello.

DR: So, we'll begin with you first Deborah, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing business schools right now?

DL: Well, I think there are a number of internal challenges and some external challenges, so maybe if I talk about the internal challenges first, I think that business schools are really facing having to manage the expectations of both staff and students, their expectations of a remote learning environment. I think they're having to manage a big drop in revenue. And at the same time, they're needing to invest in new technologies and upskilling staff so from an internal perspective. I think those are three very significant challenges. There are external challenges and I think maybe Michel might want to comment on those.

MK: I think that the main challenges is now for the business school to manage international partnership and international travels, of the students. Some business school, they receive a lot of international students, and you know when the border of closed for them, it's of course, the big challenge. And so it's a big issue, you know. I think it's one of the main challenge that they face during the pandemic, and also now.

DR: How do you think these challenges vary globally so for example difficulties faced by developing countries, how might a lack of resources, add to the challenges of change?

DL: I think there's huge variation between business schools that are very financially stable, and those that have been very badly impacted by the crisis financially. So, some of the societal impact of the crisis has been greater in developing countries where the challenges of remote working might be as basic as ensuring a reliable electricity supply and reliable access to a mobile phone to be able to access learning. Some business schools have had to completely reorientate their resources and their projects that their students are doing to really vital life and death projects. So, we've been speaking to business school deans recently in Africa and India, for example, we're in Africa where the, the electricity infrastructure is proven to be problematic. And in India where we've had one business school that has focused on feeding migrant populations who otherwise wouldn't have access to basic food supplies during the pandemic.

MK: She is absolutely right. I think that the main challenge for the business school depends on their internationalization, you know. The more internationalize it is business school, the more difficult it is for them to manage the situation. Some business schools have a lot of international students, a lot of exchange, a lot of international partnership. So, I think that the main difference depends not on the country, but on the degree of internationalization of the business school.

DR: Do you think there's a future for full time on campus MBA courses or are those something that are increasingly of the past?

DL: I think there's a distinction to be drawn between post-experience MBA and pre-experience MBA. So, for post-experience MBAs, I would say there probably isn't a future for full time on campus. I think MBAs are likely to become more specialist and blended to accommodate the changing needs of part time students. Pre-experience MBAs may still operate in a full-time mode but are unlikely, I think, to be 100% face to face, especially as employers are likely to be engaging with the program at a distance.

MK: Yes, I do think that for executive MBA, the blended solution will be the future solution, it means that some courses will be online, and some seminar will be face to face. What we learned during the crisis, is that the, the manager, they want, not only to meet online they also want to have the opportunity to meet face to face, and to develop personality changes.

DR: So tell me about some of the sort of courses you'd like to be, you'd like to see being developed.

DL: So, I would say that a portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in blended learning mode with multiple start dates would be a significant opportunity for business schools. So, particularly with significant digital skills contents including coding. And that isn't the standard. At the moment, across the sector. I think also contents that aligns with sustainable development goals is going to become increasingly important. And I think students are increasingly going to be questioning the CSR credentials of the courses that they're studying across the piece. So those would be my suggestions.

DR: The EFMD recently commissioned a survey of the deans of business schools to understand their perceptions of the future of business education. The results report highlights the most significant impacts to business education as well as the changes that need to take place. What are the EFMD decide to commission this report. And what were you expecting to find from the results, was there anything that surprised you?

MK: You know, EFMD is an international non for profit organization which mission is to help the development of business school, including to accreditation processes, and through BSIS. The BSIS is his business school impact system. It's a process which main purpose is to assess the impact of business school. So, because we focus on impact, it was the right time to question the impact of the crisis on business school, and, consequently, on their impact on their own impact.

DR: Was there anything surprising in the research that came out of it?

MK: Yes, maybe first we expected that business school, of course mentioned financial impact of the crisis, difficulties in terms of online teaching difficulties in the field of employability of the students, but we were surprised by the fact that business school, increase their impact, though, during the crisis, and also because of the crisis, and because of the free time that the faculty had, the business school can increase their intellectual impact their research, the publication, have been developed during the crisis, maybe, maybe there is another point of surprise. It is the fact that the number of students increase during the crisis, and we can explain that because of the situation of the job market. Some students decided to begin new training new courses.

DR: So the hybrid model works better than in those types of cases, doesn't it because, are people able to work and then go to school at the same time.

DL: Yes, I think so. And, perhaps, perhaps there is something else to be added just in terms of the, I think we were really bowled over by the optimism of business schools in the face of the pandemic and how optimistic they were about the future, given the size of challenges that they said they were facing. They were incredibly good at flexing their business models and recognizing the fact they would have to flex them even more in the future. So, I think that that was something that, that surprised us.

DR: The report highlights the urgent need to change business school models, how do you think the pandemic has accelerated the need for change and how do you think business schools are going to adapt?

Mk: Yeah, you know, in a crisis, there, there are always two sides: danger on one sides and opportunities on the other side. We have been surprised by the fact that for numerous Business School, the crisis was an opportunity to accelerate changes more online courses more blended program, and maybe also to re specify their program portfolio. We can say that the business school, that invest in IT before the crisis, they were able to adapt themselves very quickly. They add to resources to face a crisis.

DL: I think I think that that's very true, and we've spoken to deans and directors since the publication of the survey, and they suggest that they've accommodated perhaps two or three years of change within the last 12 months. So they've had to pivot very quickly to address the change that's happened, and to capitalize on some of the opportunities that Michel outlined earlier, in particular, they've had to focus on generating alternative income streams, and to really reassure their stakeholders that they are adapting their business models in line with the impacts of the pandemic. I think they're likely to adapt in three key ways. First of all, to address the balance of income streams in order to assure financial sustainability. That's of great importance. Secondly, too. I think they're going to overhaul their course portfolios in terms of the content of the courses, and the modes of delivery. And thirdly, I think they're going to align faculty structures and capabilities with the requirements of the post COVID era, not just in terms of skills, but it's an opportunity to recruit faculty from around the world as there's no longer going to be a need for faculty to live up for all faculty to live locally. I think the things that they're not looking at at the moments and perhaps they should be looking at all the requirements of employers. So new forms of engagement with employers and how they can best support the new needs of industry, and they should also look at the student profile. We know a lot about generation Z, how they interact with learning technologies, how they like to learn, but what about the generation that's coming along behind generation Z, and what their needs are going to be in the near future,

MK: You know, maybe, maybe the business school, discover, thanks to the crises, the fact that the faculty could be anywhere, and the students could be anywhere. So it means that the face to face model can be adapted and business school can now recruit faculty in all country. And they don't need the faculty, don't need mandatory to be in the location of the business school.

DR: Well how are students adapting to these changes?

DL: Well I think that there is a huge continuum of responses to the changes. I think where business schools have done a good job of flexing their vision quickly and meeting student expectations very clearly about what they are going to provide. I think students have been very positive about their experiences, and certainly in terms of their digital skills development for employability, as well as for learning, I think they recognize the fact that they've come along an awfully long way. I think at the other end of the spectrum, there are business schools who have not made the investment in the technology in the platforms in the apps that students are expecting. They haven't set clear expectations, and students have been dissatisfied and perceive that they're not getting value for money. Of course, we have undergraduate students with very different expectations from our executive education students and our postgraduate students. We have a degree apprenticeships and other models of delivery. And I think there's a lot of work to do over the coming months in terms of finding out exactly how students have responded to the efforts of business schools to meet their expectations during and since the first series of lockdowns across the world.

DR: Do you think that moving online for a lot of courses is changing the culture of business schools.

DL: I think coming back to what Michel said at the beginning, that's the business schools, there are opportunities, as well as disadvantages of moving online, and again there is a huge variation in the quality of the provision and the quality of interactions with students.

MK: For business school who face and international market, with international students with international faculty, maybe we can think that these business schools, they will in the future use more largely IT to connect, faculty, and students, but maybe it will also depends on the program. The situation is not the same for bachelor or master program and executive education program. I think that for undergraduate program, the students they are able to adapt very quickly to online teaching. But what is missing is a social life. And you know, in a business school if the added value is not only in the amphitheatre in the classroom. The added value is also through social life, common project, group of students working together with the supervision of one faculty. And that's not always easy for students who don't know each other to manage this kind of pedagogy. So, I think it's more difficult for undergraduate students to have distance learning for executive education, maybe the situation is quite different. The managers are more used, maybe, to work remotely.

DR: I'd like to turn now to Andreas Kaplan, who is the dean of the ESCP business school in Paris: thank you for joining me today Andreas. I'd like to jump right in by asking you about the future of business schools. Do you think there's a future for full time on campus MBA courses, or are those increasingly becoming something of the past?

Andreas Kaplan: Well, I don't think that they will disappear. Because I mean, if we look at it, what is a full time MBA? I mean it's a program which is for participants who already worked for a couple of years in the company who most likely did not have any management studies, and after a couple of years in their professional lives they feel that there is a need for some courses (management courses) in various disciplines- management, strategy, marketing, finance. So I think there's always a group of people who are looking for such a program. Now, I think also that the total number of participants- if you look at all the number of participants in MBA programs around the world- I think there is going to be a decrease, but this is also the fault of business schools who increasingly diversified their program portfolio. You know, a couple of decades ago there was a business school that had one program which was the MBA program, now they have master’s program, specialized master’s program, specialized MBAs, executive MBAs, all these different programs. And the more variety you offer to potential students or participants, obviously they will be wide, and this leads to less students per program type. Then there is another question and this, this is not making an MBA disappear, it's the question of the program fees: increasingly, students, potential students look at the return on investment. And obviously if we look at program fees of 200k, the return on investment must be very high, especially since you now have the possibility to participate in or attempt MOOCS of the best business schools in the world. I'm talking about that a little bit in my book, with the example of Lori Picard, who looked into MBA programs but who decided that this would be too expensive and then she came up with her own curriculum, MBA curriculum, participating in various MOOCs, certified MOOCs with the best institutions in the world (Harvard, Yale, London Business School) and she got the same kind of credits as if she attended a normal MBA program. And this, all this for a fraction of the cost. And I think in the future, the more companies which accept such a homemade or self-made MBA curriculum, the more they accepted these credentials, the more it's going to be a problem for a business school and maybe fees might decrease. If that were to happen, then again obviously it's a dynamic market, the more companies accepting MOOCs, certified MOOCs for getting job interviews etc, if business schools see that, they obviously get the feeling (and rightly so) that they cannibalize themselves, so I guess the certification of MOOCs will also be increasing in price.

DR: Tell me about some of the sort of courses you'd like to see developing and why.

AK: In terms of courses, I think, or teaching content anyway, moving more from knowledge acquisition, pure knowledge acquisition to the development of skills. And I think first of all you need to teach students to autonomously, or to be able to autonomously learn. As I said before, lifelong learning becomes more and more important, because job requirements kind of change at the pace of mobile phone updates, so I don't think that the early life degree will be enough for your entire professional career. Now, since the requirements change so quickly, I also don't think that at anytime and when students or alumni then, in this case, need to upskill or reskill that they can always come back to their business school. So they need to be able to autonomously learn, and they need to learn this already during their studies, study time, and one way of being able to autonomously get certain expertise, knowledge, is if you teach them from a more multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, approach. Because the more different subjects and areas they already saw during their studies- not very much in depth, but to get a certain vocabulary of a variety of different subjects- the easier it is for them with the basic vocabulary to find themselves the content they can learn autonomously. So I think that that's very important. Then obviously I mean, again digitalization; I think every student of a business school needs to learn at least on a very basic level programming, programming skills. Again, I always do the example, I'll give the example if you want to work with, let's say China: it would help to have some basic knowledge of the Chinese culture or  Chinese language, and it's the same in the future- you are more and more going to work together with machines, robots, AI driven systems, and if you have at least a basic knowledge of the language, that helps us. So I think this is important. And then anything connected to business ethics, to sustainability, to these societal challenges, also here I think we're going to see more and more courses on these topics, because in business school there is business in the word, but there's also school in the word. And so, a business will have a societal calling or purpose, and so a business will need to need to teach their students these topics.

DR: In a recent book you discuss how universities can protect themselves from future disruptions and threats to the university business model by ensuring strong relationships with their communities. Can you tell us a bit about this and why these relationships will be so key to ensuring the relevancy of the 21st century university?

AK: Well, for several reasons. But first of all as I said courses, because of digitalization of content, due to that digitalization also gets, to a certain degree, a commodity, you know. A Basics in Marketing course is around about the same. So, it's not so much about the content anymore, but it's about getting close contact to a professor, getting like in an exchange closely with the professor; getting the networking which is also an important factor of why somebody attends a business school; exchanging with fellow students after class and extracurricular activities; all this is very important and adds a lot of value to the program. And I think business schools have a huge interest in creating these possibilities for networking, possibilities for students to exchange with each other, to have this close contact to a professor, because this is why probably students will come to campus in the future. If not, they can just stay home and participate in some online courses, wherever it is in the world. And it's very important that they get attached to their business school: this is the second reason why, why this community building is so important. And this is now me as a marketing professor talking, in the beginning of my career, academic career, I did a lot of research on customer relationship management, and one of the basic rules is that customer acquisition is a lot more expensive than customer retention. And if you think of it, to get a student into your business school, I mean there's the marketing budget which is quite high, then you have (depending on the program) 60% of students you get, or candidates you get, by a positive word of mouth, so there's a high acquisition cost. If you achieve that they're happy with you, satisfied with their time at your business school, they might come back as alumni for executive education, they will work for you as brand advocates, talk about you and make promotion for you. And the same, I mean it's not even only for students the same works for professors. To recruit a professor has huge acquisition costs, time from other professors to do the interviews, it takes a long time to find the right profile for your business school professor. And then usually early in their career, they get to teaching the de-charge so they don't have to teach as much as a more experienced professor which has a high cost for business school, but you want to give them the opportunity to work on their research. But if you don't manage to attach those professors, those younger or early career professors in the early careers, if you don't manage to attach them to your business well then, after five years, six years, seven years they will leave. And so you have lost the entire acquisition costs and, again, retention is less costly than acquisition.

DR: You did a lot of work at ESCP on sustainability and linking parts of your curriculum to the UN's SDGs. Can you tell me about how and why business schools should adopt a sustainability focus in their teaching and business practices?

AK: Well the why is quite simple. As I said, I think the business school has also societal purpose and sustainability is important. So, we need to teach our students about sustainability, but it's actually not that difficult because students ask for it, it's actually students who drive business schools, spur business schools to increasingly offer courses on sustainability. And I mean, I saw this at ESCP, whenever we provided or delivered an elective on sustainability, then students demanded to have a core course on sustainability; whenever it was the core course they demanded an entire specialization consisting of several courses on sustainability; and in the end they want to even have an entire program on sustainability, so also this, we now have. So it's really the students who demand for more courses on sustainability because I think, but this is my interpretation, I think that students understood that making a perfect career, financially speaking, is not enough, if at the same time due to a global warming or climate change induced hurricane or tornado your rooftop terrace gets destroyed. So, you know it’s not going to work without having a more sustainable lifestyle. So I think that's why we need to integrate sustainability and why students want to have, want to see more sustainability in in their business. By the way, not only in terms of academic content, but also in terms of operations, because you need to have, you need to be credible. So I saw at ESCP business school that you cannot just teach about sustainability if at the same time students see that your operations will manage your business not in a sustainable way. So you need to have some recycling in your business school, need to have a sustainable lighting system, a sustainable heating system. But you can also be very open and transparent, or you need to be very open and transparent, with the students that you cannot be completely sustainable in all areas. And I give you an example: at ESCP in Berlin we are in a building which is classified as a historical monument, and to change the windows, I mean one window costs a fortune. So, obviously those windows are very old and they are not really the best sustainability windows, sustainable windows with respect to heating etc. but you need to be open and students understand. At the same time, you need also to lead by example. Also here I can tell you an anecdote: at some point one student asked me how I can preach about sustainability if I make in my office my coffee, always with a capsule coffeemaker, which produces a lot of aluminium. So obviously you need to be coherent and so I needed to find another way to make my coffee, although coffee in itself is obviously not very sustainable. So, yeah, and how to integrate it? Well in the operation side it's easier because it's just a decision of top management to integrate sustainability into operations. On the academic side, it's a little bit more tricky because there is this concept of academic freedom, which is very good, but each professor can decide what he or she wants to integrate in his or her courses, so you could not force them to integrate sustainability in their courses. Now with the topic of sustainability, obviously it's not so difficult to convince professors to integrate something like that in their courses. However, they might not necessarily know how to do so, so you need to, we thought we needed to, give them some trainings on how to connect their specific core subject with SDGs. So we started that some time ago to really give them training, provide them training or propose them to participate in training, on how to integrate sustainability topics into their courses. And then, professors are very busy people, they have not much time so also here if the institution, or if you as an institution, decide that sustainability is important for you, then you need to give them the time: you need to free up some time for them that they actually can update their courses with sustainability matters.

DR: Great, thank you so much.

We would now like to turn to Britta Gammelgaard to discuss the changing needs of students. As Professor of supply chain management at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Denmark Prof Gammelgaard is involved in teaching and supervising a number of Programmes as well as having responsibility for the GLOBAL bachelor programme.

DR: Thank you so much for joining me today.

BG: Thank you, thank you for inviting me.

DR: Do you think, have you noticed that students' needs have changed in terms of what they want from an MBA?

BG: Well, by and large in Denmark we don't have MBAs we have Master of Science (MSc) courses. I’m not sure that makes a difference. But no, that is not what I have observed. They want to get back to school, I can I can tell you that for sure and we hope that that will happen here, close to summer. We're opening up a little bit, for now, but only for about 20% of our students can come and do their group work, have the study rooms, but they really want to interact, they, they are fed up with online courses, only.

DR: So, tell me about some of the courses you'd like to see developing and why.

BG: Yeah, so should there be new courses here, well, maybe, maybe not. But let me just start here, talking a little bit or refer you to an article recently published in Academy of Management Learning and Education by a CBS colleague of mine, Robin Holt. The title of this article is Hannah Arendt and the Raising of Conscience in Business Schools and Hannah Arendt was a philosopher, I think she was American, but definitely with German roots, but already in 1961 she claimed that there was a crisis in education. And she had three observations here. The first was that scholarship, teachers had become incidental, and education had become groupthink. So instead of having the deep insights, disciplinary insight, I mean, it became a kind of superficial. So, then the next observation she had was that here that disciplinary knowledge was lost in the professional interests in communication and dissemination of processes. So, you can say that there was now more focus on pedagogy, rather than the disciplinary content. And again, that means that you actually get quite superficial in education. And then the third aspect, Holt mentions and then referring again to Arendt is that learning had become technical and then subservient. And then on, thoughtful preparation for commercial interests, enjoying temporary ascendancy. So, that means okay whenever there is a huge interest in finance, because we had a financial crisis, and everybody will just try to learn the techniques about that. And nowadays you can maybe think okay, it will be Supply Chain Management due to the COVID-19 and the personal protection equipment crisis, but again it becomes technical, so that means that you are learning something on the superficial level but you never get deep into the substance, you're never asked the critical questions of, so what is it we're learning, why should we learn this, how does it create meaning for me and my fellow students and others in the society. And so here, I must say that I recognize these aspects, I have seen that, as I mentioned, I have been in the industry if you can call it that, for a long time, and I have felt, and see that development also in my professional life. So maybe it is time now to counter react to that. And it's time to focus less on knowledge and more on the meaning, and as they also say the authors here on conscience. So I do want to say. And that means that you also ask the critical questions to existing knowledge. So, so again when we need, of course, knowledge is not bad, but here you, you just need to get underneath the surface so that you don't just reproduce knowledge without thinking about the consequences for people, and also the planet for that matter. So when I'm talking about people and planet you may think okay so now we're coming into sustainability. And yes, of course I am,  sustainability and corporate social responsibility. But, I mean, it's not limited to that I would say that in general, we need more in depth thinking, asking the critical in an academic sense questions to the discipline so that we actually capture a meaning, purposeful learning here. So that is one I want more than anything else. So, so you can still have, I mean, also the same courses, supply chain management for example, that is my field, you can still have that, but then you would have the critical, the sustainable sustainability issues and so on, integrated in the courses as a natural thing actually so you will not need to have separate courses on sustainable supply chain management, as we have now. We also have that now at CBS, so it should be integrated in all courses that would be my ideal would be great.

DR: How can we encourage business schools to develop global solutions, and what do you think they can do better to accelerate their impact?

BG: Yeah, well you can say, is it really the task of the business school to develop global solutions? And again, thinking about, about my own business school Copenhagen Business School, I could say well maybe it's not the school's obligations as such, but they have to create the framework for us, academics to fill out. So if they are, or support development of, for example a program in green transition, they set the framework and then it's up to us to actually fill them out and also to some extent follow orders that is probably not a good word, and certainly not for academics we don't like that, but get the inspiration and see here is really a very important societal problem that we need to address. That could also be well, poverty, in other countries and so on and again, from a supply chain perspective, that is really very, very important also to think about, again, having a conscience about what it is you do when you are promoting Supply Chain Management, outsourcing, offshoring and so on. So what are the consequences here. So, well, of course you can always say that we need more but I do think a lot is happening. I can mention also in the UK for example, in recent years, they have focused a lot on modern slavery. And that is of course not only in the UK or in, in Europe, we have it, not in Denmark also unfortunately. But, but it also has, well, global implications. So I also want to mention a special UN program, of course, everybody knows at least around here that the UN has seventeen sustainability goals or objectives, but the UN also has, so called Global Compact initiative called the Principle For Responsible Management Education or PRME. And here, that is something a business schools signs up for and then your report every year. So how do you actually integrate sustainability in your educational programs. I think that is a very good initiative actually. Yeah so I think a lot is happening. But again, as I mentioned before, you could always wish for more, and you probably should. And then there's actually also another factor, we just need to take into account here, and that is funding. So what are funding opportunities, and of course with money you can manage people, a long way, I would say. And here well the EU has big research funding. And actually, we didn't used to have that in Denmark, but recently we have got a good deal, directed towards wind transition but, but that is of course also very important. And to my knowledge business schools follow also these developments intensively so I'm not so worried. But again, we should always look for more.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find a transcript of my conversations on our website as well as more information about our guests. I'd like to thank Joe Jones and Kim Chadwick for the help with today's episode, and Alex Jungius, from This Is Distorted.