Spearheading change and igniting innovation in an uncertain world

Chess board with a bronze pawn standing out. Symbolic to strategy, igniting innovation, spearheading forward with change.

Representatives of TBS Business School, ESADE, and Lagos Business School consider new approaches to management education and methods for meeting the changing needs of students and employers

Bringing together pioneers in the field of Business School innovation, Chair of AMBA & BGA Bodo Schlegelmilch led a discussion on the trends that decision makers in higher education need to anticipate at the fully online AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021.

Representing Business Schools in Spain, Nigeria and France, panellists delved into digital transformation and the future of business education, disruption in the sector, and programmes and course delivery can evolve to reflect the changing needs of students and the future requirements of employers.

Panellists also outlined their post-Covid-19 predictions for how Business Schools must prepare themselves for the ‘new normal’ and future-proof themselves against continuing volatility.

For example, David Stolin, Professor of Finance at TBS Business School, described how his partnership with comedian, Sammy Obeid, has helped bring ‘novel perspectives’ to students and to innovate their learning. He explained that ‘collaborating with people outside the traditional Business School environment is very fruitful’, adding that the work had started prior to Covid-19, but that the pandemic had prompted him to find the most engaging audio-visual content.

The idea of ‘making education palatable and entertaining’ was noted by Schlegelmilch with regards to ESADE Business School’s work on the gamification of education.

Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at Lagos Business School, pointed out that one of the most significant implications of Covid-19 is that competition is no longer limited by geography. As a result, students have few restrictions when it comes to choosing programmes and related materials. Schools, such as his own have therefore been charged with finding new ways of staying relevant and capturing the attention of students outside the School’s traditional catchment areas.

Ivanka Visnjic, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management at ESADE Business School, noted that the industry is experiencing an acceleration in the adoption of technology, highlighting the use of video in content delivery, and increased competition in the learning marketplace. She explained that ‘Business Schools are competing with global brands, head-to-head, with no geographic boundaries’, and that this is forcing them to re-examine their value proposition for students. Visnjic used the analogy of online videos being less like a movie, and more like the theatre wherein, ‘students are co-producers’ of knowledge: relevant guest contributors can be invited to the stage to stimulate conversation, thanks to the new technologies moved to the forefront of learning by the pandemic.

Chair
Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair, AMBA & BGA; Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna

Speakers
Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management, Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria
David Stolin, Professor of Finance, TBS Business School, France
Ivanka Visnjic, Director, Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management, ESADE Business School, Spain

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Transforming learning into business impact

A kid with short black afro hair punching into the sky. The young kid is in a blue and gold superhero outfit with a mask, cap and a lightning bolt icon on his t-shirt. This is to symbolise transformation and impact.

Tomorrow’s world requires impactful leadership. Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Ignacio de la Vega outlines four areas of focus for business educators and 10 top leadership skills that they should seek to develop in their cohorts

In a session of the AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021 that was streamed live from Mexico, Ignacio de la Vega, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, discussed his research on the topic of transforming learning into business impact.

De la Vega explained that capitalism isn’t sufficient to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, or even to mitigate its impact, arguing that it is up to all of us to work towards improvement and to harness the positives of the pandemic’s disruption. For example, he argued that the pandemic has helped the ‘world to heal’ and that people’s confinement within their homes has improved the planet’s environmental health, due to a reduction in pollution and waste.

‘The future started many years ago and the pandemic accelerated this disruption,’ he said. For Business Schools and many other educational organisations, the disruption has led to a ‘new model’ of learning during Covid-19, with programmes going fully online. However, this new approach has not been embraced by all, due to a number that include a lack of the appropriate equipment, funding and access to the internet.

De la Vega believes that to build the leaders of the future business educators must have a real purpose and impact on societies and communities through technology, science and research, while also keeping up to speed with trends. For him, four key areas of focus stand out:

  • Building new skillsets and mindsets
  • Fostering lifelong learning
  • Democratising executive (and all) education
  • Contributing to finding solutions to the world’s ‘wicked’ problems

10 top leadership skills for the future

Summing up the session, de la Vega looked ahead to 2025 and predicted that 10 key skills will become paramount for our leaders of the future:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving
    and ideation

For business educators, the biggest challenge will be to keep these at the forefront of their minds and to infuse them into the DNA of their Business Schools, he believes.

Ignacio de la Vega is Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico. He also leads its entrepreneurship centre (Instituto de Emprendimiento Eugenio Garza Lagüera). Previously, he served as Dean of EGADE Business School and Dean of the Undergraduate Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Changing times call for changing approaches at Business School

Person thinking about change and sustainability.

Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020, calls on Business Schools to ensure cases reflect the changing world of business and help enable a generation of leaders that seek ‘meaning’ in their careers. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Case studies are a great way to teach the practical application of business knowledge, but must be kept up to date with changing times and the world’s growing focus on sustainability, according to Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020. 

The competition invited students and graduates from Business Schools in the BGA network – of which there are now 162 spread across 39 countries – to submit their report and recommendations on a sustainability conundrum facing Nespresso France.  

A master’s graduate of Aston Business School, Sauviat won with a hybrid proposal in support of both inhouse and public recycling initiatives that speaks to the importance he places in recognising the shifting dynamics of business, and of keeping an open mind. 

In this interview with Business Impact, he offers his thoughts on the value of the case study method and the importance of pursuing purpose in both a professional and personal capacity. 

He also outlines why the central selling point of a Business School programme, for him, is its ‘uniqueness’ and ‘how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively’.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your professional and personal background?

I come from a family of four children and grew up in Limoges, a medium-sized city in France known for its porcelain and cows. I studied corporate law at the University of Limoges before turning to international business thanks to a partnership with the University of Oklahoma. There, I discovered the thrill of being abroad and have been travelling ever since. 

I worked for businesses and NGOs in Spain, finished my studies in international business at Aston University and flew to Hong Kong to promote cross-sector collaborations and disrupting business models at Shared Value Project Hong Kong – a non-profit organisation striving to build uncommon partnerships for the UN SDGs. Most recently, I joined the World Benchmarking Alliance, an international organisation which develops transformative benchmarks that compare key companies’ performance on the SDGs.

The BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020 asked entrants to analyse four options available to the CEO of Nespresso France in relation to addressing the problem of single-serve aluminium capsules that are deemed wasteful and damaging to the environment. Which option would you have implemented, if you were the Nespresso France CEO, and why?

I would implement a hybrid solution between ‘setting up a proprietary recycling system’ and ‘sponsoring a complete overhaul of the country’s recycling system’, as I recommended in my entry. This is for two main reasons: impact maximisation and risk mitigation. 

While investing in the French recycling system is clearly superior in terms of both impact and ROI, Nespresso needs to complement the public system with its own private system until the former reaches sufficient capacity. 

The move would allow Nespresso France to adapt to the new business environment where interdependence, collaboration for innovation and proactiveness on purpose are increasingly crucial to success. I added to this combination my own (fifth) option for Nespresso to become a B Corp. The B Corp certification brings depth and transparency to this sustainability commitment. 

Nespresso’s innovative dual recycling model would be highlighted by a unique positioning based on transparency and collaboration. If applied, this plan would result in two thirds of the cups to be recycled by 2024 and 100% of the French population to have access to proper recycling options for the aluminium capsules. It would also provide an estimated 3% additional growth on the 2020-2023 period across Nespresso France’s operations. 

You are an international business MSc graduate of Aston Business School. Did your experience of this programme help in your approach to the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition?

My time at Aston was fundamental to my developing the skills needed in the BGA case competition. It honed my analytical reasoning and business strategy skills, which were both key to solving the case study. It also broadened my horizons, especially thanks to the palpable entrepreneurial atmosphere at the university. The many societies available, notably Enactus, were a fantastic way to get hands-on experience, for example. 

While at Aston, I learned the importance of having a well-thought strategy, and, more importantly, to act on it and not be afraid to adapt it according to ongoing circumstances – as reflected in my submission. The MSc in International Business was therefore a crucial step in my professional and personal development. I gained professional experience and made lifelong friends there. It is a time I will cherish for the rest of my time. 

Do you think the case study method is an effective way to learn about business and management?

I think it is extremely important to look at real-life examples to get a deeper understanding of business. To gain effective knowledge, you need both a healthy dose of theory and a matching dose of relevant analysis grounded in reality. The case study method is therefore a great way to implement the knowledge acquired in the classroom and to examine the world’s complexities. 

That being said, the way to succeed yesterday is not necessarily the same as would be needed today. Times constantly change – especially with sustainability issues which were systematically ignored before. ‘Business as usual’ cannot work anymore. These relatively new aspects to doing business offer great opportunities – such as sustainable businesses gaining an edge over their competitors – but do require creativity to solve. They reflect the new paradigms we live in, which the case study method needs to acknowledge.

If you were to return to Business School later in your career (e.g., to study an MBA or other executive-level programme), would use of the case study method be something you would look for in the Business School at which you would want to study?

I would definitely look for the practical applications of the knowledge taught. The use of the case study method would be one aspect of that and I would expect each ‘theory’ class to be matched with implementation studies. 

I would pay extra attention to how ‘recent’ case studies are used in the programme and how sustainability is included in every aspect of it. I would also look for how the case study is effectively used – is there an emphasis on one good solution or a debate on its complexities? 

The use of case studies needs to reflect the challenging problems of the world we live in and foster creativity on how to solve them.

What other factors might be important to you, if you were ever to return to Business School to study further?

If I ever were to return to Business School, I would look at its reputation and rankings but, more importantly, the uniqueness of the degree. It is crucial to see how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively. 

The ‘why’ needs to be at the centre and the programme must show its current relevance. You cannot study business the way it’s been done so far, focusing on only the old profit dimension of business. It is only one dimension among many others – for instance, people, planet and purpose.
As the ones enabling the next generation of business leaders, Business Schools have to show the way forward and be trailblazers in sustainability.

Can you tell me a little about a favourite course/module, assignment or professor, from your time at Business School?

I can talk a bit about my favourite professor: Kaz Kirollos. He was the head of both the entrepreneurship and the international business programmes and knew his way around in both [Kirollos is now at Warwick Business School]. 

Kirollos embodies the successful mixing of theory and practice. He would explain the theory and its limits before diving into case studies and debates in the classroom. He knew that there was no ‘right’ answer in business but that there are instead shifting dynamics which require an inquisitive and open mind. I guess his entrepreneurship experience was especially important in that aspect as he emphasised a trial-and-error approach to business – something that really resonated with me.  

Your past experience is full of activities relating to work with a social impact. Are ‘purpose’ and ‘impact’ things that you will continue to seek in your future career? If so, why?

‘Impact’ and ‘purpose’ are definitely things that I will continue to seek in my future career. I think I come from a generation looking for meaningful work – not just work as a means to survive. As a generation, we are also aware that we are the last ones who will be able to make a strong impact on many global issues, such as climate change. 

It is significant that we just entered the UN’s Decade of Action. In this way, while NGOs and non-profits certainly have a role to play, the private sector needs to step up in order to bring forth a sustainable future. This is not from a charity point of view. Aligning profit with purpose is beneficial to both society and businesses – creating both economic and societal value. Companies need to understand that, in the age of stakeholder capitalism, purpose is the new competitive advantage. 

While at Business School, you worked on an entrepreneurial project for a product that produces mosquito-repellent blankets in African countries, with the platform, Enactus. What did this experience teach you about the realities of business?  

Being a project leader at Enactus taught me much, especially about constantly failing! Making a project move forward is but a long succession of failures and delays. Once an obstacle is removed, another pops up. In this way, being part of this student-led organisation really developed my entrepreneurial skills, which are required for any business. It also showed me the difficulty of finding the right contacts and business partners, especially in an international setting. 

Furthermore, it showed me how hard it is to implement cross-sector collaboration. The companies we reached out to were really unsure about working with a team of students – which is understandable – and kept going back and forth even with the whole university backing us. There was also a lot of discussion around the project even though we were only mimicking an already tested and proven method. As a result, conducting proper business in Ghana took us much longer than we expected – a common result for most international projects.

Do you think socially oriented leaders can have a bigger impact at the helm of a small startup or within a large multinational organisation?

This is a very tough question, to which there is no definitive answer. Both are needed to drive impact. What is certain is that the private sector has a crucial role to play to bring forth a more sustainable future. Without the private sector, we won’t achieve the SDGs. The private sector needs to bring much-needed scalability to sustainability. Its capacity to solve problems profitably and at scale is indeed key (the earned profits being reinvested to generate more profit). 

On the one hand, multinationals can have a bigger impact given their sheer size, influence and resources. They are, however, much harder to move for socially oriented leaders. On the other hand, startups are much more nimble and can offer innovative scalable solutions. I personally really enjoyed my time in a startup as you really feel you are making a difference. Socially oriented leaders can have a strong impact in both. The true defining element is, in my opinion, cross-sector partnerships to involve all stakeholders in the process and to create maximum impact from every initiative.

Nicolas Sauviat is a sustainability professional with an academic background in both law and international business. He is passionate about cross-sector collaboration for the SDGs and advocates for aligning profit with purpose. His experience has spanned the US, Europe and Asia, working for organisations ranging from NGOs to businesses.

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: May-July 2021).

Sustainable banking in Paraguay – find out more and enter the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2022 for a chance to win a $3,000 USD cash prize.

 

Impacting the community through student projects

Here are two working professionals in a joyful conversation sitting at a table in an office space environment. The table has an open laptop, notepad, books and a turquoise coloured potted plant of grass.

Amizan Omar details the Bradford Business Challenge projects undertaken by final-year undergraduate students as part of the University of Bradford School of Management’s commitment to serve and make an impact on the largest meaning of ‘community’

Harnessing diversity and inclusivity, and putting ethics, sustainability and responsible management at the heart of its actions, the University of Bradford School of Management is committed to making an impact on and serving the largest meaning of ‘community’ – i.e., the diverse range of people everywhere in the world.

Community engagement

This commitment is so important to the School because 85% of its students come from the most socio-economically diverse areas by postcode, around 70% are from BME backgrounds, and because of the wider University of Bradford’s commitment to social mobility. As such, the School engages actively with communities, non-traditional students, and small-scale regional enterprises. This is manifest in the School’s mission and vision statements, which are then articulated in its broader set of actions, particularly through the academic offerings.

The University of Bradford School of Management is the first in England to receive joint accreditation from AMBA & BGA and, in the spirit of the BGA Charter, the School has a string focus on bringing business and students together in learning and teaching activities inside and outside the classroom.  

The School runs various initiatives, including its Career Booster programme – a series of seminars and workshops offered two weeks each academic year to equip students with out-of-classroom transferable skills and commercial awareness. Other initiatives include its Knowledge Transfer Networks – a series of monthly lectures showcasing the experience and expertise of particular business owners to other businesses, as well as students, staff and alumni, and which is followed by an opportunity for all attendees to network.

The Bradford Business Challenge

Another initiative is the increasingly prevalent Bradford Business Challenge theme for business and management undergraduates’ final-year project, where students work with business to solve a real business challenge that has been identified.

The final-year project module for these students requires a 7,500 words dissertation, which can be based on one of four themes Each of the themes – National Industrial Challenge; Global Challenge; Entrepreneurship and Innovation Challenge; and Bradford Business Challenge – involves engaging with a challenge in the real business world. However, the Bradford Business Challenge is alone in being an applied research project that requires students to work on a project sponsored by a business or organisation.

Students opting for this theme partner with the sponsor to find a solution to a specific business problem with guidance from an academic. Sponsors are usually businesses as well as public and third sector organisations from the Yorkshire region, England. Most of the projects are sourced from the University of Bradford School of Management’s longstanding Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) which consists of around 3,000 businesses in Bradford and Yorkshire region.

The Bradford Business Challenge is one way in which the School supports its the KTN members, on top of its Community Career Booster Programme (which offers probono training on specific skills, such as SAGE 50) and business advice. The idea is to promote seamless knowledge transfer between the School and businesses and thus, enable meaningful impact in the community.

Since its launch in the 2018/19 academic year, the Bradford Business Challenge has delivered a degree of impact to more than 30 sponsors and has helped participating students to develop a range of transferrable skills and improve their employability. An internal study shows that more than 50% of these students have successfully secured graduate-level jobs within six months of the study completion, and a further 30% said that the research skills acquired have supported them in their postgraduate study.

Community impact examples

Project sponsors also acknowledge that the solutions provided by students have significantly benefited them. A local marketing and advertising company that sponsored a project in the 2018/19 academic year, for example, reported an improvement in its profitability. Its project focused on investigating marketing challenges faced by the Financial Advisory Service and led to the development of a marketing strategy for financial advisers to market their services. This strategy is now used by the marketing company to gain more clients in the financial industry. Another case was a project with a luxury slow-fashion startup that is today an award-winning SME on market research, and this has contributed to the launch of its products.

Company sponsors span various organisation types and sizes, including public and third sector organisations. Working with the local council, one final-year project student has worked on concept proofing for ‘Citizen Coin Bradford’ – an initiative designed to encourage volunteering in community projects and support for local retailers. Volunteers to the scheme are rewarded with ‘digital coins’ for which they are entitled to discounts from local retailers.

In another recent example, a student worked with an established charity in the City of Bradford to overcome a long-existing HR management issue in the organisation. This has significantly contributed to the sustainability of the organisation, which provides a range of free therapeutic counselling services to vulnerable young people, families, individuals, and couples living in the Bradford region.

Widening reach and winning recognition

The online platform brought in by the School amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions has proven to be a silver lining for fostering broader engagement with the international business community. Through a network of the School’s MBA alumni, the School secured a project sponsored by a Dubai-based food truck and modular/mobile unit manufacturing company. The success of this project – carried out by a student with support from an academic who is a marketing expert – has led to the School opening up the Bradford Business Challenge to international sponsors. A further cross-borders initiative aimed at generating a greater impact in the community at large is now also underway to enhance the value delivered to students and the stakeholders.

In February 2021, the School was granted Small Business Charter status. The award recognises the School’s enduring commitment to working with businesses and entrepreneurs in the city, region and more widely, and its support for them through various initiatives, including the Bradford Business Challenge. Two months following this, the School was awarded ‘Business School of the Year 2020’ by the Educate North Awards – an awards event that celebrates, recognises and shares best practice and excellence in the education sector in the North of the UK.  

Moving forward, the School has identified several key objectives for the future. They include an urgent need for Bradford to move away from low-skills and low-economic positions towards raising academic aspirations and achievements in the local area. There is also a need to tackle the demographic decline in the number of 18-year-olds nationally and addressing the changing needs of employers who are expecting flexibility, resilience, commercial nous, and enhanced skills in relation to the digitisation of work, big data and AI.

Dr Amizan Omar is the Director of Accreditations for the Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences, University of Bradford, UK. She is also an Associate Professor at the School of Management, where she leads the undergraduate final-year project module. Omar is a sustainability advocator and the Faculty Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion.

What do students want and expect from the future of education?

The future role of technology and faculty, the importance placed in international study options, growing societal concerns, and perceived strengths and weaknesses in higher education – EDHEC Business School reports on a survey of students in France, the UK, US, India and South Africa

The pandemic has pressed Business Schools and universities to offer students online courses, generating questions about the role of the teacher, how knowledge is transmitted, and the importance of international study options.

The thoughts and perceptions of students in these areas and more were highlighted in EDHEC’s 2020 OpinionWay survey on the future of education, which collected the thoughts of more than 5,000 students across the UK, US, France, India and South Africa.

The future role of the teacher

Among the major transformations in higher education, the adoption of new technologies is seen as positive in the UK (94%), but also in France (87%), India (98%), US (92%) and South Africa (99%). All of the countries also agreed that the introduction of new technologies will change the way professors teach. However, there is a significant contrast among countries in terms of their perception of digital’s impact on the role of teaching staff and how they convey knowledge.

While 56% of French students think the primary role of educators tomorrow will be to hand down knowledge, students in the UK (51%), US (48%), India (55%) and South Africa (62%) think professors will focus more on teaching the right methods for self-learning through new technologies.

In response to the question of how knowledge will primarily be conveyed in the future, students in the UK (42%), US (44%), India (41%) and South Africa (55%) expect it to be mostly through the use of computers, tablets and smartphones. However, among French students, only 21% see education moving in this direction, whereas 41% think the future of knowledge transmission lies in a combination of augmented teaching staff, robots and humans.

What’s clear is that new technologies must help Schools deliver a rich education, giving students greater flexibility and allowing teaching staff to concentrate more on their students.

It is therefore not surprising that the survey revealed a strong belief that remote learning will become more prevalent. Tomorrow’s teaching will be much more than a physical place with a course and a teacher – Schools and universities need to position themselves as platforms and not just as campuses.

Social concerns are rising among students

The survey also shows a high level of interest among students in the social issues of tomorrow. Therefore, it is imperative that the higher education industry reflects on how education can adapt to meet this need.

Quite commonly, the first concern of students is social inequality, closely followed by the preservation of the environment. Regarding these two issues, the proportion of interest among students are relatively unanimous at between 39% and 51% in every country surveyed. Elsewhere, priorities differ. There is a strong desire to raise awareness of gender inequalities in France (40%) and India (30%) but the equivalent figure among UK students is rather lower, at 21%.

When asked how education can help raise awareness of environmental conservation, the top answer among students in the US (cited by 44% of respondents in that country), South Africa (43%), India (41%) and the UK (40%) is ‘by funding and helping projects to preserve the environment’. The most popular response among those in France (cited by 35% of respondents in that country) meanwhile, was ‘by adapting its programmes’.

Higher education and the challenges of a changing world

Overall, students in all of the countries surveyed have a positive image of higher education. They judge higher education as being able to cope with the multiple challenges that are shaking up the economic environment and, more broadly, our societies.

Among the perceived strengths of the higher education system are the diversity of courses on offer and the variety of subjects taught, which guarantees openness and adaptability for the younger generations. But students in all locations point out two areas for improvement: being more international and linking better with economies.

Unsurprisingly, there are some differences between countries. For example, professional integration into economies is seen to be an area of strength in the UK education system (cited as such by 75%), and the US system (cited by 72%). An area for improvement for the US, meanwhile, is accessibility – only 42% of students polled in the North American country think that the education system is open to the largest number of people. The equivalent figure among students in South Africa is comparable, at 40%. These rates are much lower than those expressed in the UK (60%), India (77%) and France (50%).

The possibility of expatriation during studies: an asset for students

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the number of international student exchanges that can take place, although what is reassuring is that the chance to study abroad during a course is still highly regarded among students and considered to be a real asset.

Of course, attitudes do differ. For example, around 30% of students in the UK and US think that spending part of their higher education course abroad is not a necessity, but this is only true for 13% of students in South Africa, 11% of students in France, and 9% of students in India.

Likewise, in response to the question: ‘Do you think that it is better for a student in your country to do all or most of their higher education abroad?’, students in France were almost unanimous – 85% gave positive responses. The equivalent figure among those in South Africa was also high, at 79%.  However, the proportion of positive responses from those in the UK, US and India were markedly lower, albeit still high enough to conclude that studying abroad is deemed as being important.

Commentary from EDHEC Business School, France.

Post-Covid-19, learning will be augmented

The tools are there to augment learning, as part of Covid-19’s welcome reassessment of current teaching – the challenge is to find the best combination, says Audencia Business School’s Valérie Claude-Gaudillat

Advances in digital communications, neuroscience, AI, and data analysis, combined with changing business needs, new student sociology, and major societal and economic issues, have all contributed to a reassessment of the way we teach. This is a very good thing. 

In March this year, lockdown [restrictions implemented in many countries] further strengthened this trend when the switch from classroom teaching to distance learning became a necessity. It also accelerated the shift towards new augmented ways of teaching and learning. 

We are now looking at a much more adaptive approach to learning. Thanks to technology, the methods and pace of learning can not only adapt to students’ individual profiles, but also to their limitations, choices and desires. In this way, learning stops being quite so prescribed and is able to be more bespoke and, therefore, more human.

Adaptive learning

A legitimate criticism of traditional teaching is that it tends to remain quite generalised. Of course, this is not always the case, but overall it has remained targeted at the average level of a group of learners. The selection processes and the content of training programmes are geared towards this, despite the fact that there is always some heterogeneity within a given group.

Thanks to new digital solutions, however, it is already possible to adapt course content to students’ individual levels. This ‘adaptive learning’ is not new (the concept dates back to the 1970s) but digital tools are helping to make it a reality. Although it is still not very widespread in higher education, primary schools in North America and Asia are already using solutions, such as IBM Watson and Microsoft Power BI, often with very positive results. It is important to stress that these methods do not diminish the teacher’s role. On the contrary, we generally see greater commitment from students and stronger interactions between teachers and learners via those platforms. 

Risks of over-customising learning

‘Augmented learning’ is based on a more systemic and integrative approach that relies on a wide range of learning methods, tools and technologies. Alternating different teaching methods increases students’ motivation and has a positive impact on their learning. These can involve oral presentations, workshops, role playing, problem-based learning, debates, and case studies. 

However, there is a risk that over-customising learning can be detrimental in the medium to long term, particularly when the importance of the collective approach is minimised. Augmented learning must also include reinforcement of collective behavioural skills, and this can be achieved through peer-learning.

Augmented learning should balance the many aspects of learning – face-to-face and distance, technological and non-technological, individual and collective. The tools are now widely available, and the challenge is to combine them in a relevant fashion to best meet educational objectives.

Factoring in societal, ecological and psychological concerns

But beyond methods and technology, post-Covid-19 education must also tackle the major societal, economic and ecological issues we all face. The new world we have all been experiencing since March 2020 offers a real opportunity for a paradigm shift. All of our teaching and academic programmes must integrate societal and ecological dimensions. Indeed, they should be at the forefront in terms of content and across all courses. Since current students are the ones who will influence our future, they should be able to propose new learning methods and suggest new themes and formats. ‘Flipped classrooms’ are already widely implemented but we can go way further.

Finally, psychological implications must be better acknowledged. We cannot ignore the risks resulting from the lack of live interactions and social contact over the coming months and, possibly, years. This is a source of concern and anxiety for students, which must be countered with more empathy. At the same time, it is also our responsibility to prepare students for a world in which uncertainty is becoming the norm.

How will educators meet those challenges? The issues that we are facing are numerous and varied in this chaotic time and there is not a single winning formula. It is fundamental that educational developments are tailored to suit each course and each group of students while involving them in the process. It is not an easy task, but it is essential.

In the end, Covid-19 can also be thought of as a unique opportunity to fundamentally ‘augment’ learning, so that it becomes more relevant and can have an even bigger impact – not only on students, but also on businesses and society.

Valérie Claude-Gaudillat is a Professor and Director of the Institute for Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship at Audencia Business School, France.

Designing a tech MBA

In an age of technology, many students are seeking a specialised MBA for the tech sector or tech-centric companies, argues IE Business School’s José Esteves

Technology has emerged as one of the most relevant economic sectors in recent years, with technological innovation driving growth and labour productivity across all areas of the economy. The adoption of emerging information technologies is influencing employment and remuneration, requiring fresh skills, creating new jobs, and not only changing the nature of tasks in which workers are engaged but also the workplace environment.

At IE Business School, we believe the best way to meet these challenges is by designing a specialised MBA for the tech sector and/or for tech-centric organisations.

Why a tech MBA?

We identified four key business realities that a tech MBA can address: the rise of technology ecosystems; digital transformation; constantly evolving technology; and technology shortfalls.

1 Technology’s contribution to economic growth and labour productivity 

In a 2017 report, Huawei and Oxford Economics estimated that ‘the digital economy is worth $11.5 trillion USD globally, equivalent to 15.5% of global GDP and has grown two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past 15 years’. An analysis of the top US companies by market capitalisation shows that tech companies are the highest valued, among them Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google. In the past two years, some of these companies have reached capitalisation of $1 trillion USD.

2 Digital transformation 

The vast majority of companies are engaging in transformation initiatives as part of a rethink of their global strategies, business models, and organisational approaches.

3 Evolution of technology 

While the accelerated adoption of technologies, such as cloud computing, robotic automation, AI, machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), and 5G technologies is promising for the tech industry, it also demands continuous updating of skills and knowledge. 

New jobs will undoubtedly be created in this scenario, and the demand for data sciences, coding, digital ecosystems, and e-commerce will continue to grow. 

However, it will be difficult for workers to develop the skills needed in these areas. The mismatch between the skills required and workers’ capabilities will necessitate the expansion of retraining programmes.

4 The global tech talent shortage

Technology is creating more jobs than any other, but by 2030, it is estimated that the technology, media and telecommunications sectors will have a shortfall of 4.3 million workers worldwide, according to a 2018 report by Korn Ferry. 

Shortages in these industries are expected to cost $449.7 billion USD in unrealised revenue, while fintech and BFIS (banking, finance, insurance, and security) will have a shortfall of 10.7 million workers by 2030, resulting in $1.3 trillion USD in lost revenue. 

The situation when focusing in on specific countries and regions is similar: the European Commission, for example, has forecasted that 100,000 data-related jobs will be created across Europe by 2020. Since 2010, the number of tech-related jobs in the US has increased by approximately 200,000 every year, and the US economy is increasingly reliant on tech labour for its survival. Based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on projected employment in the year 2026, service-providing industries are expected to account for the majority of 11.5 million newly created jobs. 

Diving deeper into technology

IE Business School decided to create a tech MBA after listening to recruiters and students. Students are increasingly interested in working in the tech sector, or for tech-centric companies, or in tech-demand roles. In response, two years ago, as part of the International MBA programme, we launched the TechLab. 

However, we noticed that some of our students were looking for more. They wanted to dive deeper into technology – not only learning about the latest trends, but also being able to understand and leverage these emerging technologies and tech ecosystems fully. At the same time, our corporate partners were increasingly looking for graduates with a clear understanding of technology and business analytics as well as business acumen. 

The ingredients of a tech MBA 

IE Business School’s Tech MBA is a tech-centred programme that blends three modules – ‘business mastery’, ‘technology immersion’, and ‘transformational leadership’. Each of the three modules is outlined in more
detail below: 

1 Business mastery 

At the heart of any MBA programme, whether general or specialised, lies a curriculum in business management, strategy, and economics.

In the case of our specialised Tech MBA, this part of the curriculum is designed to ensure students are equipped with the knowledge and lasting growth strategies that every tech-centric business needs to succeed in the current landscape. From the very beginning it applies case studies and examples taken from the tech context.

2 Technology immersion 

This module provides a deep understanding of the tech ecosystem, exploring the processes and challenges that underpin technological innovation, and endowing students with the skills needed to manage within firms that are focused on the areas of tech and innovation.

3 Transformational leadership 

The leadership module prepares students to be leaders who can design, drive and manage change by expanding their mindsets, skills and tools in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of work. 

This is the glue that holds the programme together and differentiates our students. It is the vital element that will equip them to lead the future.

We cover core courses in all three modules, which are fully integrated. The programme runs for one year, across four periods, and the first two periods include tech-related industry forums which take an experiential learning approach and provide a practical perspective with workshops on fintech, insure-tech, edutech and so on, all featuring leading experts.

The tech MBA learning journey

The learning journey ensures that students acquire technology, management and transformational leadership competencies, using an integrative approach made up of three phases: ‘exploration’, ‘action’, and ‘immersion’.

During the ‘exploration’ phase, students discover tech and business through specialised courses. In the ‘action’ phase, they undertake a specific technology experiential learning approach, and in the ‘immersion’ phase, they choose from electives to sharpen their business and tech knowledge.

During the programme’s core modules, the focus is 55% on tech and 45% on business. However, electives mean students can customise their tech MBA to their specific needs. If all the electives chosen by a student are tech-related, the percentage of tech courses covered by the end of the MBA would be more than 75% of the total studied. 

‘Tech career treks’ take place regularly throughout all four periods. Students spend two to three hours visiting a global tech company with the objective of learning about its company culture and priorities, and also learn more about career opportunities where applicable. Treks typically happen within Madrid or Barcelona.

The School’s Tech MBA will be run separately from its International MBA. We will also create a specific portfolio of electives for the Tech MBA. However, we will allow the students of both MBA programmes to share the portfolio of electives. Plus, students will be able to network across the two programmes during extracurricular activities and events (for example, the School’s TechIE annual conference or IE Global Innovation Challenge).

The classroom experience

Students who feel they would benefit from one-to-one time with professors, or who prefer working in groups, should consider on-campus MBAs as these allow for greater face-to-face interaction with classmates and instructors, not just academically, but also socially. 

The social events that materialise from being on campus also provide valuable, yet unofficial, networking opportunities. Students should never underestimate the opportunities that a coffee break can generate, and will want to take advantage of facilities and resources on campus, including extracurricular activities, lectures, libraries, and athletic facilities. 

In addition, attending a full-time MBA provides easy access to advice, career counselling, and other on-campus student services and activities, all of which help students build a robust professional network.

José Esteves is Associate Dean for the International MBA and Tech MBA programmes at IE Business School, Spain. 

Why flexibility is essential in executive education

Flexibility is the new normal, argues NEOMA Business School’s Jérôme Couturier. Institutions offering executive education need to sit up and take note

In today’s business environment, both employers and employees recognise the need for flexibility; however, many popular Business Schools are yet to come to the same realisation. Change is the only constant in the lives of today’s business leaders (switching roles and companies, travelling frequently and interacting globally) and the pace of change is faster than ever. This demands an appropriate response from Business Schools and all other stakeholders.

It is no longer sufficient for ambitious professionals to update their knowledge intermittently; sometimes they must reset it entirely, discarding outdated skills in favour of new ones as companies demand greater agility from their staff. Even governments are reacting to this impetus. France, for example, now subsidises training schemes to ensure business leaders’ capabilities remain aligned to market needs. 

And it’s not just seismic technical shifts such as digitisation that require executives to be flexible, but the increasing prominence of concepts such as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Running a business today is about much more than profit. Considerations around politics, multiculturalism and climate change must be taken into account. Coping with these varied demands requires no small degree of flexibility and the way people work is changing as a result. 

Blurred lines

For Business Schools, the most obvious consequence of this shift to flexibility is the changing segmentation of the MBA market. Lines are blurring in terms of the applicants attracted to different kinds of courses.

Traditionally, the full-time MBA was designed for young people with limited work experience, while the executive MBA (EMBA) was aimed at experienced managers; it was assumed that the latter would prefer a part-time course, allowing them to continue working alongside their studies. This can no longer be taken for granted. 

It is becoming progressively difficult for Business Schools to profile the candidates that come knocking at our doors. In a world, where no one can rely on a career for life, experienced executives often don’t want to pursue a drawn out part-time course. Instead, they sometimes prefer to complete a full-time EMBA, as quickly as possible, making the most of full immersion for parts of the programme. 

Old, dependable assumptions about candidates are crumbling. At NEOMA, we see applicants of different ages and levels of experience seeking part-time and full-time courses, according to their personal career goals.

In the past, these tired-but-reliable stereotypes enabled business education institutions to design programmes to suit predicted audiences, rolling these out for a decade before revisiting their format. Schools cannot afford to take that approach anymore; a more dynamic platform is needed. The architects of EMBA courses need to look beyond the need for reskilling, and design programmes in line with broader competencies. This provides flexibility, since Schools are able to alter the competencies on offer, as market needs evolve.

Prioritising flexibility

In redesigning NEOMA’s Global EMBA, the Course Directors kept flexibility front of mind. To this end, the programme offers three ‘entrance gates’, enabling candidates to choose from three different learning paces; they can study for 15 months, 10 months or for as little as seven months. The varying speeds allow candidates to choose between distributing the course content evenly over a long period of time and opting for a more intense, fast-track programme.

The latter option, also referred to as ‘full and flex’, allows students to cover a very significant amount of the curriculum in a concentrated two-month period over the summer, while fitting the rest into their professional schedule.

We believe Business Schools need to diversify their offerings to attract both local applicants and those from around the world. The three formats available on NEOMA’s Global EMBA were created in the context of our desire to put forward a truly global programme. 

The 15-month programme is designed to suit candidates who are geographically close to Paris: those who are willing to live in the city for the duration of the course, or who live within a commutable distance. Meanwhile, the 10-month programme is a better fit for those within five hours of the capital, as they do not need to be on campus throughout. The full-and-flex programme is the best option for international students, as they only have to spend two months in Paris and can complete the rest of the course online and through four one-week experiences abroad.

After announcing the full-and-flex course, the first feedback we received was from prospective students, delighted with the flexibility on offer. However, in the same breath, they requested more. Excited by the chance to complete most of the course over the summer, candidates wanted to know if they could complete the whole course over two years, in two concentrated summer blocks, enabling them to stay in their full-time jobs, taking minimal time off beyond annual leave. The immediate demand was overwhelming, but not unanticipated. If anything, it reaffirmed our belief that we had made the right decision in putting flexibility at the heart of our course. 

Building relationships

Business Schools might be tempted to achieve flexibility by offering an entirely online EMBA. This way, students can complete the whole course anywhere, anytime. However, it’s important to factor in the intrinsic value of face-to-face interaction, peer learning and networking on these programmes. 

In designing NEOMA’s Global EMBA, we have made all the specialisation aspects of the course available online, so that students can customise their individual experience to the maximum degree, with full support available online from their tutors. However, with the core modules, we ask that students are present on campus to make the most of face-to-face interactions with Professors, and networking with their peers. 

In practice, students on our full-and-flex course spend two months in Paris, and partake in four separate one-week learning experiences on four continents. The rest of the course can be completed anywhere in the world. By balancing customisable online tracks with the right amount of face-to-face time, Business Schools stand the best chance of providing flexibility without compromising relationship building.

Maintaining flexibility

One of the challenges when building a flexible executive course is maintaining consistency. Incorporating three different entrance gates and a range of individually customisable content into one course is no simple task. Incorrectly managed, such a programme could become confusing and disorganised. 

At NEOMA, we found that sustaining a sense of unity across all three customisable tracks was best achieved with a good structure. Our 15-month course starts in October each year. In March, students on the 10-month course take some modules alone as a cohort to catch up at first, before joining in with the 15-month cohort for the majority of the core modules. Students embarking on the full-and-flex version of the course have a significant amount of studying to do online, or as a single cohort, in order to catch up with the two other student groups. 

Most of this catching up is achieved during their two-month crash course over the summer, so by the time the course comes to a close, all the EMBA students come together and have the opportunity to network as one group. This unity is reinforced by four shared international learning experiences; all course participants visit Ghana, the UK, India and the US together, getting the chance to meet and collaborate each time.

Once a strong framework has been established, course architects must go further to ensure their executive education offerings provide continuity. There are a few simple ways to achieve this. Primarily, the same faculty must be available to all students on the course. Easily accessible and consistent support is essential to any student’s success, but for a student pursing a course based on the other side of the world, it can be make or break. 

It is essential that students know who to contact for help, and that faculty members become well-known figures to everyone in the cohort. Similarly, consistency can be maintained through the online aspects of a course. While modules are fully customisable, the same choices of online module are ultimately available to all students; it’s simply up to them which route they choose. The same faculty members that teach face-to-face on the programme should be contactable online as this will enable students to cope better with their complex workload. Beyond reliable faculty, business education institutions aiming for flexibility need to be sensible about how they distribute executive course content. Business leaders and budding entrepreneurs alike are well aware of the increasing prevalence of AI, and the resulting demand for (‘human’) soft skills. 

Emotional intelligence and complex problem solving are the key advantages that humans still have over machines and these must be nurtured to ensure we remain valuable members of the global workforce. There is no getting around the fact that soft skills are best taught in person and it makes sense for Schools to concentrate the bulk of their students’ quantitative study online, to free up the limited face-to-face learning time for soft-skills education. Preparation and group work can also be done online to maximise efficiency.

Technology is a brilliant tool, but catering to the demand for flexibility shouldn’t come at the expense of the personal. Shifting any amount of course content online means less in-person teaching, so this needs to be of the highest quality. Personal development is embedded in the DNA of NEOMA’s executive programme. We believe students always benefit from a personal approach, so small class sizes are preferable. This means that when students come to create business plans, a core part of their EMBA, they receive a great deal of personal support and are never at risk of being overlooked.  

Customised courses

As Business School practitioners know, designing a programme is a multi-faceted task. Threading flexibility through every feature of a programme makes the process even more complicated. In creating NEOMA’s Global EMBA, we needed a strategy that would ensure the course could be fully customised by each student. We responded to this necessity by breaking the course down; we thought of it as a game of building blocks. 

Every ‘brick’ of the Global EMBA can be combined with any other. If you set out with that design in mind then every time you expand, you can consider how your new addition will work with the programme’s other aspects, and with students’ careers. Candidates are also able to select course ‘bricks’ and complete just those. This allows prospective applicants to test elements of the course before committing to completing the whole thing. In a practical sense, each and every ‘brick’ should be standardised to make managing cost and schedule easier for Course Directors.

My colleagues and I set out to make NEOMA’s Global EMBA the world’s most flexible MBA programme. Students benefit from speed of completion, choice of content and a variety of face-to-face and online options. At the same time, consistency is maintained across the course thanks to its ‘building- block’ structure which allows Course Directors to return to its design continuously, switching out modules, re-prioritising competencies and ensuring that what we are offering never falls behind market demand and participants’ needs. The structure is flexible enough that if a company came to us tomorrow, praising the flexibility of the programme but seeking to customise 20-30% of the content for every executive it enrols, we would be able to work with them on achieving that. 

All Business Schools must accept that tried-and-tested recipes for executive education no longer cut it. Attending Business School should present a vital opportunity to realign oneself with the competencies that today’s business environment demands. Schools cannot claim to offer this service unless they design their executive education programmes to accommodate regular rethinking and reconstruction. Flexibility is an indisputably defining feature of the lives of business leaders and managers, and as such, it should equally define their education.

Jérôme Couturier is Associate Dean of Professional Graduate Programmes and Executive Education at NEOMA.