Agents of change: inclusivity in academia

Covid-19 has exposed a number of global inequalities and is set to deepen them further. Can higher education and academic research help turn the tide? Sally Wilson draws on findings from Emerald Publishing’s Global Inclusivity Report 2020 to tackle topics of social mobility, class divides and inequalities, from an academic perspective

Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus long-standing inequalities linked to race, gender, class, income, education, health, and technology. The pandemic’s disruption to education, for example, has had an unequal effect on society, particularly impacting disadvantaged groups that lack access to a computer and/or reliable internet.

In the UK, for instance, the class divide within education has plagued headlines for months. Over the summer, the scrapping of its A-level exams for those leaving high school in favour of a marking algorithm sparked uproar when the new system downgraded close to 40% of grades submitted by teachers, with suggestions that students from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have their grades marked down. Such issues reinforce the UK education system’s long-standing inequalities. A 2018 study by educational charity, the Sutton Trust, found that access to the best universities is not only determined by attainment but factors including where a student lives and the school they attend. The Access to Advantage report revealed that 42% of all Oxbridge places go to private school students, even though just 7% of the UK school population attend such schools.

Universities playing their part

Inequalities in education persist worldwide and many universities are working to improve the representation of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or first-generation students, in line with their commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Business Schools have a pivotal role in reducing inequalities because of the high number of MBA graduates who go on to hold leadership positions within companies. Many Business Schools recognise their responsibility in encouraging diversity and have introduced measures, such as bias training and targeted recruitment drives, to attract students from underrepresented groups.  

Diverse teams are widely known to be more successful. Research by software firm, Cloverpop, found that diverse groups made better decisions than individuals 87% of the time and that decisions were made twice as quickly. At a time when the global economy and societies around the world are reeling from the impact of Covid-19, Business Schools may be more critical than ever in aiding our recovery and promoting a fairer and more sustainable future for all. 

Class is a major roadblock to inclusivity

Gathering the views of more than 1,000 academics across 99 countries globally and comparing them to those of 1,000 members of the general public in both the UK and US, Emerald Publishing’s Global Inclusivity Report 2020 sought to understand the academic community’s perceptions of inclusivity and the role of research in creating a more inclusive society.

It revealed that class was a barrier to inclusivity (41% of academics cited ‘class’ as a key barrier to inclusivity and this was the fourth biggest global societal issue; see chart below). Poverty and class are largely intertwined meaning those with the least have fewer opportunities to change their circumstances. Education lies within this cycle – the education a person receives is often linked to poverty and class, and those who are regarded as coming from the ‘lower classes’ have less chance of attending colleges and universities. 

Looking at individual countries and regions showed that class is a bigger issue in the UK than anywhere else in the world, where it is the third biggest barrier to an inclusive society (cited by 61%), not far behind poverty and race, both of which were cited by 69%. Class is also regarded as a bigger societal issue for an inclusive culture in Asia. Class is the third biggest issue (45%) behind poverty (61%) and religion (47%). One of the struggles researchers can find here is that institutions operate within a ‘city tier system’, meaning that if the same person did the same piece of research, or attended the same course, at tier-1 and tier-3 city institutions, the tier-1 city research/course can be regarded far better than that of the tier-3 city despite other factors remaining the same.

Closing the gap between intention and action

The inclusivity report looked to uncover how academia can play its part in removing barriers to inclusivity. It found that:

o 52% of academics believe research provides better evidence-based decisions. 

o 25% of academics believe research provides better public awareness. 

o 17% of academics believe research provides better education. 

In addition:

• 86% of academics rate inclusivity as something that is important to them personally, but feel that this is not matched by their institution (68% thought it was important to their institution), or by academia in general (64%), or by funders (50%). 

• 60% of academics cited ‘Biases in recruitment or promotions’ as the main barrier to a fair and inclusive workforce, followed by ‘Manager or leadership attitudes’ (57%) and ‘Too much pressure – career progression’ (46%). ‘Not enough mentoring’ wasn’t far behind, with 42%. 

The view that academia can contribute to inclusivity efforts is backed by similar reports that investigate the barriers of class and poverty. AMBA & BGA’s Poverty and Action study, for example, found that while only 38% of Business School stakeholders believe the business education community is doing enough to help the poorest in society, 75% think Business Schools could make a difference. Of those surveyed, 85% believe the global business community needs to do more but only 28% were able to report that their School is already taking action.

The research suggests that there is a gap between the desire for change, and action. However, this presents academic institutions with a significant opportunity to lead change and drive inclusivity. 

More research into issues around poverty, class and education will help to uncover the actions needed to promote inclusivity. Here, we can see where research and policy could drive institutional change that makes a fairer system for all. 

Does academic culture need to change?

In brief, yes, academic culture does need to change in order to further inclusivity. The research found:  

• Academic culture is not inclusive (55% agreed with this statement)

• Respondents highlighted ways in which that academia can make a difference. These include greater knowledge mobilisation (cited by 67%), more interdisciplinary research (60%), and more international collaboration (51%).

Without diverse voices and views, are we getting the best out of academia? How can we make sure that people from poorer backgrounds or different classes have sufficient space, at all levels? 

Academic culture also has its own workplace inclusivity problems. Bias in recruitment and promotion as well as issues with leadership could be stifling research’s potential to deliver change because this creates an environment that is not as multidimensional as it could be. 

While more than half of academics surveyed didn’t see academic culture as inclusive, an overwhelming majority believe that an inclusive society and workplace can deliver real benefits. 

The role of open gateways

It was clear from the report that academics believe progress on inclusivity relies on getting research into the hands of policymakers and decisionmakers that are able to make changes that can drive real impact. Respondents highlighted the importance of open gateways in driving change quickly and effectively. However, in this sense, there is not yet a
level playing field across the globe, as some areas are further in their open research, data and access journeys than other parts.

Initiatives such as Emerald Open Research (EOR) make SDG research available to all, thereby providing academics with an easy and rapid route to get impactful research into the hands of policymakers. Another key aim of EOR is to help reduce the inequality gap for contributors and research users. Meanwhile, programmes such as Research4Life aim to create more opportunities for those who would otherwise not be able to access scholarly content by providing free or low-cost online access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content.

Sally Wilson is Head of Publishing at Emerald Publishing, where she is responsible for the strategic development of Emerald’s global publishing programme, comprising journals, books and teaching cases.

This article was originally published in Ambition, the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

Exploring Business Schools’ challenges in Latin America

We share insights from leading Business School professors who attended AMBA’s 2018 Latin America Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, about their Schools’ current strategies, challenges and opportunities. Interviews by Jack Villanueva

Alejandra Falco, Strategic Management Professor, Universidad del CEMA

What challenges do teachers, instructors and professors face when using online technologies in their courses?

The main challenge is to understand that teaching online is not the same thing as teaching face to face. You have to think about the course and your class in a different way. When you teach face to face, you are between the student and the materials so you can see what’s going on in the class, you can see the reactions of the students to what you are saying and the material you are using. This does not happen in the online environment so you can’t make decisions on the spot. 

Schools need to help instructors understand that [online learning] is different [to classroom learning] and make sure that they don’t reproduce what they do face to face in an online environment. It needs a transformation. 

In terms of the online MBA and studying from distance, do you think the experience, learning and the outcome for these students is the same as for those who learn face to face?

It’s an interesting question because the challenge we face in an online environment is to foster learner-to-learner interaction. It is easy to interact between instructor and learner, but the challenge is the learner-to-learner interaction. 

There is something that happens naturally in a face to face environment, so if we can manage this interaction adequately and develop tools to allow the students to interact among themselves, the online option will be richer than the face-to-face option. If we can have the same attributes in an online environment, we add much more flexibility for the student to choose when and how and where he or she wants to study.

Ignacio Alperín, Professor of Creativity and Innovation, Pontificia Universidad Católica

How is business thinking changing around creativity?

Creativity is a process that involves more than one person, it is never an individual idea; it is a communal kind of work. Creativity is the step prior to innovation. Creativity is putting together the correct ideas, innovation is putting together the correct product or service and making it happen in real life. 

Every company expects their graduate or postgraduate students to be open to the idea of being creative, working in a different way, of accepting different manners of work ethics that are not traditional. This not only involves those who come in to work for a company, it has a lot to do with leadership as well. 

Perhaps there is an issue with expectations versus what actually happens in companies. There are too many bosses and too few leaders. There are a lot of people who tell you what to do but very few people who inspire others to do things. In that regard, creative leadership is also a major subject and companies are slowly coming around to the idea that they need to change their leadership style.

Do you think Business Schools are sufficiently inspiring to instil creativity in their students?

When we’re children, we’re extremely creative and we don’t have limits. We like to explore and ask about everything. In Schools as it stands, the creative spirit is squashed by a system that requires students to be right or wrong. 

Creativity is a gift and should be developed like any other talent. We have all been provided with the talent of creativity but when people get to university or Master’s level, they have been kept so far away from their creative juices and, in many cases, it is very difficult to bring them back in touch with themselves and give them inner strength because creativity is a strength. 

We are completely and constantly improvising our lives. Companies, for a long time, tended to squash this, but today, organisations realise that they need to be open and think laterally. If the education system can change enough, many of the problems we face today will be gone because people will come up line already living their creative ability throughout their careers.

In your role, are you trying to unlock existing creativity or teach the creativity?

It’s a bit of both. When I find a master’s class with 30 students, most of them are professional people. They think they know everything and have already made it, and in some respects they are right. 

They will be future leaders, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell them: ‘I am teaching you and I don’t know everything; perhaps you should relax a bit and question yourself about the facts you thought were correct.’ 

By unlocking that vault they will find another Pandora’s Box of issues and problems, but if they learn how to handle them, they may find a way to make their work more effective, their company profitable, their life more exciting and more enjoyable; they may go home and feel like having fun with family instead of taking their troubles with them and feeling miserable when they’re not at work. 

Part of my job is unlocking those talents, it has to do a lot with people’s fear of being wrong in front of other people. After that, we teach processes, ideas and concepts that can help students unleash creativity in themselves and the people with whom they work.

Is it the Business School’s responsibility to lead students towards an uncertain path?

Many students believe the world is divided into creative and non-creative people. We try to erase all this and explain we are all creative – different types of creative but all creative. 

Sebastián Auguste, Director Executive MBA, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

What are your views on the current global MBA market?

The MBA is the most popular programme within the Business School: about 79% of the applications we receive are for the MBA programme. Demand is growing in Asia, Europe and the US, and it’s increasing in Latin America. The full-time MBA is declining and numbers are increasing in executive and part-time MBA programmes. There is also strong demand for some Master’s degrees such as business analytics. 

How is the EMBA faring?

The EMBA is small but it’s growing in many regions. Many students finish at university graduate level and decide to do a speciality such as a masters in analytics or finance, and then they go for the MBA later when they’re older. Young people are trying to gain more technical abilities; older people are trying to gain more general skills.

How popular is the online MBA?

The numbers show that the online MBA is growing. I previously expected the number to grow, but the increase isn’t as great as I expected. There has been a strong increase in the blended format, even in EMBA programmes. Online is coming very strongly but I don’t see the online MBA replacing the experience of the EMBA or the part-time MBA. You have to learn and you have to be there to learn. It’s quite difficult to learn online.

What’s the effect of specialist programmes on the MBA and on
Business Schools?

Specialist programmes are going to relegate the [generalist] MBA. There is going to be a fall in demand from young people wanting to do an MBA, but an increase in older people wanting to do one. 

In Latin America, you have very technical and specialised degrees so there is less demand for special programmes. Many universities are moving in this direction of having more general graduate-level study, so you’ll need more specialisation later on.

Carla Adriana Arruda Vasseur, Associate Dean, FDC – Fundação Dom Cabra

Why do you think Business Schools should have a role in social development? 

We are the ones who are transforming the leaders of our society. We are working with business managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, company owners, and people who really run the economy of the country. If we don’t have this kind of focus, we will continue to live in a country with a lot of inequalities so it needs to start with us.

How can Business Schools leverage an impact on society? 

All Business Schools have some sort of social impact and development in their value prepositions. Talking is one thing, leading by example is another. We need to provoke students to think differently and to do differently. We need to provoke them to really make a change. And it won’t be just about talking and showing them our mission. It has to be in every single class we give, in the projects that we send them on, it has to be included in all our initiatives.

How can Business Schools help students have a more impactful role in the world of tomorrow?

If you look at Business Schools, most of their students are from the upper portion of the social pyramid and we need to show them how they can really make a difference – in every single class and in every single project. 

A lot of our students come to us because they want management tools. They want to increase profit in their corporations, they want to better themselves in their careers. And, from day one, they realise we’re concerned about economic development but we’re also very concerned about social development. 

Do you work with other Schools to push this idea forward?

We have a partner we’ve been working with on modules and we’re putting an emphasis on that. But I think we can do more. I’ve been talking a lot about that [during this conference] with partners. We need stop considering ourselves as competitors [with other Business Schools] and consider ourselves as ‘co-petitors’ and cooperate more with each other.

Is it a case of starting locally or looking at the bigger picture and effecting change at the top?

Begin with what’s feasible and build up. 

We’re starting to shape the leaders of tomorrow. We’re starting with the students of today to [help them] have a deeper understanding of social development and a deeper understating that there are larger problems in the world. But is there an issue with the bigger businesses themselves not recognising it or not recognising it fast enough and therefore the student not having an outlet for what they want to do?

A lot of the boards require their corporations to think about the social side. Some suppliers refuse to supply to organisations that don’t care about these issues and clients are not buying from them. 

We, as professors of business corporations, need to set the example. 

Michel Hermans, Professor of Human Behaviour and Human Resources, IAE Business School – Universidad Austral

How can Business Schools help students develop skills beyond the analytical tools in the curriculum through action learning?

It’s not only about teaching rational decision making. It’s about helping students anticipate risks and [influence] people who are especially relevant in certain contexts. That’s what we do and this is the added value we consider action learning has. This reflection part is a very important role faculty have. 

One thing is to think about is how to evaluate a company in turbulence. Another is to think how a company can actually use what it has – its resources – to transform its strategy for much broader markets. Think about internationalisation and the acquisition of companies in emerging markets, and then present this analysis to senior managers. 

Can students themselves better prepare for their careers through action learning?

It depends on the student themselves. 

Especially in the Latin American job market, recruiters are looking for ‘plug-and-play’ students so when they roll out of their programme they want students who need little time to be fully functional within the context of their companies. 

If they are able to find students who are proactive, and have used this productivity to actually do something within the context of their programme and learn something from that, it’s highly valued. 

How important is action learning in fast-tracking understanding around the need for adaptability and evolution within businesses? It’s like moving house. If you don’t lay foundations in the MBA programme (which would be knowledge and analytical skills) it’s hard to start thinking about action learning in the first place. 

You have to lay a solid foundation in the first part of the programme and then build on this with follow-up courses. That gives us, as faculty, the confidence that teams are able to benefit from action leaning. We launch most of our projects towards the end of the programme because that’s when students take advantage of the projects they are being offered that they themselves propose. 

We’ve seen many students use their action learning projects to move into new career tracks or to find a different job in companies with whom they collaborated for their action learning projects. 

If you do a full-time MBA programme and you are away from the job market for a full year, gaining contact with the job market again – with employers and organisational life – is fundamental to a follow-up career. 

Juan Pablo Manzuoli, Strategic Marketing Professor and Director of MBA, UCA Business School

What do you consider to be the main disruptive trends students are facing?  

I have highlighted deep trends that are not often evident. For example, millennials want the earth, but they don’t have special powers. Loneliness is another powerful trend, as is self-exploration.

What’s next for the MBA? 

We have to have a convergence between the needs of people and technology and make an improvement. Make things better. We need to adapt and be flexible in how we think and in our business models. This generation is teaching us how to make improvements in different ways not only with the technology, but with emotions. 

Luciana Pagani, Professor of Strategy and Competitiveness, Saint Andrews University

How is the digital age transforming the MBA experience?

Changing behaviours in individuals as learners, and technology, are providing opportunities to deliver a different experience [to students], enabling people to access courses no matter where they are. 

What challenges is the digital age presenting to the way Business Schools teach?

The digital age is creating a new world of opportunities for businesses, while also causing a lot of pressure and setting very different type of challenges. Businesses need to change the way they lead. 

Technologies have to be implemented and customer experiences are transforming, so at the company level, transformation is amazing but very challenging. 

Business Schools have to rethink their value proposition massively. They must consider how they are going to offer something of vital importance to their students to enable them to learn and access the best faculties all over the world, offering a unique experience that blends the best from the physical world and the digital world. 

It’s an enormous strategic and operational challenge for universities.

Schools are transforming in terms of content, so all the strategies and management content required to lead in the digital area is being added to traditional content. They are also adding a broader spectrum of elective courses to meet the specific needs of students. 

They are forming partnerships with industries, with other universities worldwide and with governments.  

They are also transforming their infrastructures in order to provide space for innovation, creativity, and experimentation and they are working across platforms to collaborate, and to enhance their value proposition, with the best faculty, the best universities and the best companies as partners.

Do you think Business Schools rising to the challenges sufficiently quickly, given the current economy? 

The challenge of the fourth industrial revolution is too aggressive for everyone. Universities are moving forward, but it would be nicer if they could move faster. However, it’s not easy. 

I hope the pace will increase and we will have more and more examples of convergence to the new value proposition in the near future.

Melani Machinea, Professor and Business Development Director, UTDT Business School

Tell us about the development of your specialised master’s degree?

A few years ago, we realised we didn’t have an offering for recent graduates who wanted to pursue a career in business. Either they had to do a Master’s in finance or they had to wait five or six years before they could do an MBA. At the same time, we discovered a need for very specific skills, so we designed a Master’s in management which merges the two sides of the story: business for those who come here from a science background and, for those with a business background the skill set they need for the new corporate world. 

We looked at the world. In Europe, there were a lot masters in management programmes which were launched by Business Schools, in addition to their MBAs which are still their flagship programme. In the US, we have seen the emergence of master’s in business analytics programmes. We decided we would have a competitive advantage if we could offer both management and analytics in the same programme.

The first challenge was the type of students we wanted to sign up. We decided early on that we wanted recent graduates or people with little analytical experience who could learn about areas such as  programming and coding through the courses that we were going to teach. When we launched, we realised that there were a lot of men in mid-to-higher management, people with 10-15 years of experience, who said they were lacking this expertise and wanted to do the degree. We had to make a decision at this point and we decided to stick to our initial plan of targeting younger professionals, while just offering short courses for more mature professionals. 

Do you think the MBA is evolving fast enough or do you think there is so much more that could be done?

I think the MBA is still a flagship programme in Business Schools, and the challenge is to maintain and update it to make it relevant. Our hope is that our students from the Master’s in management and other programmes will come back in five or six years to do their MBAs when they realise they need other skills related to management and strategic leadership.

Creating responsible citizens to lead organisations to sustainable success

Preparing MBAs to lead sustainable economic growth is the core task of Business Schools, argues Professor Percy Marquina, Director General, CENTRUM PUCP, the Graduate Business School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Interview by David Woods-Hale

What do you think differentiates the MBA at CENTRUM PUCP?

When students search for a Business School at which to study their MBA, they look for prestige, a high-quality academic programme and networks. At CENTRUM PUCP, we possess and offer these elements to students. But we offer more than that.

We prepare our students for the future by creating responsible and socially committed leaders, who think, decide, and act based on principles. We believe in an holistic form of education that enables students to assimilate the knowledge they require to lead companies based on the experiences they have shared in our classrooms and in their lives. 

Our programme also provides students with the human skills demanded by companies, such as time management, task prioritisation, complex problem solving, the ability to train others and to build sustainable networks.

With reference to Latin America in particular, why is it still vital to develop world-class business education? 

Globalisation and interconnectedness are growing at an exponential rate; every day it becomes evermore important to understand that our actions have far-reaching impacts. As technology advances, it will become easier to reach new audiences, but it will be more important for professionals to acknowledge that competition is no longer local, but international as well.

What innovative teaching methods have you come across that are used to create the leaders of tomorrow?

Emerging, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and machine learning are changing teaching methods in Business Schools and can help us to adapt teaching to each student’s learning needs. For example, at CENTRUM PUCP, we use IBM Watson Personality Insights analytics to understand and predict the personality characteristics of our students. Using these results, we take a more humanistic approach to our MBA programme.

How important is sustainability, and in what ways have Schools adapted this into their programmes? What does sustainable leadership looks like?

Sustainability is crucial nowadays and we try to instil this in our students. By sustainability, we mean that professionals should meet society’s needs, preserve humanity, increase opportunities for others and make their organisations’ marketing, finance and human resources departments sustainable. We guide students to take decisions that put society’s needs ahead of profits. 

What are the biggest challenges facing global Business Schools today?

The biggest challenge for Business Schools is helping to create responsible citizens. We must be able to develop competent professionals while guiding students through a process of social sensibility. And we must also be competitive. 

When facing global competition, we find that every School that has been able to obtain good results and trained their professional workforce is making a name for itself in the areas in which it excels. 

Gone are the days when professors used to teach traditional subjects in a static way; the time is ripe for a new model of professor who is able to inspire students’, teaching and learning from them in a constantly evolving environment that demands greater skills and vision in order to develop social innovators. 

At CENTRUM PUCP we have developed the NeuroManagement-Lab initiative, with the objective of identifying students’ main leadership competences and areas of development. Through this programme, we enhance the user experience, helping to personalise education, shaping skills and helping students to discover their strengths and work on their weaknesses.

How do you instil the thirst for global mobility and an international mindset in your students? 

Whenever I step into a classroom or I encounter a student, the message I always try to communicate is a simple one: do what makes you happy and you will lead the way. Having visited so many places, I have confirmed this theory: students overachieve when they are able to work and pursue their goals in something that makes them happy. 

If you are able to identify and understand your passions, your thirst and commitment towards your goals will increase every day and your competition will become global. 

You will innovate, search and look for solutions to questions that have never been asked before because your thirst for knowledge will push you to think more broadly. During their MBA, our students are exposed to global experiences such as international faculty, peers, global case studies, international study stages, business programmes abroad and so on.

You urge your students not to put limits on their goals – can you share some insight into how MBAs can take theory into practice? 

Through many case studies, we teach students the ways firms and managers have faced and solved unexpected problems. I advise them to stick to their principles and the message of their organisation. 

If your organisation has a distinctive characteristic or stands for something, wear it as your own personal badge of honour. 

One story that people can relate to is Apple’s. Steve Jobs, former Co-Founder and CEO of Apple, believed in innovation and in the superior quality and practicality of products. He used to say: ‘Apple products should be easy to understand. Everyone should know how to use them’.  

His team believed this, too – at a time when this was not expected – and created products accordingly. Acting in line with the beliefs of your organisation can help it differentiate itself in a saturated or extremely competitive market. 

At CENTRUM PUCP we promote entrepreneurship as a way of creating innovative business models. Several start-ups are created every year by our students, and have a great impact on society. For example, three graduates from CENTRUM PUCP and three from the faculty of engineering PUCP were among the 15 finalists in the Cisoc Global Problem Solver Challenge. The talented Peruvians developed Pukio, an intelligent mechatronic system that generates clean water through the condensation of water vapour in the air. Collaboration is vital in an uncertain climate. 

How does your Business School link and work with other Schools, employers and alumni? 

Relationships are about co-operation, and co-operation is about progress. We challenge ourselves to establish partnerships with other Business Schools to provide the best each School can offer in a combined MBA or specialised master’s programme. 

We promote co-operation between our departments to allow the ideas and innovation to flow through the veins of our School. We create opportunities for alumni to collaborate with us so that we benefit from the skills and experiences of the professionals we create in our classrooms. Co-operation has grown in importance among Business Schools and it is yielding better results.

What would your advice be to other Business School leaders operating in such a volatile and uncertain world?

Education is not about outcomes. It is about the impact. At CENTRUM PUCP, we have a mission: educate to serve. We serve academia, the business world and wider society. But we are also here to educate people about sustainable development. 

We want people to learn to thrive in a competitive world. Business Schools should also follow suit: educating people to allow them to see the bigger picture and teaching professionals how to lead the departments within their organisations.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business, Business Schools, and the economy?

I believe we are all more aware of the global challenges ahead than we were a couple years ago. We are in the process of acknowledging the impacts of our actions and the dangers of not doing so over the long term. 

Business Schools have taken advantage of this. We teach students to think about impacts on society and how our actions can be turned into positive outcomes for the greater good. 

Sustainability is both an individual responsibility and about teamwork: we all have to engage in the right actions to produce a positive impact. I believe Business Schools are preparing people to provide sustainable and egalitarian economic growth.

Professor Percy Marquina is Director General at CENTRUM PUCP, the Graduate Business School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. He was previously General Manager of Rhone Poulenc and General Manager, Commercial Manager and Marketing Manager of companies related to the Richard O’ Custer group. Marquina holds PhDs from the Maastricht School of Management and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in business administration and strategic business administration, respectively.

Perspectives on Asia Pacific business education

Business School leaders from across Asia Pacific talk exclusively about the challenges and opportunities facing them. Interviews by Jack Villanueva and Kevin Lee-Simion

Yang Yang, CEO and co-founder of iPIN

Can you introduce yourself?

I am a founder of an AI company in China, which is developing a platform that will allow people to make applications to help college and high-school students in their personal career development plans, and also help students complete applications for Schools. 

A big challenge of AI is that machines cannot understand highly abstract words such as the US or AMBA. However, all the business areas people need AI to understand, relate to these words.

In order to overcome that, we built a social-economic graph and used it to model the whole economic development of China. This way, machines can understand highly abstract words such as ‘companies’, ‘Schools’, ‘majors’, ‘occupations’, and ‘cities’. Because of this, we can provide some applications to help people plan their career path or help recruiters to recruit people by quickly finding the best candidates among millions of applicants.

How can AI help foster innovation and entrepreneurship in tomorrow’s leaders?

AI gives innovators a lot of new tools. For example, there were a lot of people who wanted to do something before, but they couldn’t because they were lacking AI technology. Now, because of things like deep learning, machines can do many different kinds of work, especially classification work, better than human beings. This has created many new opportunities in many business areas.

How has the use of AI changed the business landscape in China?

AI in China is growing very fast. Many companies in China are using AI to solve different kinds of problems in areas such as finance, education, manufacturing and e-commerce. China has a huge population and can generate large quantities of data, especially data around personal behaviour, and this can help businesses and entrepreneurs in China. This can also help machines better understand people’s behaviour in many different dimensions.

Suresh Mony, Director of the Bangalore Campus of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS)

In your mind, what does a ‘great’ Business School programme look like?

Educators have a big role to play in creating jobs in society. With the advent of AI, jobs are really being threatened. World Bank research finds 69% of the jobs in India and more than 70% of the jobs in China will disappear within the coming decade. So we must do something drastic. It is SMEs that will create the most jobs per unit of capital invested. The world before 1820 was known as an entrepreneurial society, but everyone had small businesses. With the advent of the large-scale enterprises, it became a society of employees. If jobs are going to become scarce, we need more enterprises and Business Schools should be more instrumental in that. 

The great programmes generate graduates who are analytical, who can synthesise ideas and manage businesses. They are probably not the best at creating businesses.

Entrepreneurship requires people who have critical thinking skills, tolerate ambiguity, and can create. The curricula and pedagogy will have to be tuned to help students create value.

Pedagogy is still classroom orientated. We’ll have to have less of the classroom and more action in terms of enabling students to observe, be apprentices, go out in the market, make their own studies, and make their own decisions. This will help them create a value proposition for the customer.

Do you think today’s students and subsequent graduates are being taught the skills they need to succeed?

Sadly, no. A recent US survey found only 11% of Business School graduates set up their enterprise and of those, only 7% raised capital. 

The mind set for Business Schools is to train students for industry and capture low-hanging fruit. This makes students more job orientated. And the fact that Schools are able to land students good jobs in industry means the hunger is missing in students. 

Business Schools have to have a different structure for entrepreneurship and education, and for faculty. They should not be judged by the workloads or research output, but by how they can create entrepreneurs.

How can Business Schools work to support students’ development of knowledge of entrepreneurship?

A Masters in Entrepreneurship Education, would be a distinct programme and Business Schools should develop it as a two-year long programme with sufficient focus on the action learning part of it; action learning for innovation, and action learning for entrepreneurship.

It would need to be seperate to the conventional MBA, which supplies talent to industry so graduates can become executives. You have to have a different pool of students for entrepreneurship. If you have a creative outlook and innovative ability, I think you will go for entrepreneurship education.

Those who come from business families, even if they do an MBA, after one or two years go back to their businesses, or they go and set up their own enterprise.

Sherry Fu, Director, University of Manchester China Centre

How can Business Schools better support students to participate actively in their own futures?

Business Schools need to provide systematic business knowledge which should build a solid foundation for students. This requires curricula to be continually updated so they keep up with social and economic developments.

Schools need to pay more attention to extra-curricular activities that support students’ career aspirations. The extra-curricular activities and career support are vital. 

In terms of career development, we need the right people to be career advisors. These people don’t have to be academically strong, but should be practical, have real industry experience, and insight into specific sectors that they can share.

We should manage students’ career expectations. Career support doesn’t mean holding the student’s hand; it’s about giving the right advice. We don’t guarantee students a job, secure a job for them, or find a job for them. However, some students will have those expectations that when they sign up to the MBA programme; they will get their ideal job, a promotion in their company, or a better paid role. Students need to take ownership of their own career development.

What we do as Business School educators is support, give advice and make sure we work with students to help make things happen so they can achieve their career goals.

Do you think it’s also about pushing students to become entrepreneurs rather than just employees?

Entrepreneurship is a trend in China because society is encouraging young people to run start-ups and the government has policies to support start-up companies.

We encourage students to have an entrepreneurial spirit so they can be more passionate, but I think Business Schools also provide career support so that students can become more senior within big organisations. 

On the one hand, we encourage students to move forward to gain senior roles, but for those people who want to run their own companies, we can give them more ideas or more education on innovation
and entrepreneurship.

At Manchester Business School, we have an enterprise centre and an incubator for students who want to set up their own companies. The School will invest in them, financially support them, and give them an education in entrepreneurship and innovation.

How can Business Schools nurture the skill sets employees need to succeed?

There are four key areas around which we nurture our students’ skills. The first area is about core skills and the core employability sessions that we deliver via webinars. These webinars are about careers and are given
by industry speakers, practitioners, and our professors. 

Second, we make sure each centre has dedicated staff to tailor sessions to our students with the right information to fit in the local market. 

Third, we provide tailored one-to-one sessions and employ career advisors to provide consulting to students. We ensure the people working for us have real business knowledge and an understanding of the jobs market.

The fourth way in which we nurture our students’ skills is by running events to which we invite industry speakers and we make sure our current students and alumni attend. This means students can learn and get opportunities from their peers, get the right skills sets for career development, and build networks.

We don’t want students just to master the main theories of business. The key is whether they can use these theories to
handle the challenges in the workplace and make a contribution.

As a Business School, we should make sure our students are socially responsible. They shouldn’t just care about making money, they should contribute to their organisation and the wider community.

Robert Yu, Head of China, Lego Education

What’s the concept of Lego Education?

Lego Education believes in learning through play. We empower students and teachers to become lifelong learners through playful learning experiences with our digital and physical education solutions.

Education is about empowerment. At Lego Education we’re very fortunate that we started a journey of this empowerment in 1980. Over the past 37 years, we have learned a lot, experimented a lot, and gained a lot.

Delivering playful experiences at Lego Education is about four things. These are encouraging cultivation of computational thinking; encouraging the building of STEM curriculums; helping and investing in the professional development of teachers globally; and investing in the ecosystem
with global partners.

How does playful learning fit into the Business School?

A playful learning experience should be joyful and socially engaing so that, students find meaning in it. That’s how we define ‘playful’. 

We feel Business School students are facing too many challenges in finding a job, stepping into a career, and solving real-life business problems.  

Can you explain some of your work in encouraging students to be more creative?

We help teachers learn what it means to be a lifelong learner, to be creative, and actively engaged in the classroom. Only when teachers are empowered to deliver a creative classroom can any of type learning happen and that kind of study habit can be cultivated through the teaching process.

We encourage teachers to design a lesson plan, promote different solutions in the classroom, and encourage them to ask students to come up with different solutions and communicate them and in the process, evaluate and reconsider options. Through these processes, students develop computational thinking. They learn to deconstruct tasks, to generalise, and come up with solutions which they will evaluate. At the end, they learn to look objectively at their conclusions which is what we want out of a creative experience.

Does learning in a more creative and playful way lead to innovation?

We have research showing that playful experiences induce deep learning. It’s not just about engaging or creating learning spaces to encourage creativity, it’s about the playful experience itself that includes deep learning which will help learners develop different kinds of skill sets.

Why do you think it’s important for MBAs to collaborate and be lifelong learners?

We live in a world of change and we adapt to this by continuing to learn, being curious, being innovative in the process of solving problems, and coming up with solutions that can help build abstractions. These are all things we are trying to promote, and encouraging learners and teachers to develop throughout the learning experience. 

I feel Business School leaders realise that learning is an experience, and this can be enhanced through different approaches; whether that’s action learning, playful learning, case studies or internships. Once we look at holistic learning in this way, students can benefit immensely.

Why is it important to have that balance between the digital and physical approach to creative and playful learning?

We integrate a digital experience into our entire solution because we know that students are using digital technologies every day, and they will face more digital options in the future.

We believe it is important to give them an understanding and a framework blending physical and digital experiences in a leaning scenario, early on.

Peter Helis, CEO, Helis & Associates

Why is it important for Business Schools to collaborate and build partnerships?

The difference between partnerships and competition is that one is positive and the other is negative. Partnerships are about talking with each other and competition is more about organisations assuming, or not knowing, what is going on in their markets, and not dealing directly with each other.

I would always prefer a partnership because one plus one becomes a lot more than two. We’ve seen that in China, where corporates are very keen to have partnerships with the Western world. Sometimes this is viewed as a joke because people in the West still see China as a competitor, instead of a place for potential partnerships.

In terms of China and Asia Pacific, do you have any examples of exciting and interesting partnerships that you’ve worked on or are working on?

Think of our company as a platform. We don’t build the partnerships directly, we build a platform where people can meet and exchange ideas.

We organise conferences, matchmaking and delegation trips for both sides. We’ve organised very large conferences in southern China and western China. We’ve also organised conferences in Munich and Berlin.

Through these conferences, or platforms, people meet. And then once they meet we can follow up on this. 

When we look at APAC, Vietnam and Myanmar are doing very well, but China is really like a continent, and there are so many untapped areas with huge potential. We can basically copy and paste some of the principles that you’ve already applied in the region in which you’re based.

If you venture to central, western, or southern China, you still have a lot to do before you go to the other APAC countries.

How can a Business School begin to work out a partnership?

Start by doing some research at home and see what areas are interesting. Then, if you don’t have a plan for China in motion, engage with a company such as ours and explore how you can approach potential customers or business partners. If you already have a business in China, take the next step. 

Look beyond your current surroundings and try to set up businesses in southern or western China.

Martin Lockett, Dean of the Nottingham University Business School in Ningbo, China

What are the main elements of evolution for the MBA?

It’s about improving the skills of people who come as students onto the MBA. Some of that will be about deepening knowledge, but a lot of MBAs spend too much time on knowledge and not enough on attitude.

You can give people learning experiences that enable them to experiment safely with new ideas, so they learn the skills needed.

At a Business School where I used to work, we asked students to develop a new business idea. Then we reflected afterwards to get people to think about questions such as ‘what did this mean for me?’ and ‘what can I learn from this?’

In our MBA we ask students to develop a business plan, and we hope they will take that forward. They can experiment and learn in a safe environment and develop their skills as a leader – whether that’s for their own business, developing innovate ideas in an organisation, or for a more general role in an established business.