Addressing hidden identity threats in the diverse workplace

Here is a single penguin standing away from a group of penguins.

There are challenges concerning both minority and majority groups in the workplace that organisations must be aware of and act on, if diversity, equity and inclusion policies are to be effective, say UCL School of Management’s Clarissa Cortland and Felix Danbold

As workplaces become more diverse, many companies are already seeing great gains. Increased diversity in organisations has been linked to improvements in innovation and profitability, and it also plays a vital social purpose in reducing inequalities between demographic groups.

However, those who work at the forefront of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) in organisations know that growing diversity also brings its share of challenges. Being around members of different groups can activate deep psychological anxieties for members of minority and majority groups alike. Our research shows how group identities (for example, gender, race or nationality) can lead employees of any background to feel a sense of threat, and how this threat may undermine employee wellbeing and the ability to work together harmoniously. Critically, because these threats are rooted in identity, rather than more tangible sources like competition over material resources, they can be challenging to put a finger on. Without understanding and addressing these often-overlooked threats, DEI efforts are likely to fall short of their goals.

Threats for members of minority groups

Groups that are historically underrepresented in many organisational contexts, such as ethnic minorities, or women in historically masculine industries and professional roles, often face both the burden of being relatively isolated, as well as the stigma often tied to their group membership.

For example, women are often stereotyped as communal (for example, warm, kind and sympathetic) and more suitable for support roles, as compared to men, who are more often considered for leadership positions. Because of this, as women start to progress in their careers and climb the corporate ladder, they can face increasing pressure to disprove the negative and discouraging stereotypes about women and leadership success. The pressure mounts the more underrepresented women are in comparison to men – such as at the top levels of many organisations – as their numerical minority status exposes them to heightened scrutiny and judgment from others.

This fear of confirming negative stereotypes about an identity you hold is called ‘stereotype threat’. Stereotype threat can be experienced as in-the-moment distracting anxieties and concerns that can undermine performance on a given task or activity (such as giving a high-stakes speech or presentation). It can also be experienced as chronic long-term disengagement, where the constant pressure and burden to not confirm stereotypes can eventually take their toll.

Threats for members of majority groups

Members of majority groups often enjoy something akin to the opposite of stereotype threat whereby their group identity serves as a consistent source of inclusion and comfort. For example, while women in historically masculine professions may worry whether, by virtue of their gender, they can belong, men in these contexts rarely have to think of their gender as a factor in their sense of ‘fit’ at work. In academic terms, we say that majority groups are ‘prototypical’ – being strongly associated with the broader context in which they exist (for example, in their organisation or profession) and setting the norms to which other groups are expected to conform to.

Although being prototypical affords members of majority groups a sense of comfort, this can quickly fade when change is on the horizon. If members of majority groups see the representation of minority groups increasing, they may experience prototypicality threat. Members of majority groups experiencing this threat may fear that their default sense of belonging will be lost and that they will soon be the ones who feel like outsiders. This fear that their comfort and security may be lost is a powerful driver of members of dominant groups’ resistance to diversity efforts and prejudice against minority groups.

Recommendations for reducing identity threats

Once organisations become aware of these identity threats, they will want to act to reduce them. Fortunately, the awareness of these threats alone is a great first step.

Research shows that members of minority groups who experience stereotype threat are more motivated to improve diversity climates. Organisations might think about giving minority voices a safe forum to acknowledge and share these firsthand experiences with stereotype threat. This is one way to raise awareness, normalise these discussions, and galvanise change.

Visibly highlighting the success of various minority employees can also be helpful, as role models have been found to have a protective effect against the pernicious effects of stereotype threat. This is due to the inspiring and empowering effect of seeing someone who looks like you achieve success. Additionally, visible examples of successful minorities can relieve the burden of any one individual having to prove negative stereotypes wrong. While these are good measures to include in DEI efforts, the responsibility to reduce these threats shouldn’t fall solely on the minority groups who are already facing an undue share of barriers.

To reduce prototypicality threat among members of majority groups, and thus forestall backlash against DEI efforts, organisations must also act proactively. Research shows that the more members of a majority/dominant group believe that their overrepresentation is legitimate, the more susceptible they are to feeling threatened by an increase in diversity.

One way that organisations may unintentionally lend legitimacy to dominant group prototypicality is by defining success in terms of traits that are stereotypically associated with the dominant group. For example, historically masculine professions might overemphasise the importance of assertiveness and strength, etc., in things like employee evaluations and recruiting materials that communicate what it takes to be a good employee. Making sure the definition of the organisation as a whole doesn’t align with the stereotypes of the majority group will help dispel myths that the majority group is naturally better suited for their job.

As we move towards more diverse and inclusive workplaces, organisations should be aware of these identity threats and strive to reduce their impact. By focusing only on highly accessible and obvious sources of tension, such as explicit prejudice, or anxiety about competition over jobs, organisations run the risk of overlooking the powerful undercurrent of identity threats and the negative psychological and interpersonal outcomes that can follow.

Clarissa Cortland and Felix Danbold are Assistant Professors in the Organisations and Innovation Group at University College London School of Management.

Increasing the reach and reputation of quality management education in Asia

Here is the front cover of the Business Impact Magazine of a Japanese nature-inspired artwork with red leaves, white clouds, teal trees, and grey mountains.

Tim Desmond and Ken Ozawa tell Tim Banerjee Dhoul how NUCB Business School is working to improve teaching quality among Business Schools in Asia by promoting the value of the case method and increasing the availability of high-quality cases in the region

With campuses in Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo – Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas –  NUCB Business School (NUCB) is well positioned to take a lead in the country’s provision of management education.  

A strong proponent of the case method, the Nagoya-headquartered School is now also Japan’s principal provider of quality case studies from around the world, having recently stepped in to save the Case Center Japan from administration. In this exclusive interview with Business Impact, Tim Desmond, Senior Advisor and Project Manager, and Ken Ozawa, Accreditation and Institutional Research Manager, discuss NUCB’s plans to use this acquisition to help raise standards of teaching and learning materials, both in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

Why is management education important in your country? What is the value it brings to the community you serve? 

Traditionally, companies in Japan have prided themselves on offering lifetime employment, training those in management through inhouse programmes – having an MBA was frowned on by Japanese companies. However as the wave of globalisation took hold, Japan found itself in a precarious position due to a shortage of talented workers and an ever-declining birth rate. By 2025, for example, it is estimated that more than 2.4 million companies in Japan will have leaders that are, on average, over 70 years old. Since many of these companies will be unable to find adequate successors, it is expected that most will either suspend or cease operations entirely.

Although we live in a time when companies are producing more and more new products and services in response to consumer demands, Japan – despite its advanced technological capabilities – unfortunately lags behind much of the world in its capacity to start new businesses or embrace the entrepreneurial movement.

NUCB Business School recognises the dilemmas and challenges facing Japan. The School has been one of the main institutions to support the Japan Society for Business Succession (JSBS) to conduct and publish joint research and education, which will contribute to rectifying the family business succession situation in Japan. The School has also partnered with the Aichi Prefectural Association of Credit Unions, which comprises 15 regional banks, to organise special courses and workshops that work to strengthen the foundations of small companies and pass on techniques for the long-term growth of companies.

How healthy is the current market for business education in Japan and the surrounding region?

While Japan may have a somewhat rigid and inflexible corporate culture, our analysis reveals a relatively bright future for Business School graduates. We base this analysis on the following trends:

• The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has promoted the need to develop professionals with advanced specialised skills for working the global economy.

• The shift from domestic to overseas operations and the participation of non-Japanese staff in management has been increasing.

• A strong command of new management concepts and skills has become requisite for many managers.

Often, one will find that the core executive members in Japanese companies are typically graduates of a handful of prestigious Business Schools, based either in Japan or overseas. In this respect, Japanese universities have been slow, compared to the west, to establish Business Schools. As a result, NUCB’s use of the case method and accreditation are rather unique for higher education in Japan. 

What do you think makes your portfolio of programmes stand out from others that are available in the country headquarters of your School and the surrounding region?

Recently, two universities in the region terminated their MBA programmes due to declining enrolments. While competition with NUCB is one possible cause, it is important to underscore that the School is a standalone institution with a singular focus on management education. 

NUCB was the first Business School [in Japan] to offer a part-time, weekend MBA programme – Japanese companies expect workers to fully commit themselves to the office on weekdays. More importantly, the School is adept at recognising and adding unique programmes that are essential to the various business sectors, such as in healthcare and taxation, as well as a Global MBA taught in English. In line with the School’s focus on practical knowledge, great use is made of NUCB Business School’s expansive stock of real-world business case studies. All courses employ the case method using the most recent business cases available as learning materials.

Which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?

In May 2019, NUCB Business School reached an agreement with the Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST), a Japanese non-profit foundation, to acquire its case distribution unit, known as Case Center Japan (CCJ). The distribution unit was on the verge of bankruptcy. As CCJ was the only means for researchers and Business Schools in Japan to purchase case studies, its closure would have had a tremendous impact on management education and business research in Japan. 

NUCB Business School agreed to take over the full business operations of the CCJ case distribution, translation, and training unit. Under new management, CCJ will now be able to expand its reach to distribute cases nationwide. Moreover, it will promote case method workshops and has recently signed an agreement with Harvard Business School Publishing to hold seminars in Japan to introduce the unique benefits of case method’s participant-centred learning. CCJ has renewed agreements with the leading case producers and collections to translate, develop, and distribute cases throughout Japan. In all, more than 16,500 cases from Harvard Business School Publishing, IMD, INSEAD, Ivey Business School, and Darden School of Business and others are now being distributed.

Can you provide an example of how your School is using online learning to meet the needs of its students?  

Although online learning in Japan has never been fully embraced or valued, NUCB Business School began using it two years ago, when the government commissioned the School to create a pilot programme aimed at the empowerment of women. The live-online programme was a tremendous success and led the School to develop other online programmes. For example, online learning has been used in our preparation course for first-year MBA students to help familiarise them with case method learning, and a class format in which active participation is crucial, before their programme starts. 

Ironically, the training and expertise in online teaching was extremely fortuitous since NUCB Business School was the first and only Japanese university to move all of its courses to an online format in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced higher education in Japan to postpone terms and close campuses. The School made headlines across Japan when it announced that it would proceed with its spring 2020 term as scheduled – online. 

What does NUCB Business School gain from partnerships, such as the Innovation Programme offered in collaboration with Aichi Prefecture and INSEAD? 

NUCB Business School was honoured to collaborate with INSEAD and aims to learn more effective ways to realise ‘company renaissance’ which is the main focus of its Center for Entrepreneurs.  

‘Company renaissance’ is a term for companies to develop products, services, and markets by using new methods that are different from their main businesses in the process of adapting to (or anticipating) changes in its business environment. The inclusion of Aichi prefecture was also crucial in this partnership due to the fact that the prefecture is a manufacturing centre for aerospace, ceramics, motor vehicles, and so on. Thus, this partnership will create more opportunities to impact and support regional businesses, especially SMEs, which are indispensable to the success of large manufacturing companies that have been facing business succession issues.

How is the School working to boost the employment prospects of its graduates? (E.g. through the use of internship schemes or industry initiatives)

In line with the characteristics of the domestic market, management education provided is not specifically focused on helping students change their employer due to the unfortunate fact that Business School management education has still not yet been widely recognised in Japan’s business community. Thus, a large proportion of students do not change their occupation after graduation and continue to work in the same company, though often at a higher level. It’s anticipated that this trend will continue until Japan’s business community becomes more aware of, and receptive to, the value that Business School graduate degree holders can bring to their organisations. 

For those that do endeavour to change their careers, there are various support services they can receive from the Career Placement Center. The Center offers students support in the form of workshops and presentations on career planning and development, interview preparation, and effective CV writing.

What does ‘responsible management’ mean to your School and how is this concept introduced to, and instilled into, your students? 

Since its establishment, the School has followed a traditional business philosophy which has existed in Japan for over four centuries. This is called ‘Sanpou Yoshi’, meaning, ‘all three sides are good’. The ‘three sides’ allude to the idea that every business transaction has to be to the satisfaction of the seller, the buyer and to wider society – if a business is to have long-term prospects. In line with this philosophy, therefore, we recognise that it is important for the School to commit to act in all it does with ethical integrity, social responsibility and environmental sustainability in order to better develop future business leaders. 

What plans does your School have for the next three years and what developments would you like to see in the business education sector as a whole?  

Two major initiatives have been planned for the next three years. First, the School is going to expand the activities of the Case Center Japan. The CCJ is in the process of increasing the number of Asian business cases which are hyper-relevant and which have real-time scenarios, and is promoting these cases to other Business Schools. The Center is also planning to organise more Joint Case Workshops with Harvard Business School Publishing in order to improve the teaching quality among Business Schools in Asia. 

The second initiative is to start the development of a DBA programme. A study group, set up in 2019, will identify the best ways of organising the programme in upcoming years. With regards to the future development of business education, we would like to see more effective ways to develop ethical leaders, to train on the competencies that will define the next century, and to teach how to make a difference in the world, even in the pandemic situation.

Tim Desmond serves as the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor of NUCB Business School.

Ken Ozawa is Accreditation and Institutional Research Manager at NUCB Business School.

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

Why the pandemic should drive sustainable business

A person is peeling the sky like a chapter from a book, from dark, gloomy clouds to bright sunshine; symbolic to revealing positive change to sustainability.

The fallout from Covid-19 gives governments a degree of leverage over corporations. They should use it to impose the sustainability agenda, says Rotterdam School of Management’s Frank Wijen

With the ongoing rollout of vaccination campaigns, governments are now in a significantly better position to plan for our economic recovery, and hopefully a new and better future. 

There is no doubt that the spread of Covid-19 will continue to cause distress and chaos globally – in addition to the immediate impact on human health, the future continuity of millions of firms is on the line, threatening massive unemployment. Yet, although there are redundancies looming and the pandemic continues to cause havoc – amplified by constraining government measures – the fallout from Covid-19 has actually created an exceptional opportunity to change the world for the good. 

Many governments have provided massive levels of support to affected firms and their workers to stave off a tsunami of bankruptcies and job losses. This is truly laudable, since we have learned from the crisis of the 1930s that non-intervention will entail a vicious circle of further economic sliding. 

Halting economic decline is an important, yet insufficient, public policy objective on its own, because an upcoming economic crisis is likely to be followed by an even larger environmental crisis, with disastrous effects dwarfing those triggered by Covid-19. 

While many environmental issues threaten continued economic prosperity, the cost of inadequate efforts to curb climate change will be huge and will undermine future economic activities – as has been outlined by noted economist, Nicholas Stern, whose 2006 Stern Review on the economics of climate change covers the intertemporal costs and benefits of (in)action. Therefore, to best protect our economic futures, governments need to kill at least two birds with the huge stone they are throwing into the economy. 

Rethinking and reinventing

In my opinion, firms with sizeable carbon footprints should be required to vastly reduce their emissions in return for state support. In other words, governments should demand a quid pro quo, in that recipients of state aid promise to clean up their act, literally.

Energy company, Shell, for example, should be told that it will receive help for hydro, solar, and offshore wind projects, but not for traditional oil exploration, production, refining, and distribution. Similarly, airlines should only be rescued if they cease short-haul flights for which public transport alternatives are feasible, invest in highly energy-efficient aircraft, and accept substantial carbon taxes on all flights.

Farming is another sector that needs to rethink its environmental attitude. We need food, of course, but not at any cost. European farmers have been generously subsidised for decades but continue to burden society with the environmental costs from intensive farming practices, such as huge freshwater withdrawal and nitrogen oxide emissions. Construction is also a highly conservative sector in need of reinventing itself. We need homes to live in, but wooden-framed houses can be just as solid and robust as those erected from brick and concrete while involving much lower levels of carbon emissions. 

Some governments have understood the necessity to make their financial support to distressed firms contingent on environmental measures, while others keep on delaying as the ice melts. Two months after France decided to grant €7 billion EUR to airline, Air France, the Netherlands came to the rescue of KLM with €3.4 billion EUR in state aid. The French government attached green strings to its support of Air France, but the Dutch government still seemed to consider the sky the limit and asked only for symbolic environmental measures. 

Lack of leadership

The importance of attaching sustainability criteria to financial support needs to be interpreted against the backdrop of a lack of business leadership in making sustainability transitions that adversely affect their vested interests. While businesses are great at implementing practices that stimulate both environmental and financial gains (the ‘win-win’ opportunities, such as serving environmental consumers), they shy away from those that adversely affect their ongoing business. And they often focus on the short term. 

For instance, companies owning huge unexploited oil and gas fields will not voluntarily abandon these assets. Shell beats the sustainability drum, and its investments in renewables have recently taken off, but the amounts involved still dwarf those it dedicates to new fossil fuel projects.

History teaches us that huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have never resulted from climate change policies alone. They have often been a by-product of public policy decisions or political events, including the UK’s closure of unprofitable coal mines and privatisation of the electricity sector (with the related transition to less-carbon-intensive gas, known as the ‘dash for gas’), German reunification (and the related investments in more energy-efficient factories in Eastern Germany), and – indirectly – the German safety-driven phasing out of nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster (and the ensuing scaling up of renewable energy, whose plummeting production costs in solar and wind power fuelled a global demand for renewables). 

Environmental strides

Since the corporate world is unlikely to adopt game-changing environmental improvements of its own accord, governments must take the lead and impose the sustainability agenda as they rescue firms damaged by the pandemic. 

Necessity is the mother of invention and change, and business will only walk its sustainability talk when forced to do so by ineluctable government requirements. The sustainability transition will only materialise, therefore, through targeted government support, in which economic and environmental recovery operate in lockstep. 

Since governments virtually always prioritise economic stakes over environmental interests, the sustainability agenda will need to piggyback on economic interventions. The exceptionally large amounts of public funding that are about to be poured into the economy provide a unique opportunity to make significant environmental strides while also propping up the economy. In this context, the EU is showing leadership by publicly pledging 30% of its €750 billion EUR post-coronavirus restructuring emergency fund will be financed by the issuance of sustainable bonds. 

Governments can save work, without necessarily saving existing jobs. A significant number of positions will almost certainly cease to exist over the next few years and others that we cannot yet even imagine will emerge. For example, new jobs in developing circular business and managing smart grids. 

One of the key challenges for sustainable growth is to help people and firms adjust to this series of dramatic changes. Business Schools and universities will become vitally important in ensuring a smooth transition here. 

A major threat is that governments will take short-term measures as they give in to powerful business lobbies and eschew measures that might displease their electorates. Unfortunately, unconditional business support is a short-term remedy that fills one hole by deepening another one. The failure to address major environmental problems head-on could well drive the next global disruption, such as a climate crisis of an even larger magnitude. The actions of governments in the next few months will clearly have important implications for the long run. As the French dictum goes: ‘To govern is to anticipate’. Governments with foresight must therefore ensure they attach solid environmental strings when pouring public money into distressed businesses.

What can Business Schools do?

Senior Business School leaders need to recognise the impact climate change will have on businesses and their personal lives, and should work together with their students and the wider business community to help find solutions. 

Companies can provide a powerful incentive for greater Business School focus on sustainability. When executive education directors and careers service directors see this is a serious issue for business clients, action will follow.

Business Schools are training the leaders of tomorrow and have to take responsibility for that. Systemic thinking is about considering the wider and indirect effects of business actions, beyond the direct cause-effects we are used to. These effects are not just financial, and we need to teach good metrics that comprehensively capture socio-environmental outcomes.  Business actions need to go beyond the upcoming quarterly earnings, implying that the mindsets of students need to be adjusted to consider the longer-term implications as well. 

Furthermore, Business Schools with course materials that are predominantly based on North American and European ideas and practices need to develop the openness of mind to understand and support other managerial styles. This includes appreciating that eastern and southern businesses may be run differently while working towards the same sustainability goals. Finally, corporate responsibility needs to be duly incorporated into existing mainstream courses, rather than relegated to standalone ethics courses. In short, Business Schools will need to embrace a much more integrative approach, in which students develop the mindset and skills of systemic, longer-term, and open-minded thinking, acting, and measuring. 

Frank Wijen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship, Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University, Netherlands. 

This article was originally published in Ambition (the magazine of BGA’s sister organisation, AMBA).

Shedding light on MBM admissions and delivery worldwide

Here is a fibre optic lamp in neon pink with a deep blue background.

Exclusive AMBA & BGA research throws light on the performance of MBM programmes on offer at leading Business Schools across the world. Ellen Buchan delves into the details

A major driver behind students’ enrolment on master’s in business management (MBM) programmes is the desire to develop a better understanding of technology and its impact on management practices. This was a standout finding of AMBA & BGA’s study of application and enrolment data for MBM programmes around the world last year, as reported in Business Impact in February 2020. The significant demand for MBMs in India was another result highlighted in this research.   

A year on, and for the second iteration of this research, Business Impact was able to analyse data from Business Schools in relation to their MBM application and enrolment data from the calendar years of both 2018 and 2019. This offered a fresh opportunity to identify trends in the sector on a like-for-like basis. 

A total of 46 Schools – all of which are accredited by BGA’s sister organisation, the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – submitted MBM data for both 2018 and 2019, and it is the data from those Schools on which the following research is based. 

Continuing demand in India

Applications per Business School were up by 5% between 2018 and 2019 across all responding MBM programmes. There was no change in the volume of applications per programme received in the same timeframe.  

The sheer scale of demand for MBMs in India continues, as applications received by programmes in the south Asian country represented 88% of all applications to MBMs in 2019, worldwide. Applications in India, meanwhile, grew 10% per programme and 5% per School between 2018 and 2019. 

Elsewhere, Business Schools in the UK also reported a substantial increase, with applications up by 22% per programme and 34% per School between 2018 and 2019. Schools in the UK accounted for 3% of overall volume of MBM programme applications reported in 2019. 

Between 2018 and 2019, there were also rises in the number of students enrolling globally, by 5% per programme and 10% per School. MBMs in the UK reported the world’s largest increase in enrolments, with a 10% increase per programme and a 21% increase in enrolments per School. 

Blended learning on the rise

There was no significant change in the mode of delivery for MBM programmes between 2018 and 2019. Globally, the majority (83%) of AMBA-accredited Schools’ MBM programmes were taught in the classroom in 2019. Almost all of the remaining programmes were taught using a blended approach (16%) while 1% of programmes were delivered fully online in 2019. This represents a three-percentage point increase in the use of blended learning, at the expense of classroom delivery from 2018. 

In North America and the Caribbean, 92% of programmes included in the study were delivered using a blended approach in 2019. Among MBMs in Europe, the equivalent figure was 24%. This represents a four-percentage point increase in the use of blended learning in both these regions from 2018. 

Gender diversity in MBM programmes 

Globally, the proportion of women among those applying to MBM programmes in 2019 was 37% – an increase of one percentage point on 2018. The global enrolment rate was far more gender-balanced – 47% of those enrolling globally in 2019 were female, although this same figure was also applicable in 2018. Looking regionally, however, shows that Business Schools in India and Europe were the only Schools to enrol a minority of women on their MBM courses in 2019. In Europe, 48% of those enrolling identified as female, while the proportion among Schools in India was 33% – significantly lower, but an increase of three percentage points on the country’s equivalent figure for 2018. 

International and domestic applications and enrolments

More than nine out of 10 (95%) of applications to MBM programmes included in the study came from domestic students in 2019 – the vast majority. However, this global percentage hides significant variations between different countries and regions. Business Schools in India received 100% of applications from domestic students – pushing up the overall average. Even so, Schools based in China (including Hong Kong, China), Europe, and North America and the Caribbean, all received more than 80% of their MBM applications from domestic candidates. However, at Business Schools based in the UK and Oceania, the reverse was true, with 97% of applications to MBM programmes in each region coming from international applicants.

The global picture on MBM enrolment is quite different, with international students representing a third of all enrolments in 2019, up from 30% in 2018. As such, the conversion rate for international students was far higher in some regions than for domestic students. In Europe (excluding the UK), for example, international candidates represented 16% of applications, but 28% of those who enrolled. In North America and Caribbean, 10% of applications came from international applicants, but 19% of students enrolling were defined as international.

Conclusion

The news is positive for providers of MBMs from within the AMBA network. Although there was no growth in applications per programme, there was a notable rise of 5% in enrolments per programme.  

In addition, applications and enrolments to a Business School’s full portfolio of eligible degrees were up by 5% and 10%, respectively – a sign perhaps of the increasing number of study options on offer to prospective students and the extent to which these resonated with their intended audience, ahead of the turbulence of the year 2020.  

Methodology

The AMBA & BGA Application and Enrolment Report 2020 outlines the current status of the MBA market. As part of the data compiled for the report, 58 AMBA-accredited Business Schools also provided data on their portfolio of master’s in business management programmes (commonly known as MBMs or MiMs). 

Of the 58 Schools that provided data on their master’s programmes in 2019, 46 had also supplied data for 2018 in the previous year, allowing for a year-on-year comparison between the same Schools. This analysis covered 140 programmes in 2019, rising from 133 programmes in 2018. MBM programmes in this like-for-like analysis were delivered at Business Schools based in the following locations: Europe (excluding the UK) (37%); the UK (28%); India (17%); China (including Hong Kong, China) (7%); North America and the Caribbean (4%); Oceania (4%); and Africa (2%). No data was collected from Schools in Asia (excluding India and China) and the Middle East.

This article is adapted from an original feature in Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: February-April 2021).

 

 

Connecting with communities to deliver value

Sankar Sivarajah, Head of the School of Management at the University of Bradford, outlines the School’s community connections and outlook on widening access to quality management education. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

When he isn’t pursuing agritech research with the potential to transform farming, or teaching students the distinction between ‘circularity’ and ‘sustainability’, Sankar Sivarajah is excited by his institution’s ‘ambitious’ five-year strategy and its ‘bold actions… to empower change’: ‘We want to continue to focus on supporting economic and social regeneration,
suited to the real-life challenges of society by supporting non-traditional students’ engagement with local, regional and international businesses and communities,’ says Sivarajah, Head of the School of Management at the University of Bradford, UK. 

In this interview, Sivarajah tells Business Impact about the ways in which his School connects with its community – something he believes is critical to a Business School’s role in stimulating social and economic growth. He also details the approach towards inclusivity taken by the School’s online MBA and its commitment to fostering a thriving learning environment for students from underrepresented segments of society.

How has Covid-19 changed the demand for, and availability of, business education and what further changes should we expect to see in this year? 

Sankar Sivarajah

Without a shadow of a doubt, Business Schools in the UK and across the world have had to rapidly adapt and respond to the changing needs of learners, employers and governments in the current uncertain and evolving landscape. I am certain that there is a long list of changes on every Business School’s agenda, be it of redesigning and enhancing curricula and programme offers, developing staff capacity and capabilities, or even rethinking their business model and strategy.  

Business Schools will need to give serious thought to their own business model and build in agility, readiness and scalability to cope with fluctuations in business education uptake. Business Schools will also need to continue to evolve and meet the flexible demands of the new generations of learners. Most importantly, the role of Business Schools in delivering social and economic value is more important than ever to maintain their place in society.

What do you think makes your portfolio of programmes stand out from others that are available in the UK and Europe?

Our programmes are co-designed with extensive consultation and direct input from a range of stakeholders including existing and potential students, industry partners (e.g. Morrisons, IBM and Coca-Cola), alumni, School advisory boards, employers and academics. 

An example of our programme innovation is the recent conversion master’s programme in applied artificial intelligence and data analytics which received £700,000 GBP in scholarship and programme design funding from [UK public and governmental bodies, including] the Office for Students, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and the Office for Artificial Intelligence, as well as from industry contributions in the UK.

Our programmes stand out by integrating skills development opportunities where possible to allow for attaining microcredentials (from, for example, the Project Management Institute, Amazon AWS Academy, or SAS certification) through the School’s unique Career Booster (CB) Employability programme. The CB programme consists of two, week-long sessions every academic year consisting of more than 60 skills-based workshops and masterclasses that are offered free. These are delivered by sector experts, our industry partners, guest speakers and alumni to boost our student’s employability, networking and enterprise skills. 

Your School is placing emphasis on making management education more inclusive and accessible. Why is this an area of importance and what do you hope to achieve from your current initiatives? 

We have, from the outset, always been known for our progressive approach to business education. We are the first Business School in England to receive joint accreditation from AMBA & BGA, and the second in the UK. This achievement signifies our ambition in delivering impact and value creation for students, businesses and communities alike with a focus on responsible management which is inclusive and accessible.

Our flagship Distance Learning MBA (DL MBA) programme is our exemplar of making management education inclusive and accessible and was ranked – for the second year running – as first in the world for ‘value for money’ in 2020’s online MBA rankings from the Financial Times. While we maintain high standards of recruitment, we aim to ensure that financial considerations are not a barrier to individuals who wish to engage in management studies, and this is reflected in the course fees, and students’ ability to pay in instalments over a two-year period. The online and flexible model of the DL MBA has attracted and provided access to learners from 99 nationalities across the globe from Barbados to Australia. We want to continue to develop and ensure that we provide quality responsible management education that is affordable and accessible by everyone.

Do Business Schools need to do more to address social inequality and provide opportunities for social mobility? 

Absolutely. Business Schools have become widely recognised for the role that they play in stimulating social and economic growth. Key within many of these roles are ways in which Business Schools connect with the community and co-exist to address socioeconomic inequality and promote social mobility. Hence, equality, diversity and inclusion should be at the heart of every Business School, and it is certainly in our ethos, as is reflected by the wider University of Bradford being recognised as the 2020 University of the Year for Social Inclusion by Times Higher Education. Some of the School’s commitment has been centred around creating an inclusive and thriving learning environment for our students, as almost 85% of our undergraduate students come from the most socioeconomically deprived areas by postcode, as defined by POLAR 1-3 [a UK initiative measuring participation in higher education by local area] and around 70% are from BAME backgrounds, with many being first-generation university attendees. 

How are faculty members involved in the School’s Community Career Booster Programme and how do you think they benefit from their involvement? 

The Community Career Booster (CCB) Programme is a free programme that is open to all, including charities, community groups, faith groups, voluntary organisations and parents’ groups. The programme aims to enrich people’s lives in Bradford by providing accessible learning opportunities to the local community through a diverse range of skills enrichment workshops provided by the School’s academic staff on various topics, such as SAGE 50 accounting, Making Tax Digital and Microsoft Word and Excel training.  

This ‘Certificate of Learning’ awarding programme benefits communities by boosting personal development, skills, confidence and CVs, thus enhancing technical skills while making a difference to the organisation or community group they are working within or support. The faculty members benefit from these initiatives as it provides them with a development opportunity (especially early-career staff) to engage with local businesses and community stakeholders to build partnerships and work together in addressing real-world business needs. In some cases, these relationships and connections with practice evolve into successful research projects that produce a societal impact where both our researchers and business community mutually benefit.

Aside from its potential for impact in the community, in your opinion, how does the School’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) benefit the School? 

The School prioritises growing engagement with small business and entrepreneurs. In support of this, we provide a number of activities and programmes, including the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) programme. Supported by Barclays UK, the KTN is an established, open and free-to-access community of SMEs that act to support each other and work collaboratively with the School of Management and across the University. 

The network has impacted on more than 5,000 SMEs over its lifecycle and has a current membership of well over 1,500 SMEs. Through this, we have offered networking seminars and events for around 3,000 businesses in Bradford for more than 15 years. During the Covid period, we have continued to deliver the KTN through a series of virtual facilitated events. Due to its participant’s mix – i.e. representatives from local businesses, public organisations, and third sector organisations, as well as academics, students and alumni, KTN provides a solid networking platform. KTN members have acted as mentors and role models for our students and is a source for industry consultation. Together with its local project and placement opportunities, this makes the KTN key to supporting the success of our students. 

Which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?

What excites me is the delivery of the School’s ambitious five-year strategy (2020-25) which sets out bold actions to use our responsible management education, distinctive and relevant research and partnerships to empower change. The strategy has been developed and built incorporating inputs from staff, students, international and industry advisory boards, community groups, and organisations that we work with, embedding recommendations from our triple-crown accreditation bodies (AACSB, AMBA, EQUIS) and our commitment to UN PRME principles.

As a School, we want to continue to focus on supporting economic and social regeneration, suited to the real-life challenges of society by supporting non-traditional students’ engagement with local, regional and international businesses and communities. Our planned efforts and developments will therefore focus on opening up the value of the School for more people; scale business and community engagement initiatives; provide more diverse, work-ready talent for both small businesses and large organisations, bridge the skills gap and enable businesses in the region and globally to access university resources and thereby support their growth. 

Your research is said to concentrate largely on the use of emerging digital technology for the betterment of society. Can you tell me a bit about one of your current or recent projects in this area? 

A recent project of mine with fellow researchers has been on developing a concept of ‘drone swarms’, airborne AI units capable of quickly gathering masses of information about crops, soil temperature, moisture levels and the use of pesticides which have the potential to transform farming, increase yields and make production more efficient. 

The research project has recently been published in Production Planning and Control Journal and has applications in places where there is a need for farmers to explore vast areas of inaccessible land. We have conceptualised the idea and the next step is to simulate and test the real thing. Agritech and food security is a huge area, both in the UK and across the world. As AI grows, this will become much more important. Emerging technologies act as an enabler for most organisations which can end up being used for good or bad, so I believe it’s important to use it in the right way and for the betterment of society.

Your teaching at MBA level includes the circular economy. What do tomorrow’s business managers and owners need to know and understand about the circular economy? 

One thing I always highlight to our executives is to first get to grips with the fundamentals of the circular economy and its principles and not to misinterpret it with various [aspects of the] sustainability agenda. Unfortunately, the terms ‘circularity’ and ‘sustainability’ are used together and somewhat interchangeably, which dilutes the importance and action related to either one. 

Our current and future business managers, owners and leaders need to be in a position to challenge the norm and move away from the linear industrial economy practices of make, use and dispose. The principles of circular economy as a framework equips them to do exactly that and enables them to rethink our industrial economy by design or intention. Innovation and enterprise lie at the heart of the circular economy where harnessing new ideas, modernising old ideas and shifting to circular models for value creation, retention and recovery is a must for today’s business managers and owners, not just tomorrow’s.

Sankar Sivarajah is Head of the School of Management and a Professor of Technology Management and Circular Economy at the University of Bradford, UK. 

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

Today’s education: global commodity and catalyst for cultural diversity

The great shift online during Covid-19 culminated in an ‘international learning village’ which offers rich potential for the further development of educational models, says Berlin School of Business and Innovation’s Kyriakos Kouveliotis

Covid-19 has helped to show the world how important education and research truly are.

Each year, in May, the UN’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development raises awareness of diversity issues around the globe and promotes an understanding of different cultures.

Even though cultural events and initiatives have been put on hold for months, the way countries had to co-operate in tackling the menace of the pandemic, co-ordinate their emergency and contingency plans and evaluate the effectiveness of their actions has showcased the biggest experiment of global solidarity and alliance in the history of humankind. 

It is apparent that the domain of education was greatly affected. However, not only did it respond effectively, but it also came out stronger. It embraced cultural diversity in the most productive way and at a time when it was most needed. In a matter of days, global educators had to switch from traditional teaching to online. They had to improvise, innovate and become global. What was expected to happen in years or decades took place instantly. The world was transformed into a global education hub, an ‘international learning village’. This change was cataclysmic.

The end of constraints?

It is expected that the future of education, not in some years but soon, will eliminate the classroom, as well as the borders between countries and all the stereotypes for acquiring knowledge. Technology can turn our entire lives into learning experiences.

Some scholars have argued that 100 years ago, higher education seemed on the verge of a technological revolution. The spread of a powerful new communication network—the modern postal system—made it possible for institutions to distribute their lessons beyond the grounds of their campuses. Anyone with a mailbox could enrol in a class. Classes now are global, and the student community is composed of different nationalities and backgrounds. Education today has literally abolished international borders and rediscovered itself as a global commodity. This commodity is accessible to all, round the clock, regardless of geographical or other constraints.

This rediscovery is based on education’s use of all the latest innovative developments of technology and modern methodologies, such as open learning, social media, mobile learning, blended learning and augmented reality. As a global commodity, modern education commodity brings a new stream of positive thinking regarding cultural diversity and multiculturalism. Today, educators should be able to:

  • Recognise and achieve goals and ambitions, especially in response to global challenges
  • Enhance their knowledge with a global perspective
  • Recognise that they belong to an international community and use this understanding effectively to understand multiculturalism
  • Practice their skills and creativity beyond their regional environments

In this framework, what we need in modern education is a didactic model that achieves the following changes in learning dynamics:

  • From teacher-centred to student-centred learning
  • From the transmission of knowledge to the building of knowledge
  • From passive and competitive learning to active and collaborative learning

In this way, the individual international student becomes the centre of the educational process.

Incentives for developing multicultural initiatives

The legacy of what global education has already achieved during the pandemic created a cross-cultural revolution. The new innovative and modern didactic methodologies that were adopted have led to greater knowledge of the world around us and assisted us to cope better with it.

Salman Khan, Founder of online education platform, Khan Academy, once said: ‘This is the information revolution. It’s crazy that every other field is getting revolutionised except education.’

As education continues to shift from national to international, countries have strong incentives to build the skills of their populations through higher multicultural training initiatives. 

At the same time, the explosive growth of online education raises an important question – will traditional didactic methods continue to attract students at the same pace as in the past, now that the world has seen the creation of a new international and multicultural audience? I think we all know the answer already.

Professor Kyriakos Kouveliotis is Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI).

Making lifelong learning a natural extension of an MBA

Lifelong learning opportunities shouldn’t feel forced – instead, they should feel like a natural extension of the programme. Tim Banerjee Dhoul talks to the Director of the Anáhuac MBA, Guillermo Zamacona, and programme alumna, Pilar Brogeras, about where the responsibility lies for graduates’ continuing education

‘Doing what I do, you know that people need development – all the time. You need to be on your toes for whatever’s coming,’ says Pilar Brogeras, a Managing Director at executive search firm, Stanton Chase, and an MBA alumna of Universidad Anáhuac México in Mexico City. 

‘What I see is that when you’re working, you’re in this one lane and it’s pretty easy to lose sight,’ she continues. ‘Sometimes, you’re just running and running like a hamster on a wheel. I think that is where these [lifelong learning] programmes can slap you on the face and be like, “hey, you have to keep it up, you have to keep pushing and gain a little bit of perspective,” because organisations do not always give you the opportunity or the tools to realise where you have to develop.’

‘For me, it’s more of an internal motivation – it starts with you, but I do think that universities have to do this work of putting in place programmes that really respond to the needs of companies and professionals. They have a responsibility to put in place a platform that can allow you to reach whatever it is that you want to reach through those programmes because they have a very strong network of players and strategic alliances.’ 

‘A responsibility from both sides’

Guillermo Zamacona, Director of the Anáhuac MBA, agrees that Business Schools have a responsibility for their graduates’ continuing education: ‘It’s a responsibility from both sides. I think it’s our responsibility as a Business School to be creative enough and to have the right strategy to make it feel natural so that the alumni and the students get involved.

In this sense, much of the work revolves around not only creating the right opportunities, but also facilitating the engagement of alumni. ‘We’ve developed a lot of channels, from academic and social events, to challenges and WhatsApp groups – a really big agenda, both within the MBA programme and in terms of lifelong learning,’ Zamacona explains. ‘We have tried to develop it in a way where it doesn’t feel like they are doing something extra where they have put it in their diary and it’s like, “ugh, today I have to go to this”. We’ve been trying to do it more naturally so that the networks get more efficient and the alumni get more valuable courses and activities.’

Network ‘efficiency’ comes when alumni interact and work with each other automatically in the years after their graduation, as if it were a natural extension of the programme. In the process, they can also continue learning from each other.

‘It’s great to see that our channels are generating this,’ says Zamacona, giving a recent example of spotting – casually, on social media – two alumni collaborating outside the School’s official channels. ‘I saw their picture and it was great to see that they were working together on a new artistic project, especially because it was nothing that we have done directly… I wish I could charge a fee for every business that is created among our alumni and our network.’

Gaining traction

A self-confessed bookworm with a background in communications, Brogeras says she enrolled in the Anáhuac MBA because she wanted to broaden her skills and knowledge through a programme that balanced hard and soft skills. ‘For me, it was very important to have the overall picture of how an organisation works…what I do is place talent – maybe I’m not the specialist in a role but I understand the main challenges.’

She then took full advantage of international opportunities that arose because of her MBA, attending short programmes at Harvard Business School and EADA Business School in Spain in the year she graduated. More recently, she secured a scholarship for a highly selective executive education programme aimed at preparing female leaders for board roles. Run by Banco Santander and known as the Santander W50, Brogeras attended the programme at UCLA Anderson School of Management, having received notification of the opportunity from her alma mater. ‘These [opportunities] were not necessarily from Anáhuac, but they were a result of the educational offer of Anáhuac,’ she says. 

Lifelong learning opportunities offered directly by her School have progressed rapidly in recent years, in Brogeras’s opinion. ‘To be super blunt, when I was there, I think there was not a lot of interest post-graduation. It was more ‘thank you’ and ‘bye’,’ she confides. ‘So, I think it has taken a while to get some traction, but all the work [Zamacona] and the team has done has started getting the attention of many of the alumni.’

‘We offer all of our students the chance to join the alumni association when they graduate and all of them say “yes”,’ says Zamacona, referencing cohorts from the last six or seven years in particular when asked about the current take-up for the School’s lifelong learning opportunities. ‘They sign and become part of the association. But [in terms of] really being involved, we have around 1,000 alumni… I would say that [engagement] is gradual. The three years after graduation around 75% are involved with all of these activities; the next three years, 50%; the next three years, 25%. 

Brogeras, who sits on the alumni association board, concedes that her fellow MBA alumni can be ‘tough cookies’, saying: ‘For someone that graduated maybe 10-15 years ago, there was nothing, and now there’s this bunch of activities. But they probably still feel a little disconnected from the programme as it’s been such a long time. I think it’s sort of like carving stone and being there and being there and eventually they will come back.’

Cocreated activities 

Nominated for an AMBA Excellence Award this year (with the winner yet to be announced at the time of going to press), the lifelong learning programme at Anáhuac’s Faculty of Economics and Business is designed to cover a full range of activities – social, academic, spiritual, cultural, communitarian, and physical – deemed necessary for ongoing career success. These opportunities, Zamacona advises, are all cocreated with its stakeholders: ‘For example, we have quarterly seminars and, this quarter, we had a three-day seminar, after which we launched a survey. In that survey, we asked what alumni want to know in the next quarter. With those answers and some other inputs, from the alumni association or from the professors or students, we create the next agenda.’ 

When asked how the peer-to-peer learning that is so integral to MBA programmes can be replicated at alumni events, both Zamacona and Brogeras talk about the importance of an event’s format and setting.  

‘It’s not like we invite all our alumni to a lecture on finance, or with the CFO of Miniso,’ Zamacona says, referencing a recent example of an event featuring an alumni and c-suite manager with the Chinese retail multinational offering insights into doing business with Asia. ‘It’s a one-hour talk, then 30 minutes of Q&A and then an hour and a half of networking with him and all of the other participants. It’s a balance between academic and social.’ 

‘The right people with which to connect’

Brogeras agrees on the importance of activities’ social aspect, saying that she values, for example, the opportunity to sit down and have a coffee and a chat with other participants before going to see such talks. She’s also big on the value of that traditional benefit of joining a leading Business School’s MBA programme – the network you gain access to as a result.   

The network – or rather, ‘putting in place the right people with which to connect,’ has, for Brogeras, been a clear highlight of what’s been on offer from Anáhuac since her graduation from the programme in 2014. ‘Through your network there is so much to leverage, in terms of perspective, mentoring, or just information you want to understand more about, relating to the sector you’re working in,’ she reasons.

Seven years on from her MBA programme, Brogeras says she’s in touch with fellow Anáhuac MBA alumni a couple of times a month. ‘I have one who was from the MBA, but from a couple of generations [cohorts] before me. We were together in the W50 programme – we’re very close and we even started doing some business together. Another friend is in Deloitte and has done a lot of stuff, so I reach out to him every now and then,’ she says by way of example, before adding that she remains in touch with people from the Harvard and EADA programmes she attended at the time of her MBA.  

A couple of times a month is also the average frequency with which the School facilitates a point of interaction for alumni, a get together, or other lifelong learning opportunity, according to Zamacona. 

Such regularity seems particularly apt at a time of uncertainty for global business and society. The Covid-19 pandemic, for Brogeras, has certainly upped the need for MBAs to look at ways of upskilling and reskilling: ‘Now it’s hit us that we have to change the way we work and the way we
do business. Business models have changed considerably, so it’s very important for us to remain aware of where we might need to develop ourselves if we want to keep our jobs.’

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

Management education’s approach to sustainability is broken – here’s how to fix it

The true meaning of sustainability has been distorted and Business Schools are as much to blame as big business. Lars Moratis and Frans Melissen offer a three-pronged path towards a better approach for those in management education 

Over the past decades, Business Schools have been heavily criticised for neglecting their societal role – both from within the institution and by outside stakeholders. Often-heard critiques have targeted Business Schools as pursuing a too narrow and rigid scientific model of management, teaching capitalism as the only form of organisation to their students, and surrendering to rankings and the market. 

Others have accused Business Schools of being complicit in the wave of corporate fraud scandals that took place around the tum of the century and have pointed at their role in the 2007-2011 financial crisis. One 2009 research paper from Temple University’s Robert Giacalone [now at John Carroll University] and Donald Wargo even posited that Business Schools were at the roots of the global financial crisis because they promulgated theories, such as profit maximisation and materialism, that made it easy for business managers to eschew ethical behaviour in favour of short-term profits. 

Dubbed ‘academies of the apocalypse’, Business Schools suffered an existential crisis and were urged to reflect on their societal role. An important outcome of the resulting soul-searching efforts was that Business Schools across the board increased their attention to business ethics, CSR, and sustainable business. Their efforts to integrate these topics into management education have ranged from offering electives and mandatory standalone modules to making these topics part and parcel of foundational strategy, marketing, and management courses. 

The next crisis: conveying the wrong message

Now, Business Schools do not seem to be critics’ target of choice when looking for the causes of, and culprit behind, the Covid-19 pandemic – perhaps because the pandemic has manifested itself primarily as a health crisis and, by implication, it has been governments’ handling of the spreading virus that has been the news of the day since March 2020. While, at first, it may appear that all this has little to do with educating managers and business leaders, in reality it does – albeit not so much in terms of rapidly switching to online modes of delivering management education. 

This becomes clear when reviewing Business School faculty’s discipline-oriented interpretations of the business consequences of Covid-19, or the way they are overhauling curricula by emphasising the importance of risk management and changing their business models to demonstrate their relevance. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has catapulted Business Schools into an existential crisis yet again, and the silence about it is deafening, both by critics and Business Schools themselves. Moreover, sustainability is not part of the solution for this crisis – it is part of the problem.

The problem with management education’s provision of sustainability is that it has tended to convey the wrong message to students. For one, management students have been taught that corporate responsibility for sustainability is supra-legal, implying that what is not against the law, is neither unsustainable nor unethical behaviour. In addition, students are being taught that being profitable is a social responsibility in itself, if not the primary responsibility of business. 

Pandemic parasitism

It may hence come as no surprise that online reservation platform, Booking.com, which has boasted billions in profits over the past few years and has brought back some $4.5 billion USD in stock in 2019, requested and received financial support from the Dutch government as part of the latter’s Covid-19 emergency stimulus package. In a similar vein, large companies in the fashion sector decided to cancel their summer collections, all in line with the contracts they have with factories in low-income countries that produce them, burdening the latter with the costs of massive numbers of unsold products. Within such narrow interpretations of responsible and sustainable corporate conduct, not behaving irresponsibly quickly becomes outright pandemic parasitism.

A second example can be found with Amazon. While launching a US$2 billion USD Climate Pledge Fund in June 2020, Amazon apparently failed to provide for adequate protective measures for its warehouse employees to ensure safe and sanitary working conditions during the pandemic. In the same period, according to a Financial Times report, the company boasted over US$400 billion USD in additional market cap and hired some 175,000 new employees to keep up with spiking online shopping. 

For reputational reasons, companies may be keen to jump on board the climate bandwagon in order to prevent being labelled a laggard on today’s most challenging societal issue, but a healthy workforce and good employee relations (the ‘inner’ side of sustainability) are part of the same course – even though this may be far less visible to the public and not nearly
as mediagenic.

A more nuanced instance of pandemic parasitism is the online campaign that Unilever ran for its beauty brand, Dove, over the past months. The company used iconic images of worn-out nurses and doctors, marked by the protective equipment they had worn for hours and hours while treating Covid-19 patients – arguably intended to demonstrate that the company cares for these healthcare workers and to support the message that they provided free products for the pandemic’s heroes. Whereas this could easily qualify as opportunistic corporate behaviour and one could question why such an engagement would need to manifest itself as a brand campaign, management students are familiarised with such behaviour under the sustainable guise of cause-related marketing.

Teaching all too shallow conceptions of the roles and responsibilities of companies with regards to sustainability implies that Business Schools should share in taking the blame for such examples of corporate behaviour in times of social upheaval.

A deeper crisis: a culture of institutionalised exploitation

The existential crisis for Business Schools that the Covid-19 pandemic reveals runs considerably deeper than these examples, though. This becomes clear when Covid-19 is seen for what it is: a symptom of a systemic crisis. Essentially, the pandemic boils down to a deeply disturbed and unsustainable relationship between humans and nature that is fuelled by an obsession with growth and short-term economic gain, firmly rooted in a neoliberal worldview. 

Central to this worldview is colonising nature, depleting natural resources, seeing human beings as production factors, reducing animals to raw materials, and seeing society as serving corporate interests. It is a worldview that propagates a culture of institutionalised exploitation. Privatising profits and socialising costs are the name of the game. Societal challenges are, first and foremost, business opportunities. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and poverty are inevitable collateral damage. This worldview has become so normalised and pervasive in contemporary business culture – and reproduced by Business Schools – that it has distorted the true meaning of sustainability: ‘sustainability’ is no longer a form of social criticism or a notion that exemplifies the importance of building an ecologically sound and equitable society for current and future generations alike, but is framed within a political ideology that essentially runs counter to it. 

No wonder that this has led Business Schools to adopt and create a language of popular sustainability newspeak that includes concepts such as ‘environmental profit and loss accounts’, ‘true pricing’, ‘ecosystem services’, ‘the business case for sustainability’, and ‘nature-positive economic recovery’. In fact, sustainability only seems to be acceptable when it has a business case, hence protecting the regime’s vested interests, be they: reducing operational costs; the ability to attract and retain talent; developing new markets; and/or building or restoring corporate reputation. This has given rise to an obsession with the concept of ‘green growth’ in business, government and NGO circles – a fallacy which revolves around ever-growing economies without fundamentally changing business models and economic models.

However, as Professor Steve Keen of University College of London’s Institute for Strategy, Resilience and Security has recently argued, the neoclassical economics of climate change are appallingly bad, with economists being overly optimistic about the economic damage from climate change. As he writes in a 2020 paper in Globalizations: ‘If climate change does lead to the catastrophic outcomes that some scientists now openly contemplate, then these neoclassical economists will be complicit in causing the greatest crisis, not merely in the history of capitalism, but potentially in the history of life on Earth’. Speaking about catastrophic outcomes, the 2020 report, Fatal calculations: How economics has underestimated climate damage and encouraged inaction, concluded that ‘the economic damages by not acting may be so large as to be unquantifiable’. When that is the situation, why worry about building a business case? Additionally, despite policy rhetoric, there is no empirical evidence on resource use and carbon emissions that supports green growth theory.

How Business Schools can step away from current approaches to sustainability

With Business Schools being part and parcel of the factors that have caused the systemic crisis producing the Covid-19 pandemic and some of the pernicious corporate behaviour that emerged amid it, management education needs to take a radical step away from the dominant way it approaches sustainability. There are three courses of action in this direction that Business Schools should take:

1. Management education should make ‘critical studies’ a central part of its curricula

Through critical studies, students can scrutinise the assumptions that underpin what is considered to be ‘normal’ corporate conduct, successful business models, and contemporary business and society relationships. Critical scrutiny of these assumptions will also strengthen students’ understanding of existing power structures in economy and society and the political nature of sustainable development. 

This may include studying degrowth – defined by economic anthropologist, Jason Hickel, in the book Less Is More – as a socioeconomic approach towards restoring the balance between the global economy and the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human wellbeing. Engaging in critical studies would also include a thorough reflection on the roles and responsibilities of Business Schools, the worldviews that govern their knowledge production and dissemination activities, and what direct and indirect impacts Business Schools have on society.

2. Management educators should stimulate their students’ moral imagination in order to envision new ways to address moral problems and find solutions for our world’s grand challenges

Moral imagination challenges us to build empathy and solidarity with those who might not be considered parts of our community – for instance, precarious workers, future generations, and natural ecosystems. This resonates with what philosopher, Mark Johnson, writes in his book, Moral Imagination, that we, ‘must be able to imagine new dimensions for our character, new directions for our relationships with others, and even new forms of social organisation’. 

To develop this ability, creating and experimenting with new narratives about the role of business and society to ignite novel courses of action is crucial. Management educators should neither refrain from confronting their students with controversial opinions and stances, including those from other scientific disciplines, nor from initiating debate. Art can play an important role here, as it possesses the capacity to create meaning and stimulates us, ‘to see more, to hear more and to feel more of what is going on within us and around us. Art is shocking, provoking and inspiring’, as former MIT Sloan management professor, Edgar Schein wrote. Based on such insights, Slovenia’s IEDC-Bled School of Management has set out to integrate the arts into management research and teaching, exploring an arts-based pedagogy and artistic business learning inspired by poets, philosophers, architects, and dancers.

3. Business Schools should engage in systemic activism

Systemic activism, as opposed to issue-based activism, recognises the complex and interconnected nature of modem problems and assumes that change is necessary on many levels. The way the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded, touching virtually all realms of life, is a vivid illustration of this. As is the climate crisis, which has impacts on poverty, which affects gender equality, which affects education, which affects decent work, and so on. Moreover, research shows that the global north has contributed 92% of CO2 emissions in excess of planetary boundaries, while the global south, that will experience the worst consequences of climate breakdown, has only contributed 8%.

Systemic problems eschew single-issue solutions – they require a rethinking of economic, political, social, judicial, and cultural systems. Business Schools should embrace the moral and political agenda that underpins the transition to a sustainable economic model and make campaigning for furthering that agenda their priority.

A deeply moral question

Of course, one could argue that Business Schools should take a neutral position towards challenges of a moral and political nature as ‘independent’ institutions that produce and convey management knowledge. It should be recognised, however, that taking a neutral position is also enacting a political agenda, particularly in the face of the rampant ecological and social breakdown, in which business plays an important role. 

Sustainability is not a concurrent perspective on corporate strategy, but a deeply moral and political question about how we want to live. In any case, who would say that teaching and research are value-free? Discussions about the hidden agenda of management education should sound all too familiar to anyone working in a Business School. Here, too, silence is violence. Business Schools should push themselves to identify the leverage points for societal change – and given the fact that they are the proverbial spiders in the web when it comes to understanding the impacts of the role of business in, and on, society, this should not be too difficult. Management educators, in turn, should recognise the potential of activism as a source of rich learning experiences.

Business Schools should acknowledge that because, as Indian novelist, Arundhati Roy wrote in 2020: ‘Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.’ We should enter the new reality as soon as possible. That cannot be done in silence. The post-pandemic Business School is activist.

Lars Moratis and Frans Melissen are holders of the Chair in Management Education for Sustainability, a joint initiative of Antwerp Management School and Breda University of Applied Sciences. They are also co-creators of the concept of ‘sustainability intelligence’.  

This article was published in 2020 in Th&ma Hoger Onderwijs and was adjusted for publication in Ambition (the magazine of BGA’s sister organisation, AMBA) before its appearance here.

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.

The continuing quest for knowledge

Lifelong learning research from AMBA & BGA shows that more than a third of graduates have sought to continue their education beyond their studies, and outlines their areas of interest. David Woods-Hale reports

From quarantined students to a rapid migration to online teaching and learning, business education experienced its fair share of disruption in 2020.

Yet, during this tumultuous year, AMBA & BGA was able to carry out a 360-degree portfolio of research, looking at the perspectives of Business Schools, employers, students and graduates as they sought to acclimatise to the conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The research delved into the need for greater technological innovation – both in terms of course delivery and digital skills – and explored respondents’ views on how successfully the business education landscape is evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of stakeholders at all levels. 

This section of the research focuses on the views of 2,110 MBA graduates, surveyed in the spring and early summer of 2020, on their satisfaction with their MBA and their continuing relationships with the Business Schools at which they studied, in relation to lifelong learning and their continuing development. 

Graduate satisfaction, post-MBA

Graduates’ sense of satisfaction with their MBA qualification was gauged in an earlier part of the year’s research. Encouragingly, 71% of those polled were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the impact of their MBAs on their careers to date. At the other end of the scale, 10% were either ‘fairly dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’. 

Following this, participants were asked for their opinion on the areas in which they believed the MBA had added the most value to their career prospects. Among respondents, 88% agreed that they have ‘gained substantially more skills to help them do business better’ as a result of completing the MBA. Meanwhile, 81% agreed that ‘the skills they learned during their MBA have helped them be more mentally resilient’, and 74% believed ‘they have been able to develop all the business-related skills they wanted’ as a result of completing the qualification. 

In terms of salary expectations, graduates were less sure as to how far their MBA has made an impact. Just over a third (23%) neither agreed or disagreed that ‘they felt equipped to reach the salary they wanted to achieve in the future’ – and 11% actively disagreed with this statement. 

When the sample was segmented to only include the findings for MBA graduates that had completed their qualification less than a year before taking the survey, the results revealed a higher level of satisfaction, compared with the rest of the sample. In all the areas measured, recent graduates are either one or two percentage points higher in agreement that they had achieved the outcomes listed, on account of completing their MBA programme, than those that graduated more than a year ago.

Survey participants were also polled on the difference that their MBA made to them in terms of their behaviour in the workplace. The top answer, cited by 68% of MBA graduates, was ‘I was more confident about myself’, followed by ‘I was better at resolving problems by finding new solutions’ (62%), and ‘I was more prepared to work in a highly competitive environment’ (58%).

‘If I were to do an MBA again…’

Graduates were asked: ‘On reflection, if you were to do an MBA again, which of the following aspects would you like to see more of, or improved?’ and were provided with options ranging from ‘better quality of teaching’, to ‘more confidence building’. 

Overall, the largest proportion of respondents (54%) said they would have liked ‘more networking opportunities’; 37% would have liked ‘more knowledge and skills specifically to help them start a new business’; 34% would have liked ‘more content on how to run a profitable business’; and 31% would have liked ‘content that was more appropriate to the industry in which they work’. At the other end of the scale, the smallest proportion of respondents (22%) would have liked ‘better quality of teaching’.  In an open-ended question, graduates were then encouraged to share other thoughts as to what they would like to see more of in their MBA programmes, if they were to study for the qualification again. 

Answers were diverse, but responses comprised the following: 

• Case studies that inspire students to find solutions and help in developing a way of thinking.

• More practical case studies with a current or recent focus, relevant to today’s and future industry needs.

• More information about new disruptive businesses.

• To shed more light on current local and global challenges, and how to
handle them. 

• More technological updates and a means to learn how to improve
business skills in such a fast-paced technological environment. 

• Equip me to manage jobs that don’t yet exist and to look more into the future.

• Develop emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence.

• More practical experience of running an SME, or starting an SME.

• Greater oversight of managing a business’ finances.

• The reality of the job market and how to understand that an MBA doesn’t put you at the top of the food chain.

Remaining ahead of the skills curve

Business changes continually, as do individual career paths, so in a volatile world MBAs must keep abreast of evolving trends and issues constantly, and make sure they are nurturing and enhancing the skills they need continuously, in order to succeed in their career trajectories. 

With that in mind and considering these postgraduate reflections, Business Schools have an opportunity to remedy knowledge gaps in their alumni by keeping contact with graduates and offering access to lifelong learning in a variety of ways. 

The survey therefore sought to find out graduates’ views on the subject of lifelong learning as well as the means and frequency with which they are currently accessing it from their alma mater, as well as other Business Schools and further providers in the market. 

To start off with, participants were asked if they had accessed any lifelong learning opportunities through the Business Schools from which they graduated. Lifelong learning opportunities were defined as courses, modules and other initiatives related to MBA study that graduates can complete or attend after completing their MBA and throughout their careers. Just over a third (34%) of participants had accessed lifelong learning post-MBA from their own institution. 

Participants were then asked to share some information, in open-ended questions, about the nature of the lifelong learning options they had accessed. Formats cited included executive education programmes, masterclasses and alumni weekends, while topics cited included ethics, presentation skills, mentoring and negotiation.

Satisfaction with lifelong learning to date

Considering the myriad of courses and lifelong learning initiatives in which MBA graduates had partaken, the survey moved on to examine their levels of satisfaction with the options accessed.  

Almost three quarters of alumni who had taken part in postgraduate lifelong learning opportunities from Business Schools said they were either ‘very satisfied’ (32%) or ‘fairly satisfied’ (41%) with what they had completed or attended. Less than 3% reported dissatisfaction with lifelong learning provisions undertaken. 

Areas of interest for continued learning

Graduates were subsequently asked which subjects they would be most interested in, if their Business Schools were to offer additional management programmes to its MBA alumni.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the rapid evolution of the technology sector, MBA graduates are most interested in tech-related refreshers. The most popular topic cited by respondents was data analytics for managers (47%) closely followed by digital strategy (45%). Other popular topics among survey participants, included strategy execution (42%) global leadership (41%) and global strategy (39%). 

Topics and modules that are most commonly core elements within traditional MBA programmes were of less interest to the survey sample as a whole, in terms of postgraduate lifelong learning or refresher courses. Less than a fifth were interested in completing additional management programmes with a focus on economics (19%) supply chain management (17%) strategic HR management (16%) business ethics (16%) statistics (15%) or accounting (12%). 

Survey participants that selected ‘other’ were prompted to share what they would like to learn more about in their pursuit of lifelong learning. Answers put forward mirrored some of the courses that other participants had already completed (as evidenced earlier in the report), with suggestions encompassing diversity, project management, philosophy, presentation skills, crisis management, financial modelling, conflict resolution, game theory, branding and design, as well as culture and intercultural business. 

Conclusions

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that business continuity and success depends on leaders who know what they want to achieve and understand how they can make a difference in the world.

In conditions that remain volatile and uncertain, businesses are crying out for a new breed of leader to future-proof economies and innovate through complexity. This new breed of leader needs people skills, as well as focus – and this presents Business Schools with the challenge of developing these game-changing traits and relevant skills both while studying on a degree programme at the School and – as this survey confirms – throughout their future careers and lives. This challenge provides an opportunity for traditional business educators – Business Schools – but also for the corporate world and other training providers, who represent growing competition to Schools’ provision of executive and custom education. With adaptive learning and AI also emerging, ‘business as usual’ is no longer sustainable. Traditional Business Schools cannot continue without embracing fundamental change.

Having said that, this piece of research demonstrates that graduates, for the most part, are satisfied with their MBA experience, hold a high opinion of what their School has offered them after their graduations, and have ambitions to continue to grow and hone their skills. 

The test which the Business School community will have to collectively pass is to take this thirst for ongoing development and compete – or collaborate – with the corporate world strategically, effectively and quickly.

This article has been adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).