RSM Dean, Ansgar Richter, on how Covid-19 has accelerated the School’s plans to make technology more prominent in its thinking and why Business Schools must avoid turning inwards
How will Covid-19 affect Business Schools’ outlook, strategy and offerings, both now and in the future? Business Impact’s fifth edition in print turned to the BGA network to canvas the collected thoughts of Business Schools based in India, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Poland, and the Netherlands to find out.
In this second part of our serialisation online, Ansgar Richter – Dean of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) – discusses how the School’s online strategy has evolved, how the crisis has given increased importance its sense of citizenship, and the dangers of ‘turning inwards’.
The Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, led to a greatly increased uptake of online learning technology in business education. Although this has been a short-term necessity, does it present the sector with any opportunities in the longer term?
Most certainly. We have learned a lot over the past months. The turnaround has been quick and effective, and teachers overall are positive. In a post-Covid-19 area, RSM will indeed move to a blended learning approach, and also fully online programmes – but only in those areas where we have unique strengths over what others offer.
Going beyond the pandemic’s immediate impact, have the year’s developments influenced your School’s strategy with regards to the use of online technology?
In the sense that the evolution has been quicker than expected, yes – but the developments were taking place already. For example, we had already established a learning innovation team a number of years ago, and Erasmus University – of which RSM is an integral part – set up an education lab (which includes a television-grade studio). These investments are now paying off, and we plan to accelerate them going forwards. Technology will feature much more strongly in our strategy.
The global financial crisis of 2008 has been linked to an increase in applications to Business School, as people decided the time was right to reassess their career goals and pursue personal and professional development. Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic could have a similar impact?
We definitely saw an increase in applications for our pre-experience programmes for the current academic year, in particular for our MSc programmes. For the post-experience programmes, it is too soon to tell – they will only start next January, but we have no indications of declining demand so far; on the contrary!
I think there are a number of things at play here – students’ desire to reassess their career goals being one of them.
What changes do you anticipate to the number and profile of those applying to programmes at your Business School over the coming three years? Do you envisage greater interest in any individual programme(s) on offer?
One of our flagship programmes is the MSc in global business and sustainability. This programme has already been hugely successful, and we are now seeing demand for this programme growing further. Our MSc in business analytics is also set for further growth.
What will be the core challenges for the business education sector in recruiting new students (at both undergraduate and postgraduate level) over the coming three years?
There is no doubt that international student recruitment has become much more competitive in recent years, at least until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. One challenge that all of us in the sector are facing is how to navigate the rapidly changing political landscape – factors such as visa and right-to-work policies come into play here, but also the rise of authoritarian or nationalistic governments in several countries that show no respect for the values that academic institutions around the world stand for: open exchange, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, equality, and the dignity of every human being regardless of factors such as colour, gender, creed or sexual orientation. I believe students will choose their place of study on the basis of these factors, too.
Another challenge that a lot of Business Schools will have to grapple with relates to pricing. In many universities in the UK, the US and Australia, Business Schools are often the cash cows of the universities, whose income is used to cross-subsidise other programmes. Effectively, these institutions have made the study of business administration too expensive, raising concerns about whether Business Schools contribute to inequality. I believe there needs to be a recalibration.
Business Schools are often encouraged to play a greater role in their local and regional communities. Has Covid-19 inspired any new events, activities or initiatives with this in mind?
We offer free webinars on a regular basis which are very well attended. During the crisis, we have also undergone a Business School Impact System (BSIS) assessment exercise, which has demonstrated the impact that RSM has had and continues to have in our region, the Rotterdam and greater Randstad area. This initiative was in the making before the pandemic, but the crisis has raised the importance of our citizenship in this area.
Leaving aside Covid-19, which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?
In the undergraduate programmes, we are rolling out an initiative called ‘Boost the Bachelor’, which will vastly increase flexibility, provide students with greater choice, and transform the student experience. We are also developing new interdisciplinary programmes with other schools within Erasmus University – for example with our medical school (Erasmus Medical Centre) – and with other institutions, such as the Technical University of Delft.
Do you think Business Schools will need to focus more inwardly (and therefore less ‘globally’) than they have been in their teaching in order to address industry needs post-Covid-19? If so, could this have an impact on your School’s international exchange and partnership options?
‘Turning inwards’ is a danger that we absolutely need to avoid. Some partner institutions are unable to accept international exchange students at this particular time, so the value of having a large network of partner schools to choose from becomes even more apparent. What has become more problematic are highly rigid programme structures, where you rely on one particular partner, or where a residency can only take place within a narrowly defined time window. So, you need greater flexibility, but not to turn away from the idea of international exchange.
Do you anticipate Covid-19, and related issues, influencing course offerings within the programmes on offer from your School?
Yes, we will have a more blended approach. Whether content will change remains to be seen – we have adopted our teaching in line with our mission to be a force for positive change in the world and this is a broad response to current global issues in any case.
There is already an argument that the economic challenges that Covid-19 will bring represent a huge and much-needed opportunity for Business Schools to reinvent their value proposition for the better. What would you most like to see change in the business education industry?
A large proportion of the jobs that will be done in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. Similarly, the meaning of ‘management’ will be totally different in the future, from what it is today. Tomorrow’s managers will need to be incredibly comfortable with constant change. We will need to prepare them for that. The Covid-19 crisis is providing much-needed focus on what’s really important in business education. We educate our students not only for the purpose of making lots of money, but also to enable them to be a force for positive change in society at large.
Ansgar Richter is Dean of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Before joining RSM, he served as Dean of Surrey Business School in the UK.