How business schools are changing

13 November 2012

The global economic crisis has forced many institutions to shift their focus. Three leading education heads provide an insight into the evolving landscape of executive training services

The financial crisis has changed the way executive education providers operate. Deans say they are altering courses to suit the needs of both students and businesses, and that the range of teaching is being expanded to include elements such as entrepreneurship, learning transfer between students, ethics and coping with running a company.

Schools are becoming more flexible in their course structure to accommodate their students’ day jobs, and are also evolving as businesses. They need to find new ways to make money, and are doing this by offering non-degree courses tailored to individual institutions and by monetising assets such as libraries, museums and venues. Flexibility all round is key, as these three deans agree.

Rory Hendrikz, director of Ashridge Business School, Middle East

The past five years have been a period of unprecedented change, from the global economic crisis and the far-reaching political shifts arising from the Arab Spring, to the collapse of some of the world’s biggest organisations and the increasing frequency of, and damage wrought by, environmental disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

While most of these forces have proven largely unpredictable, they have directly affected and challenged many organisational strategies. Some of these forces have led to less than desirable outcomes, while others have generated unanticipated opportunities. Within this dynamic and uncertain context, business needs have been rapidly evolving in relation to executive education requirements. Businesses are increasingly seeking creative solutions when developing their managerial and organisational capabilities.

One of the key drivers in the evolution of the executive education industry has been the need for a direct connection to organisational realities and objectives. Highly customised development interventions are seen as necessary and important in providing relevant learning for organisation managers and leaders. These tailored interventions are often developed in close partnership with senior leaders, in support of organisational goals and performance, rather than just developing individual managers.

The economic crisis has encouraged greater scrutiny of expenditure on executive education, where organisations are now seeking better value from their investments. This has prompted innovators in the world of executive education to design interventions that are not only highly relevant, but also ensure a greater degree of learning transfer and impact within the workplace.

Technological advancements have spawned innovations in the areas of blended and online learning, providing highly specific education services for managers on the go. This trend is extending with executives demanding access to educational opportunities that are highly personalised and available on demand through the use of mobile technologies.

While these technological advancements are facilitating new innovations in executive learning, the increasing 24/7 demand on management resources is having an impact. Stress-related illnesses are rising at an alarming rate, leading to lower levels of workplace attendance, productivity and finally, as a consequence, business profitability. This is seeding another trend, where peripheral fields of psycho-physiology, resilience, leading under pressure and workplace wellbeing are becoming mainstream concerns of executive education services.

Hundreds of thousands of managers regularly engage in some form of executive education, so the industry has a crucial role to play in raising leaders’ awareness that a new approach to leading businesses is necessary in light of global, societal and environmental changes. Executive education also needs to encourage the development of business leaders who are responsive to change, in a way that benefits their business and wider society.

Michael Luger, dean of Manchester Business School

I have witnessed several economic crises in my working career, and that helps put today’s malaise in perspective. When governments have responded to economic crisis by cutting public spending, they have axed higher education budgets more than other categories of spending. This pattern has several implications for business schools internationally.

We have already seen an impressive rise in the fortunes of business schools such as Hong Kong UST, Indian Business School, Nanyang Business School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, all based in economies that were perhaps less affected by the global financial crisis.

Universities must change the way they work. They must take bold action on their own, moving away from the vagaries of public largesse. 

Firstly, they should seek ways to reduce reliance on government funding. Secondly, they should aim to increase the share of revenue coming from sources other than fees, including non-degree teaching (executive education) and consultancy.

Thirdly, they should replace waning government research funding with corporate research partnerships. Fourthly, they should consider alternative, creative sources of revenues, including validation activity, selling testing services and commercialising such activities as libraries, museums, catering, car parking and events.

And finally, they should act more like a business in managing costs. 

Our experience is that MBA applications are holding up very well across our international network. In particular, we have seen an increase in the number of world-leading businesses investing in their people through our part-time Global MBA.

As their executives learn from the best original thinkers, this knowledge is directly applied to address the business challenges they face in their working lives.

The impact of the global economic crisis on management education services has been particularly apparent. More specifically, the situation has highlighted the increasing importance and emphasis by students and faculty on leadership – especially ethical leadership, good corporate governance and corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, there is less emphasis on (and more suspicion about) financial innovation.   

From a broader perspective, entrepreneurship and innovation will play an increasingly important role in developing business education services in the future.

It is our aim to inspire entrepreneurs and emerging business leaders to combine their talent with rigorous business understanding, so they are able to turn their visions into commercially successful ventures.

Hashem Dezhbakhsh, interim dean of the school of business

The executive education sector has witnessed important changes in recent years. These shifts are in part a response to global developments affecting the business world. The economic downturn has forced many companies to be more judicious in granting flexibility to executives for educational pursuits.

Reacting to the new realities, business schools have tried to calibrate their executive MBA programmes to better address the immediate needs of business institutions by enhancing value.

There is now a closer collaboration between the business community and business schools in curriculum development and the design of speciality offerings tailored to industry requirements. An important testimony to the success of the resulting educational practice is the number of business opportunities that in-class collaboration fosters. We have witnessed at our own school several initiatives that started as a class project.

In addition to curriculum revision, more schools have initiated customised leadership and executive development programmes for client companies.

At leading UAE enterprises such as DP World and Etisalat, companies are beginning to integrate these programmes with rotational assignments, mentoring and other career development efforts.

Another way that business community influences business schools is through advisory councils. An increasing number of business schools have launched advisory boards of interested business leaders who can help develop growth strategies, conduct fundraising and sponsored activities, and fine-tune curricula.

We recently formed our own business advisory council, which has proven a valuable asset for promoting the interests of our school. Engagement with the council has further enhanced our faculty’s appreciation of the challenges faced by the business community in the Gulf region.

Moreover, the accelerating pace of globalisation and its pressure on businesses has necessitated curricular and extra-curricular changes in executive MBA education.

Schools are adapting by introducing programmes that focus on globalisation trends and issues. Some even require an international travel component to enhance the global learning experience.

EMBA students at the American University of Sharjah have recently travelled to China, Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York to learn about different business practices, for example.

Finally, the excessive and unethical behaviour nurtured by inadequate transparency that contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008 has prompted many business schools to give ethics, transparency and integrity more attention in their training portfolios.

In addition to implementing such curricular adjustments, our school has forged a partnership with the Pearl Initiative, an ambitious enterprise that aims to promote integrity and transparent policies for corporate governance in the Middle East.

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