GNcareers, from Gulf News

Business schools cannot play by the old rules

Business schools cannot play by the old rulesImage Credit: Supplied

Manchester Business School is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015. In this time, business and the world have changed immeasurably compared to 1965.

Most of our current MBA students — and many of our faculty — were not born in 1965. How can business schools keep pace with the rapidly developing demands of business for the skills needed for the 21st century?

Business is transforming at a rapid pace with whole industries undergoing change driven especially by the forces of digital technology — often in the hands of customers and consumers.

Banking and finance, retail, health care and education are all going through this seismic shift which is ripping up some traditional business models.

Companies and their employees are also working differently in response to these changes. Whether it's a long established multinational, SME or a start-up, everyone is looking to technology to create efficiencies, facilitate collaboration, and create new services for customers.

Even data is coming to the frontline of business where promise of new insights is creating excitement. The potential of new streams and lakes of data could create new ways of understanding customers, their needs and behaviours.

What does this mean for business schools? Well, we also have to adapt to this changing pattern of businesses and workplaces.

With change moving so quickly, fewer business people are able or willing to step away from the workplace for full-time programmes such as an MBA. More people want more accessibility through part-time and self-study, greater levels of tailorable content, shorter programmes to start getting the benefits faster, and more deeply personalized development elements as part of the programme.

Of course, business people investing in their own careers (and employers supporting their staff) also want the quality assurance of a recognised programme and qualification, and the richness of the face-to-face contact with faculty and peers.

MOOCs may be a glimpse of the near-future, but online self-study will only take you so far. Students learn from each other and of course faculty, as well as programme content.

Can the practical work experience of a fellow student or fellow project group member from the same or different field/market can be as valuable as anything in the classroom/online? The quality of student experience, not just the smartness, is an important factor in choosing a school.

Another noticeable trend in the MBA is for younger students taking part-time programmes that would normally be the target for experienced mid-career professionals. The new generation wants everything faster and earlier, to allow time to harvest the benefits through a career.

In a fast moving world, even an MBA is not an end, and the need for working professionals to stay up to date in their field is critical. So ongoing executive education is proving to be a vital component of talent management programmes for many companies as they seek to retain top talent and attract new blood.

Soft skills and personalisation are increasingly important to students. These illustrate the growing importance of the intangible qualities of leadership beyond the technical and functional.

The workplace as a space to grow ideas and influence others is important. The professional and personal skills are increasingly being packaged into executive MBA programmes which may include a degree of personal development and even personal executive mentoring for students.

It's good news — business schools teaching business people, not delivering just content.

How can business schools keep pace and adapt to changing demands?

Our own research (sometimes with or alongside industry partners) informs our teaching and so there is a direct benefit to students. Delivering programme content and learning also demands that we use collaboration tools and techniques, so that our students can work together as they would for an international project for an MNC for example.

Business is increasingly visible and connected to broader society and so is more reflective of society … and more accountable than ever.

Generation Z will make new demands on us all and to stay relevant, business schools must respond while maintaining the rigorous standards that underpin our academic reputation as professional educators.

Academic reputation is often linked to research. Business schools are under pressure to research but this is also an expensive undertaking.

In future, it is likely that more schools will be doing less research and focusing on teaching existing content. MBS is not one of these — our commitment is to sustain and develop our research programme.

We are doing original research in the GCC with the launch of our new programme on creativity and innovation — very appropriate in the UAE's 'Year of Innovation'.

The writer is Director of MBA Programmes at Manchester Business School with a research interest in the area of technological innovation and change. She is also a member of the EPSRC Advisory Board for the UK Digital Economy.

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Source: Prof. Elaine Fernley, Special to