A few years ago, CarringtonCrisp did some work for ALBA Graduate Business School in Athens and at the time they gave me a luggage tag, which has been on my rucksack ever since, with the words ‘Business unusual’.  At the time, this was a bold claim, but today nothing could be more true.

In mid-November last year I wrote a blog about the future of business education, identifying five key forces that were bringing change to the sector. Not surprisingly, I didn’t include a global pandemic. There is no doubt that the pandemic will bring change, but knowing what that change might be is difficult to say, but that does not mean it’s not a good time to start thinking about it, to perhaps start looking for unusual solutions.

At the same time as I wrote the blog, CarringtonCrisp launched ‘See the Future’ with EFMD and GMAC, a survey of students, faculty, professional staff and employers to ask them about their views on the future of business education. An interim report was published in February and a detailed follow-up should be ready in June, but over the next few weeks, my colleagues and I are going to write a series of short blogs on some of the findings.

The interim report highlighted a number of key findings:

  • An anticipated demand from learners as they develop careers to help them upskill and reskill to grow employability, with many expecting to still be working in their 70s;
  • An expectation among current students that they will start a business, work for themselves or change career completely at least once in their lifetime;
  • A desire among faculty and professional staff for their business school to focus on challenging world views and focusing on social responsibility with rankings put on the back burner;
  • An expectation among faculty and professional staff that business schools will need a new curriculum that includes arts and sciences with content focused on data analytics and data-driven decision making, decision making in uncertain and complex times, sustainability, digital transformation and ethics;
  • A recognition among faculty and professional staff that a blended model of learning combining face-to-face and online learning would be an ideal skills development path; and
  • Employers expecting future graduates to be open to work in a multi-national and multi-cultural workforce have a strong entrepreneurial outlook and a focus on social responsibility.

Many of these findings may have already been emerging prior to the pandemic and will continue, perhaps in an accelerated way, beyond the lockdown.

How the world looks after the pandemic depends on where you look.  Mark Ritson, the brand consultant and former Professor of Marketing, in his most recent Marketing Week column suggested that “… most things will go back to how they were.” Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern, says in his No Mercy/No Malice column that while “…things will never be more the same, just accelerated”, there will also be, “… a culling among universities.”

I hope our See the Future blogs in the coming weeks will help grow the debate about the future of business education and I hope that many of you will join this debate. Whatever your view, I suspect the answer may be to do what another school told me when interviewing them for a different report earlier this year – ‘Be brave’.  Marginal improvement, doing business as usual but slightly better, may not be enough to build a sustainable future for a business school.

It’s time for business schools to think about business unusual and seize the future.