From Adaptation to Innovation: How the Corona Pandemic Changed Business Education

Business Schools

Written by Andreas Rasche, Associate Dean of Copenhagen Business School and EFMD Executive Academy Alumni and Jordi Diaz, Dean of EADA Business School and Director of EFMD Executive Academy

How did the Corona pandemic affect business schools around the world? How do schools prepare for an uncertain Fall Term?

Seeking answers to these questions, EFMD surveyed 60 schools from 34 countries in September 2020 as a part of a new initiative Executive Academy Conversationslaunched with the purpose to discuss burning issues of business education in an informal setting.

All in all, the survey results show that business schools are increasingly prepared for the uncertainty that is likely to characterise the coming months. While most schools have adapted well to the new demands and requirements, a few schools have also managed to use the pandemic as a springboard for thinking about the future of education.

Strategy for the Fall Term 2020 (and the Fall Term 2021)

When asked about how they prepare for the Fall Term 2020, over three quarters of schools offer a blended learning approach – that is, schools aim for a mixture of online and face-to-face delivery. Only a minority of institutions plans to focus entirely on online teaching. Of course, we need to remember that the decision whether students can return to the classroom is often made by national regulators and hence it does not necessarily reflect school-specific preferences. Surprisingly, schools seem to see the COVID-19 pandemic as a long-term challenge. Almost 90% of responding schools believe that their full-time programs will still be offered in a blended format throughout the Fall Term 2021. This shows that most business schools see COVID-19 as a long-term challenge and not necessarily as a short-lived problem.

How do you plan to deliver full-time courses in Fall 2020 and Fall 2021

Digital infrastructure investments

The belief in the need for long-term changes also explains some of the more precise measures taken by business schools. Over half of responding schools have made additional investments (i.e. over 100,000 EUR) into their digital infrastructure during the last few months. Not surprisingly, most of these investments covered software (e.g., licenses) as well as hardware (e.g., increased streaming capacity). Some respondents also indicated that plans for “going digital” existed before the pandemic. The rapid speed and scope of COVID-19 had only accelerated these plans and increased schools’ willingness to make significant investments into their digital infrastructure. In other words: the pandemic has fast-tracked the need and speed of innovation in higher education.

Training for faculty and administrative staff

We also asked schools whether they complemented these monetary investments with special training in support of blended learning for faculty and administrative staff? While almost 90% of schools provide such training to faculty, only 60% offer it to administrative staff. Faculty training did not just include enhancing technical competences and making educators familiar with software packages; it also focused on improving pedagogical capabilities considering different teaching needs. Some schools organised internal peer-learning activities where faculty with more blended-learning experience, shared their knowledge with peers.

Redesign of curricula

Almost 70% of schools said that they redesigned their curricula to reflect changes initiated due to COVID-19. While many changes involved redesigning specific pedagogical elements (e.g., the nature of assessments), some schools also recognised the need for the course content and course delivery to interact with each other (e.g., by reducing content for classes delivered in blended mode). Some schools also mentioned the need to include a discussion of the implications of the pandemic into relevant courses. COVID-19 also seems to have boosted opportunities for virtual curriculum collaboration with partner schools. As the pandemic has significantly reduced student mobility, such “internationalisation from home” may be an important driver of future curriculum design.

So, what is the bottom line?

Business schools are often characterised as slow-changing environments with limited adaptive behaviour. Our results indicate that in an environment where most schools were forced into changing their behaviour, the pandemic has also acted as a springboard for thinking about broader and more strategic innovations that reach beyond simple adaptation.


Remarks on Survey Sample: The survey was carried out in September 2020. Overall, we received 60 responses from schools situated in 34 different countries. Most responses came from schools in Europe (37), followed by the Americas (16) and Asia (7). Almost half of all responding schools are public institutions, while the other half are privately-owned. Around 72% of responding schools offer undergraduate and graduate education. Only a minority focus exclusively on graduate (25%) or undergraduate (3%) education.