What are business schools doing to meet the challenges of 2023 and beyond?

challenges of 2023

Another year has gone by, and as we turn the page on 2022 and shift our focus to the year ahead, Jonny Stone and Stephanie Mullins from specialist business education PR consultancy BlueSky Education take a look at the one question that sits at the forefront of everyone’s minds: what will 2023 have in store?

Massive economic uncertainty? An ever-changing jobs market spurred by rapid digital transformation? An impending ecological crisis of biblical proportions? These are just a few of the challenges that set the scene for 2023. So, the obvious follow-up question is: what do business schools have to say about it, and what are they doing to meet the challenges of tomorrow? Here are a few examples from some of Europe’s leading institutions:

Imperial College Business School is an institution renowned for (among other things) its tech-prowess and has launched a first-of-its-kind undergraduate degree: the BSc Economics, Finance and Data Science. Designed in consultation with leading industry and public policy experts, “our new degree offers an in-depth study of economics and finance in combination with data science,” says Pedro Rosa Dias, an Associate Professor at Imperial College Business School, and the Programme Director of the new BSc.

According to Rosa Dias, the biggest challenge facing business in 2023 bottles down to one core notion: uncertainty.

“Uncertainty around inflation and its consequences; around the impact of climate change and efforts for its mitigation, around supply chain disruption fuelled by armed conflict and the energy crisis. Challenges that in turn require strong market awareness and effective forecasting, as well as versatility and effective risk management in a fast-changing environment,” he says. “The skillsets of business graduates continue to be highly relevant and valued by employers. Yet the rise of big data and increasing use of AI has seen a growth of possibilities emerge from its analysis, driving a growth in demand for coding capabilities by employers.”

Aware of the increasing need for coding capabilities among the workforce, as well as other high-value, complementary competencies, as Rosa Dias explains, Imperial’s BSc Economics, Finance and Data Science will plug that skills gap: “Coding skills are embedded into the learning of economics and finance from the outset, giving graduates the skills to analyse and interpret the data needed to formulate solutions to business and public policy challenges. Our graduates also develop effective communication, teamwork in a diverse environment, design thinking, emotional intelligence, identified by employers as essential skills.”

Set to lead this new, high-impact educational programme, Rosa Dias is clear in what he sees as the must-have graduate skills: “Analytical skills and reasoning applied with reference to insights from relevant disciplines; the ability to analyse and interpret data with the view to making effective decisions with societal impact; leadership skills alongside communication and empathy, to translate insight into impact in an organisational setting.”

But Imperial isn’t alone in expanding its educational offering to prepare students for a world that demands novel skillsets.

ESSEC Business School has partnered with Columbia University and CentraleSupélec via a new Dual Degree Programme. Aware of the need for digital skills to bolster other competencies and courtesy of its new transatlantic partnership with Columbia and CentraleSupélec, ESSEC will offer students the opportunity to acquire two degrees: the Master in Data Sciences & Business Analytics at ESSEC I CentraleSupélec and the Master of Science in Business Analytics at Columbia.

Vincenzo Esposito Vinzi, photographié par Magali Delporte©

“The blend of data science and business courses, engineering and management, in France and the United States, will equip them with the best knowledge, know-how and soft skills to allow for a truly transformative experience. At a time of rapid technological change and within a tight recruitment market, this partnership is both purposeful and relevant,” says Vincenzo Vinzi, Dean & President of ESSEC.

“It is also fully aligned with ESSEC’s strategy of developing multidisciplinary programs, a necessity in order to prepare responsible and influential leaders ready to solve the complex challenges facing the world today with a holistic approach,” he adds.

Completed over two years, the Dual Degree programme will equip graduates to succeed in any number of roles, from data engineering to consulting services.

For Roland Siegers, Director of External Engagement at ESMT Berlin, 2023 will demand out-of-the-box thinking in regard to problem-solving from graduates, as well as a broader understanding of business that includes politics, legal, and economic frameworks.

And, according to Siegers, it’ll require those looking to succeed in the new world to embrace new technologies “but also a much more networked approach to finding solutions – building an ecosystem of suppliers, partners, friendly competitors around your company.”

“The State of the World”, the latest addition to ESMT’s new Master in Global Management programme, has been devised to encourage students to take a broader perspective on business issues. And, for Sieger and his colleagues at ESMT, it’s not just about the content on offer at the Berlin-based institution, the very make-up of the cohorts matters too:

“We are carefully crafting our program cohorts for maximum diversity in gender, intellectual background, nationality,” he says. And, through a mix of “solid scientific knowledge acquisition with experiential learning opportunities,” those at ESMT are hoping to cultivate “openness and adaptability” among students. According to Siegers, success in tomorrow’s world hinges on this kind of thinking.

When asked to identify some of the capabilities that graduates should have in 2023, Siegers is quick to note the importance of “the classics”. And, for him, such skills include “critical thinking, analytical rigour, leadership and communication skills.” But he’s also keen to highlight a number of additional capabilities, from networking skills to having a broader understanding of the systems impacting business. Notably, for Siegers, 2023 will also require graduates to demonstrate an awareness of the world around – and the challenges that communities beyond business face: “…the right moral compass that will make them use their future influence to tackle the real challenge of the 21st century, which is the climate crisis.”

Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School

Siegers finds company in Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School, also quick to draw attention to the importance of social impact.

According to Burke: “Substance will be key in 2023. In recent times, there’s been a lot of talk about ethical business in a broad sense – eco-sustainability, humane business and fairness & equal opportunity, to name just a few topics. Next year, we’re going to see those that have genuinely incorporated the values of ‘ethical business’ into the fabric of their business pull ahead in front of the rest and make significant gains in achieving those commitments.

“It’s substance beyond rhetoric: in the next year you’ll see a correlation between those that pull ahead in their commitments to ethical business and the success they garner,” he says.

And, for Burke, this intense focus on substance among the business community will have a bearing on the skillsets that employers look for in graduates: “Firstly, it’s about having a moral compass. Irrespective of the organisation or industry, if we’re to deliver on this agenda, it’ll require personal buy-in from each individual. And that buy-in will lead to authenticity. Beyond having a genuine desire to be a force for good, it’s about knowing how. Professionals need to have the understanding to translate that effort into impact. And, importantly, being able to lead a workforce that, at a minimum, is operating under a hybrid model is key. Businesses have been working in this fashion for some time, but the expectation now is that leaders should be able guide those working with them remotely,” he says.

So, what is Trinity Business School doing to prepare students for this landscape?

“Via Trinity Business School’s strategy, Transforming Business for Good, we’re producing graduates that do all these things: they lead with a moral compass; they have the know-how to enact those changes; and, crucially, they can do so in a digitally-intensive world. We’re creating professionals that can deliver ‘business for good’ across the three dimensions – business performance, financial wellbeing and, of course, ethical value/eco-sustainability. Our programmes already address a lot of those core issues, but we continue to re-design and improve our educational offering to better prepare our students for the business environment,” Burke adds, one thing is clear to see: “Organisations are becoming more purposeful.”

And, for Burke, there’s also clarity around what graduates must bring to the table to succeed in 2023: “Having graduates with a sense of purpose is key. Over and above this, though, graduates must be prepared for the new frontier of competition. Like I’ve said, in the pursuit of financial security and business performance, firms must ensure that their products, services and operations reflect a genuine commitment to transforming business for good.”

Burke’s acknowledgement of the need for professionals that look beyond prosperity is echoed by Professor Steven McGuire, Dean of the University of Sussex Business School: “Businesses are under pressure from stakeholders and customers to respond to concerns on social and environmental impacts, and are increasingly participating in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Environmental, social and governance issues are now a major factor in investment.”

Sussex dean

Steven McGuire, Dean of University of Sussex Business School

“Simply hoping for a sustainable future isn’t going to get us there,” McGuire adds. Clear in his words, McGuire highlights the importance of “innovative minds, expanding skillsets and new tools”, but he’s quick to point out the role of collaboration in overcoming challenges in businesses: “Collaboration has never been more important and they will need employers who are driven by a sense of purpose and can deliver innovative solutions to business problems,” he says.

And, just as McGuire demonstrates an acute awareness of the challenges business, as well as society, will face in 2023, and the need to meet those challenges head-on, this is reflected in the University of Sussex Business School’s teaching: “We believe it’s crucial for our graduates to understand the importance of how to respond to change, how to be resilient and ultimately how to contribute to a better society. Our programmes teach these skills going far beyond the functional elements of business. But students will also need practical skills. They need to focus on having the essential tools and training at their disposal. They need have a critical mindset to be able to evaluate, analyse, and present data effectively,” McGuire says.

Among the many tools at Sussex’s disposal, research, McGuire notes, will play a big part: “The University of Sussex Business School is renowned for its distinctive research, which spans the various sub-domains of management education but also a deep interest in how the policy environment shapes firm strategies and innovative capacities.”

“By demonstrating the valuable impact we are making through our collaborative research and scientific expertise, our students learn to truly appreciate the influence their school can have beyond the teaching,” he says.

Like Sussex, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management also leverages world-class research. And, according to Christian Kronberger, such content must play a role in shaping business schools’ responses to future challenges: “Europe faces several pressing transformational challenges affecting all industries. These challenges include technological innovation, climate change and resilient supply chains among others.”

“Business Schools need to tackle these topics in research and teaching in order to prepare students and corporates for this far-reaching process of transformation.”

GMAC scholarship

Nalisha Patel, Regional Director for GMAC Europe

According to Nalisha Patel, Regional Director for Europe at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), in honing the skills needed for success in a rapidly changing environment, it’ll require consistent and continued learning: “Skills of dealing with ambiguity and complexity are not a one day or one-week affair – they require environments of safety and culture of development,” she says.

And, in Patel’s eyes, this is where business schools can, and do, play an integral role: “Business schools already offer that rich multi-mode development environment – learning in the classroom and out of it too.  It is important that business schools can keep up with the topics that are developing and case studies that are emerging – the speed of which has never been faster.”

“The new norms aren’t as solid and stable as the past, which is unsettling for many,” Patel adds. “I believe complexity is here to stay, and even increase as more things become interlinked, connected and influential on each other.” So, what capabilities will graduates need to succeed in the coming year? Patel encapsulates it in three words: “Agility with longtermism.”

“The best thing we can do is have the graduates of business schools equipped with the drive to want to continually learn, expand their views, and understand the weight of their responsibilities to the wider planet,” she says.

Delphine Manceau, Dean of NEOMA Business School

For Delphine Manceau, Dean of NEOMA Business School, graduates need to be “change makers” in 2023. “At NEOMA, we would like our graduates to shape the future of business and society in a more environmentally compatible and inclusive way. We thus would like them to be change-makers in the companies they will join. This means they need to have the technical skills to address these issues, but also the communication skills to be heard and have an impact,” she says.

According to Manceau, alongside issues like well-being at work, climate change will sit at the heart of the challenges faces in the coming year. “Today, a company’s value is no longer solely correlated to purely financial data, but also to its environmental performance and action plans. These challenges cover a wide range of issues, from technical and regulatory questions to more human and geopolitical perspectives, including change management. At NEOMA Business School, we believe that we need to provide content and methods to help our students go beyond intentions and to be able to change things and make a difference,” Manceau says.

“We are launching, in September 2023, a dedicated programme – our MSc Sustainability Transformations – with the distinctive feature that students will be involved in real-world case studies.”

Like Imperial’s BSc and ESSEC’s dual degree programme, the news of NEOMA’s MSc Sustainability Transformations comes at a time in when the contribution of education providers has never been clearer to see. For Dr Riitta Lumme-Tuomala, Head of Communication and Alumni Relations and Faculty Member at Aalto University Executive Education, the responsibility of organisations like Aalto EE is equally apparent:

“As an Executive Education unit of a university, we need to equip our participants with strong leadership skills, particularly social skills, which are in high demand in the current business environment,” she says. “Research shows that the emphasis has moved from technical skills (finance, general management etc.) towards social and influencing skills in particularly C-suite roles,” she adds. “This is why Aalto EE has put a lot of emphasis in e.g. E/MBA programs to Self -Development Process that starts immediately in the beginning of the programme and lasts the whole period of the studies.”

And, according to Lumme-Tuomala, “digital skills, complex problem-solving skills and learning agility” are must-haves in 2023, as well as “creativity, flexibility, and stress tolerance.”

“With the not only VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), but even BANI (brittle, anxious, non-linear, incomprehensible) environment, organizations need to pay a lot of attention to their resilience, empathy, adaptability, intuition, and transparency. Organizations need to redefine what ‘great’ looks like now, how it has changed recently, and what the new talent landscape looks like,” she adds. “Also, business critical roles should be looked at with a forward-looking mindset.

“As David Collings and Eva Gallardo-Gallardo state (2022), in a world of flux, the importance of talent is amplified. Talent Management is a crucial success factor for organizations, and they should thoroughly understand the emerging skills requirements, be able to predict talent needs, and perform timely gap analysis to be able to reskill to address talent gaps.”

See more articles from BlueSky Education.