Transforming business education: Highlights from the 2024 EFMD Deans and Directors General Conference

EFMD Deans and Directors General Conference Eric Cornuel

On 6-7 February, more than 400 esteemed business school leaders from over 50 countries around the world gathered in Amsterdam for the EFMD Deans and Directors General Conference hosted by the University of Amsterdam, Economics and Business (UvA).

In light of the significant shifts in business education trends and societal demands, it was ever-important that deans and directors could come together to engage in two days of enriching discourse revolving around the theme, “Keeping up with transformation – Thriving in an evolving landscape.”

Leaders were able to share key insights through captivating keynotes and interactive breakout sessions to help optimise schools’ objectives and reflect upon the future of education, technology, research, and industry partnerships.

Throughout the event, participants delved into critical themes such as fostering innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems, managing technological innovation, transforming business school models, and addressing societal challenges.

Breakout sessions covered diverse topics, including analytics, industry collaboration, student wellbeing, research impact, entrepreneurship, and societal impact. Other discussions involved the transformation of education through AI, women’s leadership in business schools, migration challenges, the future of physical/virtual space in education, partnerships for sustainability, and insights into cultural differences and cross-cultural communication.

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Roel Beetsma, Dean, Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Welcoming newcomers

The pre-conference newcomer session kicked off the conference with insights from seasoned professionals in the academic community. Roel Beetsma, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), shared personal reflections on facing unexpected challenges in his role, emphasising the need for adaptability. Griet Houbrechts, Director of Professional Development at EFMD, highlighted the importance of networking and building relationships during the conference.

Andrew Gaudes, Former Dean of Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, underscored the value of the event’s intimate and supportive environment, encouraging active participation and engagement. Together, they offered valuable guidance to newcomers, highlighting the significance of connecting with peers and engaging in meaningful discussions throughout the conference.

Helke Carvalho Hernandes, Vice-President, EFMD Global, Frank Bournois, Dean, CEIBS Shanghai, and Eric Cornuel, President, EFMD Global

Spotlight on EFMD quality services

The EFMD Quality Services pre-conference session provided a comprehensive update on accreditation status and developments. Alfons Sauquet, Director of Quality Services & EQUIS, outlined the latest updates, including the expansion of EQUIS with 39 new schools in the pipeline and revisions to standards focusing on academic and practice-oriented research.

Barbara Sporn, Director of EFMD Programme Accreditation, introduced her team and highlighted internationalisation and impact assessment in accreditation processes. Piet Naudé, Director of EDAF, shared updates and success stories, while Keith Pond, Director of EOCCS, discussed online course offerings and initiatives.

François Bonvalet, Director of BSIS, highlighted achievements and upcoming plans, including the integration of Sustainable Development Goals into assessment criteria and expansion into new regions. The session concluded with an engaging Q&A session addressing various queries, from implementing the SDGs to addressing societal impact.

UvA Rector Peter-Paul Verbeek and Eric Cornuel, President, EFMD Global

Navigating transformation in business schools

In his welcome address, EFMD President Eric Cornuel reflected on the year’s theme, “Keeping up with transformation – Thriving in an evolving landscape,” drawing parallels to philosophical reflections on personal transformation. He stressed the pivotal role of education in navigating societal shifts, particularly in response to technological advancements and environmental concerns.

He also noted the evolution of business schools in embracing online learning, technology integration, and inclusive practices and concluded by encouraging open dialogue and sharing of insights throughout the conference, fostering an atmosphere of mutual learning and growth.

Joining Cornuel on stage during this part of the event, UvA Rector Peter-Paul Verbeek highlighted the intersection of society and academia, particularly focusing on digitalisation, internationalisation, and sustainability challenges. He highlighted the role of AI in shaping society and the importance of open discussions on global conflicts.

Roel Beetsma, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business at UvA, underscored the university’s commitment to internationalisation, noting its recent BSIS label. Beetsma outlined Amsterdam’s strengths in analytics, sustainability, and evidence-based policy evaluation, positioning it as an ideal hub for intellectual exchange.

Setting the scene, Chairperson Yolande Chan, Dean and Professor, McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management, discussed the conference theme, equity, AI, ethics, sustainability, and internationalisation.

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Mirjam van Praag, Corinne Vigreux, Constantijn van Oranje, Nicolas Mottis

Integrating tech education for future success

The first plenary session, “How to build Ecosystems for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” was moderated by Marc Salomon, Vice Dean UvA EB. and Dean Amsterdam Business School, UvA. Discussions focused on the vital interplay between technical infrastructure and cultural support systems necessary to foster innovation and entrepreneurial ventures.

Speakers, including Nicolas Mottis, Full Professor, Management of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department, Ecole PolytechniqueConstantijn van Oranje, special envoy TechleapMirjam van Praag, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership and former President at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Corinne Vigreux, co-founder and CMO at TomTom and Founder at Codam College, stressed the need for Europe to invest more in education and technology, reduce dependency on global supply chains, and prioritise sectors like AI, health tech, and climate tech to become global competitors.

When asked about the future of the tech industry in Europe, van Oranje said:

“If we don’t invest more, connect more, and invent more, we will be a consumer, not a producer. We need more education and investment in addition to the regulation — and we are good in regulation — that we already have. We are not educating enough for tech. We have tech in Europe but not enough capital to scale all of that, so we have to become a global competitor.”

The importance of integrating tech education into business school curricula, adapting to changing talent requirements and promoting entrepreneurial mindsets within academia was highlighted. The session concluded with a Q&A addressing topics ranging from EU regulation to the role of business schools in nurturing entrepreneurship.

Andrew Karolyi, Carl Rhodes, Maud Pols, Yolande Chan

The impact of AI on business education

During the second plenary, the panel on “Managing Technological Innovation and Transformation” discussed the educational implications of technological advancements for business schools, focusing on AI and Generative AI. Moderated by Chairperson Yolande Chan, the panel explored the need for a holistic approach to education, the challenges of regulating AI, and the responsibility of upskilling faculty.

Andrew Karolyi, Dean and Professor, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University, emphasised broadening data accessibility and the benefits of AI integration. In addressing the question of who owns the responsibility of upskilling faculty in AI and how to responsibly use it, Karolyi said:

“There are three kinds of faculty using AI: Those who won’t touch it, those who use it for idea generation, research or data management purposes only and those who are fully committed to using it at all stages of the research process.”

Maud Pols, a learning specialist from Microsoft Europe, also highlighted AI’s role in deep learning and teaching. In a discussion about the importance of integrating AI critically into education while preparing students for future skills acquisition, Pols said pointedly, “AI is not taking our jobs — it’s the people who use it who will take our jobs.”

Carl Rhodes, Dean of UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney, addressed concerns such as improper AI use and social biases in algorithms, saying:

“Business Schools need to look at social and global challenges regarding AI and the concerns about its use in policing, racial profiling, spying or breaching the privacy of marginal populations.”

Saravanan Kesavan, Mariëlle Heijltjes, Antonio Batista, Yolande Chan.

Geopolitical challenges and global trends

Day two commenced with Plenary III, “Transformation of Business Schools’ Business Models,” featuring a diverse panel of deans, including Antonio Batista, Dean of Fundação Dom Cabral; Saravanan Kesavan, Dean of BITS School of Management (BITSoM); and Mariëlle Heijltjes, Dean of School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University, moderated by Chairperson Yolande Chan.

The session explored how business schools have evolved their models and continued to thrive despite differences. Batista highlighted Fundação Dom Cabral’s shift towards executive programs and stressed the importance of endowments. He also discussed the impact of geopolitical conflicts on Brazilian business education. Heijltjes noted a trend towards privatisation and addressed the challenges of navigating geopolitical issues.

Kesavan contrasted the business models of the US and India, emphasising the role of internationalisation:

“In the US, the full-time MBA programme is ebbing as more people are going to part-time because the fees and tuition are too high for the salaries. There’s also an increase in alternative MBA programmes, like online programmes, for example. In the US, we were able to charge the same fee for the online MBA programme, but in India, there is no decreasing demand for a full-time MBA programme at all.”

The panel also discussed strategies for showcasing school uniqueness and prioritising impact within their business models, highlighting the importance of stakeholder engagement and ongoing dialogue.

Heijltje stressed the importance of multidimensionality and structural embeddedness of impact, saying:

“There are many different types of impact. The students, faculty, and staff engage with external stakeholders to create value, which we include in our performance appraisal. It’s explicitly discussed in monthly and annual appraisals.”

Breakout Session: Entrepreneurship and societal impact of business schools: Tine Van Lommel, Morten Irgens, Erik Stam

An afternoon of lively discourse

Several focused breakout sessions punctuated the afternoon and included diverse topics highlighting the pivotal role of business schools in addressing global challenges. “Analytics for a Better World” emphasised the transformative potential of data analytics in advancing initiatives such as SDGs, with projects showcased on ocean plastic cleanup and disaster response.

“Industry Collaboration” examined successful strategies for integrating industry partnerships into academic programmes, emphasising hands-on experiences and practical skill development. “Student Wellbeing” explored support services offered by universities, focusing on challenges and best practices. “Research, Teaching, and Rankings vs. Impact” deliberated on balancing academic pursuits for prestige with societal impact, advocating for a shift towards meaningful engagement.

“Entrepreneurship and Societal Impact” highlighted the role of business schools in fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems and societal value creation. These discussions underscored the imperative for business education to evolve towards addressing real-world issues while nurturing innovation and social responsibility.

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Chairperson Yolande Chan, Dean and Professor, McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management

Exploring strategic dilemmas

In Plenary IV on Cultural Differences and Cross-Cultural Communication, Fons Trompenaars, an internationally renowned Dutch author and consultant in cross-cultural communication, shared insights into his model of national culture differences in a captivating and ludic session. Moderated by Wendy Loretto, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Dean at the University of Edinburgh Business School, the session delved into navigating strategic dilemmas, stressing the need for concrete and measurable actions.

Trompenaars highlighted the significance of creativity in unifying diverse ideas and discussed his model of culture, touching upon human relationships, time, and nature and exploring concepts like universalism versus particularism and globalism versus localism. Additionally, he addressed team roles according to Belbin’s framework and categorised organisational cultures into four types: Incubator, Guided Missile, Family, and Eiffel Tower.

During the closing remarks, Chairperson Yolanda Chan sparked a thought-provoking discussion by questioning whether deans would eventually be replaced by robots. She provided a comprehensive analysis, listing seven compelling reasons derived from ChatGPT’s response. This query opened avenues for contemplation on the evolving role of technology in academia.

Belle Epoque Wintergarden, Anantara Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, Amsterdam

Concluding remarks

We extend our deepest gratitude to all who attended, including the speakers and steering committee members, for their contributions to making this event our most successful yet. We also express a special thank you to our strategic partner, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), and our gracious host, the University of Amsterdam, Economics and Business, whose support was instrumental.

We are immensely grateful for the exceptionally diverse and engaged EFMD business school leadership community, who once again came together to debate, envision, and chart a roadmap for impactful business education.

We are delighted to announce the next Deans & Directors General Conference will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, on 13-14 February 2025. We strive to keep the spirit high and eagerly anticipate welcoming you all next year, so please keep an eye on our events page for registration information and further updates.

A throwback of the live reactions from the 2024 Deans and Directors General Conference is available on our X feed.

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2024 Deans and Directors General Conference

2024 Deans and Directors General Conference, Amsterdam, NL