EFMD Marcomms Conference 2024: Transforming Business Schools: Technology, Trends and Responsibility

AI, EFMD Marcom Conference

As Business School Marcomms,  Alumni and External Relations professionals, we are all using or trying to use technology and generative AI, some probably more consciously than others. In doing so, we realise that just as Generative AI helps us to create content, understand data-driven trends, analyse social media trends and lifestyle patterns, and even decrease administrative pressure, it can also be challenging and daunting, especially in an inter-generational context within our competitive business school environments.

In planning the agenda for the 2024 EFMD Marcom, External and Alumni Relations Conference hence, some of the questions we as a steering committee asked ourselves were actually very much around this, and more so around Responsible AI, the human connection, and whether the advent of generative AI was diminishing the relevance of human creativity in our functions.

Whilst generative AI, in particular, is the most discussed topic today within Business School External Relations in our quest to optimise its use for the benefit of our core activities and as a way to ensure we are completely in trend. However, if we rewind back to the ’80s and even the early part of the ’90s, this wasn’t the case where, back then,  external relations functions were very much creativity and communications-oriented. In fact, much of technology was then a back office function, limited to word processing, spreadsheets and some amount of data mining. We then saw the ‘dot com’ boom taking over a lot of what we do and, to some extent, the ‘dot com’ bust too.

Technology’s influence on business education

Interestingly, Porter and Miller introduced the concept of ‘competitive advantage’ way back in 1985, when they argued that technology would indeed lead to a paradigm shift in how businesses strategise, and I suppose that’s how we also saw Business Schools strategising, too, especially in the last decade. However, where technology and AI, in particular, can be a significant enabler of business transformation,  if it is not deployed responsibly, it can also be a concern for socio-environmental challenges as it becomes increasingly pervasive in our lives.

  • As professionals and individuals, we often cannot help but wonder then: Will technology replace human capacity in our work places?
  • What is technology going to do in the future, and where will it connect with us as humans to increase productivity ethically and responsibly?
  • And, what does it mean for the future of business schools especially in the context of societal and environmental challenges and our commitment as Business Schools to shaping responsible leadership and influencing responsible business?

As a steering committee, as we were planning this conference, we discussed this extensively and thought that it would be helpful to perhaps hear from, learn and share our own experiences with technology and the concerns in the context of our own teams and institutions and more widely across the business school community. And how we, as External Relations professionals, can influence what awaits us in the next 10 years and beyond.

The conference agenda clearly resonated with a lot of colleagues and led to this year’s conference becoming one of the largest ever, with over 100 delegates from more than 20 countries. The glitterati of speakers empowered thought-provoking and relevant discussions and huge opportunities to learn, whether it was in recognising the dilemmas and challenges facing DEI in an AI context, understanding the impact of AI on innovation, creativity and productivity, to hearing from Deans on challenges facing them, and why ‘staying together’ amidst the forever evolving technological changes is critical in the bid to distinguish our schools, deliver on our expectations and respond to societal challenges. And all this whilst developing the future generation of leaders.

AI, Marcomms

EFMD Marcom, External & Alumni Relations Conference 2024, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Unlocking the power of responsible AI

As External Relations professionals, being able to develop agile responses to the external world is critical to the success of our work and our Business Schools. Hearing from employers including Google and understanding how we can tell our stories boldly and captivatingly was hugely invaluable, as well as learning about how we can engage our alumni more effectively by optimising technology appropriately in an increasingly global world.

Reflecting on the conference and perhaps what may be considered the key enablers and barriers to the use of responsible generative AI and technology more broadly in higher education marketing communications and external engagement functions, it is important to understand firstly that AI is still evolving, and therefore whilst we have policies in most areas, this is still a work in progress for most Business Schools. AI in a Business School policy or strategy context, therefore, needs further consideration in order to facilitate calls for action.

As we as professionals and individuals also evolve in our understanding and learning of AI, we must also be reassured by our own organisations that human connection is still a priority! Our discussions concluded that whilst humans cannot be replaced by AI, training and education provision must be made available to all stakeholders, including external relations professionals, so that humans are not left behind because of not being able to catch up with AI.

As the financial environment, socio-technological issues, and competitive business school market get more challenging, it will be critical for business schools to be much more savvy and practical, perhaps, in choosing what to do over what not to do as they upscale and upskill themselves. As research-led Business Schools and in our quest to adapt to and excel in technological advancements, in enhancing our student offer, we must not forget our core strengths that differentiate us from corporate education providers.

Our employer-led panel discussion, in fact, confirmed that critical thinking is still a very much a key requirement for companies, and it is important for Business Schools to continue to develop these skills alongside tech competence in shaping responsible leadership capabilities in our students.

Ultimately, organisations value humans, and as AI evolves, human skills must too. So our content creation expertise must also evolve in a way that we can involve students, staff, partners and alumni in making our stories timeless, authentic and sustainable, where the use of AI can actually help with creating deeper engagement in more interesting ways.

Navigating the intersection of technology and tradition

Whilst still on stakeholders, Business Schools must invest more in alumni, who are, in fact, our only most constant stakeholder community. And here too, especially in an inter-generational context, Business schools need to balance hi-tech approaches with hi-touch engagement in communicating successfully to and with alumni in distinguishing ourselves. Culture plays a huge role in organisational transformation.

Within our own Business School communities, we must, therefore, embrace and strengthen collaboration internally and externally to remain relevant and connected. In doing so, we must also be brave in our institutional missions to be inclusive and, therefore, ask the difficult questions about how the rapid implementation of AI could potentially cause harm to marginalised communities due to application limitations.

We must realise that for responsible Business Schools, AI is not just a technology and security issue, but it is actually also a social issue. Therefore, we must work harder to be more vigilant and review AI Ethics to co-create policies and frameworks for ethical use within our Business School communities, something that perhaps should become a standard for international accreditations.

Finally, where, as marcomms, alumni and external engagement professionals, we often put so much pressure on ourselves to stay on top of the game in embracing technology, it is important to also hit the pause button and reflect. We, too, need to be authentic and be appreciative that we are humans…so not losing sight of our own and our colleagues’ wellbeing is crucial for our organisational wellbeing.

And, as ardent as we are as learners of generative AI, we must balance on-screen with off-screen in ensuring we and our Business Schools do not lose the human connection as we set out on our journey to transform society, organisations and ourselves!

The use of Generative AI hasn’t been used by this laggard author 😊. Sharmishta Chatterjee-Banerjee is Policy Director, Internationalisation and Strategic Engagement, Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University, Netherlands.

🇬🇷 Mark your calendars to join us for the 2025 EFMD Marcom, External & Alumni Relations Conference on 26-28 March at ALBA Graduate Business School in Athens, Greece! 

For additional insights, announcements and perspectives about Marketing Communications, visit the conversation here.

Leave a Comment