By any measure, the business of teaching business has been an incredible success story. As an academic discipline the subject is very much a johnny-come-lately – the University of Oxford, for example, has had a management studies school for fewer than 60 of its more than 1000 years of existence – but more students in the UK now study variations of business than any other degree course and there are thought to be at least 16,000 specialist business schools worldwide.
But there’s no doubt that business schools face a challenge to stay relevant as we head towards the second quarter of the 21st century. Some have been accused of being out-of-touch and too focused on the past, not always proving equal to the task of meaningful business analysis in a world in which companies can go from 0 to billion-dollar valuations in a matter of months.
So, how are business schools and colleges – both in the UK and around the world – going to have to evolve in order to keep convincing potential students to pay the sometimes hefty fees they charge?
1. More emphasis on creativity
Traditionally business teaching includes a large emphasis on pure number-crunching, but in today’s world the lines between the creatives and the money people have long since been blurred. Think Steve Jobs, James Dyson, et al. — mad geniuses who were both designers and business magnates. In the future, business students are going to have to learn not to be afraid to play a full role in the creative process and the ideas people will need to know something about strategy – and business colleges should be at the forefront of this exchange.
2. More flexibility
Students starting an MBA at Harvard Business School in 2019 can reportedly expect to pay fees of $72,000 a year for a two-year course. By anyone’s standards, that’s a hefty wodge to find up front. But even at more reasonably priced business colleges there’s a growing desire among students to find alternative ways to study that don’t require so much time out of your career and such an enormous lump-sum investment. Part-time study and online distance-learning courses are bound to increase in popularity and importance over the next decade and beyond.
3. More social awareness
In the old days it was all about the bottom line: profit, profit, profit. But reports from the frontline of business teaching suggest tomorrow’s students are also passionately interested in more intangible benefits, such as sustainability, social responsibility and employee welfare. Understandably alarmed by such calamities as the 2008 financial crash, the collapse of Enron and any number of environmental disasters, the new generation of business leaders are demanding a more holistic approach to running companies – and teaching will have to reflect that.
4. More international connections
Business courses already tend to be pretty international – both in terms of the make-up of the student body and their overall scope – but there’s still room for development. It surely goes without saying that cross-border ambition is vital to the success of any major company in 2019 and it is no less true of business schools. Expect to see continued exchange of ideas and expertise around the world, with strategic partnerships on an institutional level allowing, for example, Chinese students to complete their studies in Europe, and vice versa. Trump/Brexit-style isolationism is not expected to become a dominant world view.
5. More life-long learning
The old model of completing your degree at 21 and heading out of college for the last time is long dead. Many MBAs require several years of professional experience from potential students while Oxford Business College positively encourages applications from mature students returning to study after spending time in the workplace or raising families. Increasingly, both businesses and business students are appreciating the value of continuing professional development (CPD) and colleges will have no doubt have an increasing role in delivering relevant courses for learners of all ages.