The PIE: You joined AACSB as Covid-19 started. How have the last 18 months been?
Caryn L. Beck-Dudley: Business schools are still in a major flux, depending on where they are. Universities, in the US in particular, have had to recreate themselves totally. Some had no virtual learning at all, and within weeks had to switch. I think that first initial, maybe three or four months, was really hit and miss.
Some schools did it pretty well, for some schools it was a disaster. Then everybody kind of settled in, but I don’t think anybody predicted it would be this long.
“There’s a keen awareness now of how important those personal interactions are”
Hybrid is not going to go away. We’ve found out that a lot of information can be delivered remotely and maybe more efficiently. But I’m hearing a lot of international students want to return to the actual campus, and want to be face-to-face with their peers.
The PIE: I get the impression that for business schools, particularly, that connection is one of the biggest selling points.
C L. B-D: Having a diverse mix of students from China, Australia, India all in the same classroom, it almost mimics an international team in a large global environment. And you just don’t get to pick up those cultural cues easily in a remote environment.
I think there’s a keen awareness now of how important those personal interactions are. I think that’s why you’re seeing people keen to get back to doing that again.
The PIE: How can business schools differentiate their online offers compared to other online platforms like FutureLearn or Coursera etc?
C L. B-D: Hybrid will be refined, and still be deployed when people are back on campus. Companies are instituting remote work policies, and it’ll be the same for universities.
You can learn a lot of subject matter on any subject on YouTube, and that’s free. So when you’re paying a high value education, which a lot of international students are, they want that face-to-face interaction to be really special.
The most important thing we have in life is time. Our members realise the value of remote or virtual learning is that information can be delivered very effectively.
“Employers now see resilience and agility as really a hallmark of one of their best employees”
For example, remote guest speakers and tapping alumni all over the world to come to your class has been really effective. I think you’re also going to see hybrid recruiting stay. Companies have found out that they can get great talent without going to the campus to meet people.
The PIE: On that point of future employers, have the skill sets that they’re looking for changed during the pandemic?
C L. B-D: I think there’s always been a heightened awareness that you need good communication skills. Now, that’s essential and you have to have good skills remotely as well as in face-to-face interaction.
Also, and this is harder to teach, employers now see resilience and agility as really a hallmark of one of their best employees. Last year it was a pandemic, next year might be something else, but an organisation needs agile, resilient employees who can pick up work, who can shift very quickly. And business schools are keenly aware of that.
Technical, database skills and being able to manipulate technology are also going to be critical, but soft skills and communication skills are going to be as important. I would say five years ago, communication skills were downplayed in favour of technical skills. And now everybody’s like, ‘wow, you really have to have both to be a really effective employee into the future’.
The PIE: Are business schools one step ahead of the other education competitors in terms of students outcomes and employability?
C L. B-D: Business schools have focused on getting their students jobs for a long time, and they have the infrastructure set up for that – the career guides, relationships with businesses, employment network. They’ve always worked on interview skills. Business schools have understood that for a long time.
The rest of the universities, I think, are now understanding it, but they don’t have the infrastructure to do it.
When I was a political science major, they didn’t care if I got a job. Now I think all parts of the university understand that the students really need to be employed when they leave and that universities have some obligation to do that. And good business schools are helping their universities prepare for that as well.
Arts and humanities degrees are still highly valued, but you have to package those with saleable skills and many times that will be a certificate or a way to show to an employer you are more than an academic learner.
The PIE: Have connections with employers in international students’ home countries changed? Are relationships with big companies in China or Asia valued enough?
C L. B-D: Historically in the US, Europe, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there is a huge percentage of international students at business schools who have expectations to stay. They want to get that experience in Google or Facebook or in an Apple in the US, but then those companies are large global companies so that you can transfer to other offices.
“The best employers are really looking at the talent pool as global”
Chinese companies have a large pool of their own population of Chinese students. We have seen them try to attract students and employees from here to go back to China, but we haven’t seen them historically recruit in the US.
But now talent is global, and I think the best employers are really looking at the talent pool as global. Preparing students for that global competition as well as a global environment is going to be critical going forward.
The PIE: How does an AACSB accreditation help business schools?
C L. B-D: It’s a very rigorous process. We’re the largest and most prestigious in the world and we’ve been around for over 100 years. Not everybody can qualify for accreditation, so we also have member schools that aren’t accredited.
AACSB’s tent is big enough to have schools with local, regional, national or international missions. We have members from all over the world who find great value going through the process of becoming a lot better business schools. And that’s what we value, the continuous improvement to be better.
Business really is a force for social good and our accreditation standards require business schools show that they are a positive force for social good. It’s not just the profit making piece of business, but it’s also the ability to solve problems and solve through research, teaching and community outreach. We really want to see that positive societal impact.
The PIE: Have business schools still been able to expand access and build on their diversity and inclusion missions during the pandemic?
C L. B-D: It’s important to note that diversity has different meanings among different cultures, making cultural context extremely important. Schools should make a consistent effort to evaluate and address their diversity and inclusion strategies to be as inclusive and supportive as possible. When the pandemic began, most schools realised they were not fully prepared to offer hybrid or online learning options. After pivoting quickly, and with a lot of trouble shooting along the way, schools found what worked best for their learners and incorporated those efforts into their longterm strategies.
“Many found that online and hybrid learning enables them to reach learners they could not before”
Many found that online and hybrid learning enables them to reach learners they could not before – many who worked full time, lived in rural areas, or were not able to physically be in-person due to health reasons. Throughout the process of offering online/hybrid programs, schools realised there were other opportunities to better support diverse learners.
They began to focus on making sure their learners were represented well in faculty, appropriate mentorship opportunities were available, and learners of all ethnicities felt safe, secure, and supported on their campus. Schools have made tremendous strides in this area, but this is just the beginning of the work that business education has embarked on to facilitate a more diverse and inclusive experience for all people.