What will a business school look like in the future? If the schools' management teams practise what they preach, you'd expect them to be strategising on this very question. Improved communications technologies will bring changes to teaching methods and the way courses are delivered. The increasingly global nature of our workforces and businesses will be reflected in curriculums, student bodies and faculties.
And the specific skills leaders will need in future will also change. John Toohey, dean of RMIT's business school, says the feedback from business is that they will increasingly need people who are good at skills such as problem-solving, creative leadership and people management. But he says it goes beyond that: "The skills set in future is also about ethical and responsible practice; risk and crisis management - mapping uncertainties such as SARS, climate change, terrorism; and sustainable practice - too much of current business focuses on short-term rewards."
Toohey points out that it wasn't long ago that environmental management was an elective, but it's quickly becoming a core subject in many MBA programs. Ethics is another area that historically hasn't received much attention. And if a US study of cheating at university is anything to go by, there's some serious
work to be done yet. Rutger University professor Donald McCabe found that 56 per cent of graduate business students admit to bending the rules - higher than any other cohort of students (although the finding that 45 per cent of law students cheat is also a worry).
Toohey says he consistently gets feedback from businesspeople that MBA graduates get taught a lot about strategy but that they're poor on strategy execution. He believes that in future schools will devote more energy to simulating real-life management challenges. This is already happening as many of the schools pour more resources into "live learning" approaches (such as the AGSM's Accelerated Learning Lab, where students must role-play dealing with a multitude of challenges in a pressure-cooker timeframe).
Toohey believes that in future the traditional case study approach (pioneered by Harvard Business School) will be different: typically case studies focus on one discipline - say, strategy involved in moving into a new market. Instead, students are increasingly given case studies in which they also have to contend with all the other issues that arise in real life, such as finance, personnel and infrastructure issues.
Toohey says "if you are not exciting MBA students right away" then the curriculum will fail. This will mean a change to the way traditional subjects are delivered. The Yale School of Management may be pointing the way: it has now abandoned its old, discipline-based subjects (accounting, strategy, marketing) and introduced
theme-based subjects on the customer, the employee, the investor, competitors and so on.
Howard Gardner, a world-renowned professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, told AFR BOSS
that his daughter recently graduated from Yale School of Management and that she "received quite a broad education, and it may be a harbinger of something that's less focused on accounting, less focused on 'we're a university and don't you forget it'."
Gardner says there is widespread criticism that the academics who get ahead tend to be from the arts and sciences rather than those who have worked in business.
"They are professional plodders rather than economists," he says. "People who run business schools are pretty used to the criticism and there's a lot of navel gazing, much more so than in the humanities department. In the long haul, that business school product line will be too remote from what the market wants."
RMIT's John Toohey says the new students coming through really like "cracker-barrel" wisdom: the fly-on-the-wall war stories from ex-practitioners. But responding to this market need means forcing a change in the mix of faculty members at business schools. "People are very discipline focused," Toohey says. "It's hard to get people to teach in this way." And the push for a more practical approach will come up against the competing demand for more academic rigour in terms of research-oriented management teaching.
Toohey also believes that the business school market is due for some rationalisation (there are now about 35 institutions offering about 80 different MBA programs in Australia).
He also thinks schools will need to do more of what he calls "after-sales service" - bringing former students back periodically for updates. "It goes beyond joining an alumni association and [saying] 'we hope to see you at drinks'," he says.
Australian Financial Review
© Fairfax Business Media
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