Every time that OUR EDITORIAL STAFF “goes out there” to look for opinions, investigations, surveys, criticism, etc., we never cease to be surprised by the speed and timeliness with which they are produced. Because our field of postgraduate studies is being very besieged, how could it be otherwise, due to the tremendous impact that NTs have been having on organizations. And it is assumed that graduates who choose an MBA to train and pursue a professional career with better options are also very concerned about whether their program, their school, their training, are in line with all this noise that is being heard in the market. And of course, the most important thing, what is the real contribution of Business Schools to today’s society.
We find it interesting to give an example, that of a potential client who must choose between Banks that offer similar rates and services, so he could opt for the institution that has solar panels on his building. It is not crazy: it is to take into account the principles of sustainability to which we have dedicated more than one article.
Do we understand the financial organizations that chose this type of building strategies? Of course yes, since Business Schools have been explaining for a long time that in an era of excessive commodification of products, a company needs an attractive brand that differentiates it from its competitors. A potential client faced with choosing between Banks that offer similar rates and services might opt for the institution that has solar panels on its building or that provides credit to the underserved or favors projects with a focus on sustainability. In other words, social sensitivity and responsibility towards the community in which it operates.
It therefore makes sense that some Banks would seek to cultivate brand loyalty by appealing to the public’s environmental, social and governance concerns.
Many of today’s students will choose universities based in part on how sincerely these institutions articulate and implement ESG. Some students will decide to attend a university because its buildings are built to meet LEED standards. Others will consider how a school conducts job fairs, how it implements diversity initiatives, and whether it offers scholarships that enhance social justice and improve economic equality. Students want to know if professors bring their expertise to local governments and cutting-edge corporations. They want to know who sits on the boards. They even want to know about a school’s bottle drives and recycling programs.
Students will definitely look at the way a business School integrates sustainability into the curriculum.
Many want to know (not just students) how teachers use their professional training and position to improve the environment and contribute to a more equitable and harmonious society, and whether they volunteer locally, nationally and internationally in organizations that improve access to government and its programs.
To affirm that Business Schools are part of that group of most influential institutions in all the countries of the world is not an exaggeration. And this has been the case since the middle of the 20th century, when their power of influence increased thanks to the decisive contribution they made to companies by making available to them highly trained professionals that the moment of great industrial and technological development required.
Seen from the point of view of the education they provide, their contribution is undoubtedly very important. But if we still look at it from the other point of view that continually feeds doctrinal evolution, that is, research, of course its level of contribution has also been increasing.
Somehow they have established what should be the standards to be taken into account for the leaders of the different generations that are integrated into the productive fabric, to lead local and global organizations, which demands a responsibility that requires continuous discussion, development and challenge. And this level of training and education can only be acquired in the postgraduate programs of the different Business Schools. Of course, we are talking about postgraduate students who already have their bachelor’s degree and who are taking another step in their personal and professional development.
Space occupied by Business Schools in today’s society
Given the question regarding the space occupied by Business Schools in today’s society, we can also affirm that there are three essential spatial areas for any country:
a) How the legitimacy of Business Schools has been challenged by the recent economic crisis and corporate scandals. This was raised during the outbreak of the International Financial Crisis 2008-2009, and echoes of those voices are still heard in terms of critical currents that question whether or not they contribute to society.
b) How Schools contribute to shaping and transforming business conduct. By force, they have had to incorporate curricular content in response to new issues that arose from the application of new administrative procedures, business models, inclusion and equality policies, etc. that the organizations were assuming in response to a social claim.
c) How institutions, past and present, develop their identities to face the challenges presented not only by the globalization process that has been accelerating changes for thirty years, but also by exceptional factors such as the impact of Covid-19 on all world societies. At least at this point in the impact of Covid, we have also explained in previous articles that the postgraduate training sector was better prepared than other sectors of the economy in terms of digital transformation.
Given these considerations, from the AEEN we are always attentive to any signal that comes from current academic institutions, from directors of postgraduate courses, professors, administrators, recruiters, university deans, etc., that may facilitate the combination of the different global perspectives of all of them, so as to be able to have a permanent debate that is useful to societies because it is really focusing on what the current and future challenges are, not mirages that waste time, but paths in which we certainly are on the right path for a contribution that adds value to society.
Strengthen the contribution of the Business School to society
Through greater sensitivity for the development of a sustainability mindset, the main challenge today for Business Schools is to communicate many of the ongoing activities and new initiatives in relation to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to share its impact more effectively with a broader range of stakeholders.
The search for a reciprocal relationship with the community and a deep commitment to foster integrity, critical and strategic thinking, high-quality research and impact, and social projection, all of these elements, individually and jointly (coordinated), are a large part of the current responsibility in conducting Business Schools so that they continue to be a relevant social factor.
Precisely, to more clearly communicate their contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as quality education; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduction of inequalities; alliances for the objectives, the academic part of the Schools has to continue striving so that its supposed level of social contribution (which in fact it has and a lot), does not go down or be affected by internal political issues of countries, much less of global agreements in which postgraduate training has not been taken into account as it should.
Academic research exchange
A very direct path is if Schools begin to share the number and content of academic research that contributes to the sustainable development of society; the number and type of study tours and special missions undertaken by students to contribute to the sustainable development of the community; and the integration of the SDGs in activities with local and international organizations. All these well-applied indicators are guarantors of the accountability capabilities of any business school truly committed to this new time of training future professionals and leaders. This requires demanding a level of transparent and direct communication with the faculty, students, alumni and the community in general. In this way, significant progress can be made in terms of the contribution of postgraduate training in all societies, by strengthening an organizational culture that contributes to society by developing a mentality of sustainability in students and graduates. A personal culture change that will lead to substantial variations in the respective corporate cultures, with the influence this has on the communities in which the Schools have a presence, beyond the scope currently provided by online education and training.
Unfounded criticism: there are, there are
There has not been a decade (we say it that way instead of referring to years, so as not to make the analysis that we intend to do today cumbersome) in which very serious criticism has not surfaced against the activity of Business Schools, always hovering in them the question of what is their real contribution to society? What is certain is that much of the criticism expressed by brilliant professors from highly reputable Business Schools was taken into account, but more than the opinions that were generated with the evolution of times and the adjustment of business models to new circumstances, it was precisely the irruption of the NT’s and the exponential acceleration of the processes of change that most influenced (more than the doctrinal discussion) in the adaptation of the Schools to these new realities.
This does not invalidate the valuable contribution that the doctrine offers both to Business Schools and Universities, since the theoretical evolution and the thought that is being adapted and implemented according to new rules, without a doubt is not only a contribution to society, but also to said doctrine justifies its necessary existence. It is not understood in any other way, otherwise there would be no minimally responsible and useful adaptation processes. The practical implementation is essential, but the theoretical development that arises from the updating of thinking based on new scenarios is also essential. Despite criticism that much of its activity focuses on abstract and overly academic topics with little resonance beyond the higher education sector, what is true (at least from our research), is that there is a wide and varied range of research carried out by professors on topics with a strong social value. Critics argue that much Business School research, and public funding for it, is underperforming.
The arguments that support this type of position is that both talent and resources are too often channeled towards theoretical works read by few people with limited application, but with a worrying characteristic: there is an emphasis on quantity over quality and novelty over replicability.
The acceleration of change and the pressing problems in societies require a rapid response from postgraduate training so that it is considered not only timely, but cutting-edge.
Difference between business needs and academic preferences
Some observers suggest that the often esoteric orientation of research is in part a legacy of post-World War II reforms in management education in the United States.
World War and the rise of large industrial corporations, which urgently needed to reorganize their organizational structures and also their procedures. Hence, all the changes that were implemented in the companies were largely designed to close the wide gap that had opened between the practical application that the jobs required in each position and the curricular contents of the programs in Universities and Business Schools. In other words, the conventional was beginning to be rejected by models more adapted to said business emergencies. In other words, the market and business demand have always driven the necessary change in Business Schools. This is logical as an institutional evolution, but it has not necessarily been complete, that is, as is often said, “a necessary but not sufficient condition”.
Over time, this has led to a divergence between companies’ needs for hands-on training and academia’s preference for peer-reviewed theory. The result has been the publication of research in a limited range of specialized journals with limited readership. But this closure has also been defeated by the INTERNET, and the new forms of communication, especially since the beginning of this 21st century.
This has led to a large part of the research being focused on theoretical works read by few people with a limited application until the NTs hatched and neither professors nor researchers could resist the necessary academic and research interdependence.
Today, many Business Schools in emerging economies, founded with a more practical approach and strong links with companies, have joined this necessary transformative current on the social contribution of Business Schools, arguing that research is needed that is relevant to business, therefore, for society.
Surprisingly, for example, UK regulators have introduced the ‘Research Excellence Framework’, which requires Universities to provide evidence of their impact. Similar systems have been launched in Australia and the Netherlands.
But from everything we have read and seen since OUR EDITORIAL STAFF, measuring the impact of research is still in its infancy. Most performance measures are based on: internal validation by scholars citing each other in journal articles; wider references in the media or social networks, or anecdotal success stories. It also seems scarce.
It may be years after publication before academic research finds practical applications to change policy in the public or private sectors. Meanwhile, the original authors may never be credited.
It can also happen that the best researchers are not the best disseminators to share their work effectively with students. Nor should the contribution be relegated to academic publications, which would be a very reductionist way of fitting reality, for which the best antidote is that many other elements must be taken into account that harmonize the entire spectrum of postgraduate training, such as dissertations, grant awards, and patents.
Some critics are denouncing that it is imperative to weigh the value of the full investigation when analyzing whether the articles refer to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Finally, from the AEEN we will continue working so that Business Schools are increasingly recognized as institutions that have a very high social contribution due to the economic impact that they actually have in a certain region and in general in an entire country that benefits of greater intellectual capacities very oriented to the resolution of pressing problems in society, in the case of environmental problems, at the same time, that supporting the development of a new class of leaders very consubstantiated with the demands that society demands today.
This information has been prepared by OUR EDITORIAL STAFF