The influence of Covid-19 for Business School programs

Since Covid-19 entered our lives in the first quarter of 2020, we have lost count of official statements, scientific approaches to a reality that no one knew about, promises of vaccines that finally arrived, but especially, in the field of postgraduate education, some questions that arose by dozens.

Some experts in postgraduate training were asked, if online training was what was needed or would it become an obstacle and many other questions of which, our responsibility from the AEEN is to make things simple, that they are understood and fundamentally they are useful for students, teachers, companies and society in general.

These questions that are on everyone’s lips, we do not demand an answer today, but we do ensure that we will have to make an effort to answer these and other questions arising in the coming months and years. Because the change has been enormous since postgraduate education has also been and will continue to be transformed by Covid-19 like everything else.

That is why when we face challenges, sometimes dilemmas that are difficult to solve, it is convenient to open the debate and hold a round of consultations with recognized experts in the sector. Hence, we stopped today at the Aspen Institute, which is 70 years old and has an established reputation for its ability to bring together diverse, nonpartisan opinion leaders, creatives, academics, and members of the public to tackle some of the most complex problems of the world.

As this institution explains on its website, “the objective of these meetings is to have an impact beyond the conference room. They are designed to provoke, promote and enhance actions taken in the real world”.

That is why in April 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, they wondered about the impact of Covid-19 how to face this new reality, for which they appealed to the reflection and experience of the main professors who have been recognized with the Aspen Institute Ideas Worth Teaching Award.

As is customary in this rostrum, we are going to reply to these participations, and see what level of anticipation they have had in time, given that we are in September 2021 and 17 months have passed since these interesting doctrinal interventions.

Nicholas McGuigan and Alessandro Ghio of Monash University noted that “this crisis is forcing business educators to critically question their curricula. What happened six weeks ago is unlikely to be the case today. Dependence on a global market, economic rationality, and a standardized approach to organizational governance and accountability leave us vulnerable. Like planted crops, a globalized economic monoculture cannot resist an invading virus. Human strength comes from diversity: ideas, systems, economies, and people; business education programs will need to evolve to provide such diversity”.

From now on we share what was said a year and a half ago because it is also fully valid. Our strength as the basic social instrument that we are business schools, lies in that diversity of ideas and not at all limit ourselves to closed spaces of understanding, when precisely they must be open to unknown or uncontrollable variables such as the pandemic that demands us and will continue to demand us not only an adaptation, but a capacity to anticipate social and economic scenarios that are still being defined. In other words, we are still immersed in a lot of uncertainty and precariousness.

These professors say, in turn, that “social distancing is driving business schools to rethink how they connect with their stakeholders. Spatial connection is becoming the new norm where the confusion of physical and virtual interaction is likely to continue. The drastic push around the world to deliver instantly and online will result in increased demand from students and administrators for instant, short-term educational solutions. We predict that the convenience of streaming learning will replace the troublesome drawbacks humans often experience when engaging in transformative learning. This is dangerous”.

Regina Abrami from the Wharton School of Business stated at the time that “uncertainty is everywhere. Teaching uncertainty management will increase, but as a field of expertise that is no longer the exclusive property of financial modelers, sentiment collectors, and other data scientists or government affairs. Business students are likely to become more eager for context-rich frameworks that explain political behavior at the macro level, possibly with an emphasis on comparative institutional analysis and the study of law”. We share what she said for the double value of her anticipation. The existing leadership crisis at the global political level, evidenced, with honorable exceptions, by world political leaders, continues to require, as this professor at the Wharton School of Business said, a broad political framework, which can be explained with credible models the macro social and also macro economic aspects, what are the policies that are in the making to be applied and if they have been sufficiently discussed in the respective parliaments in order to be useful and effective.

Without this frame of reference, both in 2020 and in the next two or three years from today, the effort that we can make from business schools may not have the desired impact if it is not accompanied from the highest institutional levels, both at the national level, but especially at the level of the European Union.

Regina Abrami also said that “business students had already embraced the power of storytelling, but largely as a side activity of the club or possibly on the way to launching a new company. However, the Corvid-19 sequels show that the art of leadership and influence is more than just a good story. It’s about transparency and empathy for those of your audience. Our leaders excelled best when they embodied both aspects. Students are likely to seek classes that help them understand not only themselves, but also how to “get real” with others.”

How can we not share a tremendous capacity for anticipation of this American teacher who appeals to reality and practical implementation in the face of what Covid-19 has left us, not only the students want to be a theory audience but also how to face concrete problems. This requires programs adjusted to this new reality that the pandemic has imposed on us.

 Regarding what Robert Sroufe of Duquesne University said, he said that “we need to develop and deliver courses that help decision makers to model and deal with complex problems and uncertainties. We can shape the evolving educational landscape to help future business leaders make better decisions that do not contribute to complex problems, but rather enable the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. When there is a new problem, academics can be a voice of reason, breaking through the complexity while helping to sell solutions (not marketing problems) at the intersection of business and society as we engage the public with research-based research evidence and we bring these problems into our classrooms”. Undoubtedly, he made an absolutely valid appeal to this day, towards programs and classes focused on treating the evidence with the seriousness that it requires, not with solutions of little applicable problems, but those that are capable of facing scenarios that had not been foreseen even in the most lucid minds.

Melissa Bradley of Georgetown University, was convinced a year and a half ago that “virtual and remote education will continue to increase. Ideally, this will increase student access, while reducing some of their participation costs. Microclasses will become popular. Rather than semester-long classes, the focus will be on more in-depth, focused content over shorter periods of time. The semester can become a false framework for teaching and the modules, from 3 to 6 weeks, will become more popular”. This also seems to us to be a very successful vision of the future and with the merit of having done it when the pandemic was unleashed and more controversial were all the opinions, as well as the measures that were taken by the governments of the world to stop it.

Melissa Bradley was of the opinion that universities (we added business schools) should form partnerships with technology companies to improve their capacity, based on infrastructure and content.

We believe from the AEEN and we will defend it in all instances, that business schools are an essential part of the educational process of an advanced society. That they have to continue to ensure the prestige gained in recent decades, but that it is necessary to take very seriously that the challenge of adapting programs and especially agreements with organizations, particularly in the technological field, will be what sets the direction of a path that is not at all easy in this horizon that is marked from the world political spheres, such as 2030. We want to be more modest, our horizon is only two years away, but especially in the new courses that have to start now in the second half of 2021 and those of the first quarter of 2022.

From the AEEN we will work very focused on the new programs and their curricular contents, as well as the methodologies that must be applied, always adapting to changing circumstances, and of course, to the novelties that technology is offering us.

Antonio Alonso, president of the AEEN (Spanish Business School Association) and general secretary of EUPHE (European Union of Private Higher Education)