The question that those of us who have been in the postgraduate training sector for a little over two decades have been asking ourselves, is how many more times will we have to continue listening to a question that has also been asked in the last twenty years by analysts, critics, fellow professor , students, ex-graduates, etc. about whether Business Schools are still relevant.
As in any social debate, we will always find lights and shadows, but an a priori conclusion, despite everything that has rained in this period of time in terms of questioning the social relevance of Business Schools, we are sure that the training and business training provided by our postgraduate institutions, both in Spain and in other countries in our European environment and beyond (especially the United States, but also several Asian and Latin American countries) will continue to be a necessary pillar that organizations trust to thrive in today’s global economy and in the coming years we face.
We continually talk about the 2030 horizon
The question is then, who as an educational institution will be able to take over? no other. The question should perhaps be formulated as follows: is there any chance that postgraduate education will be relegated to the background and become irrelevant in the next decade? Our response is firm and forceful: to such an extent will the role of Business Schools continue to be essential in the immediate future and in the long term, that we do not see a scenario in which postgraduate education can do without this type of institution.
Because when we ask ourselves what the purpose of
Business Schools is, it becomes clear that there is a priority mission: to educate professionals and create knowledge through research. A specialized education that is manifested in a high level of education and training that also contributes to a period for postgraduate students of special experimentation, which means the exchange of experiences and knowledge, work and research groups, teamwork, internships well-run business and constant support from tutors and program coordinators.
Our position from the AEEN
Without a doubt, there has been a substantial shift in philosophy, not so much in Business Schools regarding the content of the programs, but in social acceptance (the constant questioning of a large part of society) regarding the social purposes of companies in general, beyond the usual profit maximization. In other words, when this philosophy is reconsidered, especially after the great International Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, it is when schools begin to react to their role in society regarding the reality of what impact they have to have. This is regardless of whether its graduates have been honed in better tools that boards require of middle managers and other leaders, so that shareholders are happy with the return on their investment and the usual dividend payment. In other words, reality has pushed schools to this change, because society no longer looks favorably on the marginal concept of the economy in terms of maximizing profits.
Hence, Business Schools are revising their programs, moving away from the doctrine that gives preference to shareholders (profit maximization as the objective of business economics) that has shaped a large part of the academic training of business and economic sciences, in the same way, that of the assembly of the curricular contents of BusinessSschools. Instead, it has been precisely the schools that have reacted very quickly in general terms and on a global scale. Because they have been emphasizing social purpose and environmental concerns for several years now. But for reasons such as institutional inertia and graduate employability, change is proving difficult.
Barriers arise, not because someone puts them, but because of the type of demand for jobs that are offered, in addition to the fact that the productivity demands that are asked of candidates who have to fight in markets that are increasingly competitive, therefore, it is the organizations that have been pushing in the first line towards this change.
The paradox that arises today can be summarized as follows: in the past, maximization was essential in decision-making and implementation of actions; currently it is any action that has a social impact, no matter how much technological disruption it implies. Therefore, if society demands responsible management and good impact, it is necessary to continue looking for benefits that satisfy shareholders and investors, but that are as high as possible within the limits that said social impact and sustainability require. A kind of quadrature of the circle but that is being achieved little by little, so this geometric figure (the one I use in this paradox) must be converted into a simple square, in which its four intervening sides are equal in terms of interest: valuation of society, business benefit and return to shareholders, sustainability of the project and training, as well as training in accordance with the new paradigm. This is what some have called a decent profit.
This is not new ground for Business Schools: if anything, it is a return to their roots. Many institutions prioritized the advancement of moral and social goals in the late 19th century and much of the 20th century. We must remember that Business Schools in the United States were founded on these principles. In 1881, the Wharton School was established at the University of Pennsylvania to prepare graduates to become “pillars of the state” and advance in society at large. In 1908, the founding mission of Harvard Business School was to train leaders who “make a decent profit, decently.”
Therefore, after great turmoil especially in the last ten years, even in the highest echelons of politics in which there were distinguished postgraduates, Business Schools intensified courses on ethics, professional responsibility and risk management. It was necessary to break with that harmful inertia for Business Schools that encouraged and taught greed and profit maximization. The message that priority is given to social responsibility and sustainability had to be put on fire. And so a series of programs emerged that marked a change of direction in the world’s leading Business Schools. In Spain, it has also been very sensitive to this new direction since postgraduate training.
Because if they really wanted to remain relevant on all continents, they necessarily had to change. But even more: it was a matter of survival, that is, they changed or ceased to exist, so relevance was no longer so important.
A barrier that had to be lifted
As is always the case, there are conflicting interests in every action we take. In postgraduate training, Business Schools faced a barrier to teaching social purpose in MBAs, which has turned into pressure to create employment opportunities due to what we have previously referred to as social sensitivity and new demands for postgraduates, which ended up being an obstacle for students to be able to pay the high tuition fees. It’s that a dichotomy occurred where, if schools in response to this new sensibility focused on sustainability and responsible business, but corporate cultures remained driven by profit maximization, this translated into fewer jobs and lower wages. But the change has already reached the organizations themselves, which are also demanding more training in this regard.
Goal and objectives of business school programs
If from our institutions we are consistent with our roots, we will undoubtedly have to consider certain priorities in the content package that we offer in the different programs. Merely by way of example:
– Innovative thoughts.
– Detection of problems and recognition of opportunities.
– Identify when a problem can become an opportunity, be it commercial (business model) or personal (in some field of leadership).
– Foster creativity by generating unique solutions to both challenges and problems, and learn, as well as experience a form of rapid response in accordance with current markets.
– Ethical responsibility that implies making ethical decisions, for which it is necessary to train in how the ethical limits of the different actions faced by organizations should be recognized, which implies the establishment of new frameworks of reference in business ethics as a discipline, so that they can be easily distinguished and applied simultaneously to being the direct path to a solution by which said action must be implemented.
– Reflective thinking, for which it is necessary to demonstrate the consideration of a belief, form of knowledge, action or experience, evaluate it and develop a vision towards future action.
– Initiative, seeking opportunities for active participation in curricular areas. Take the perspective of others and show understanding of another person’s point of view.
– Communication skills in which the key issues of inclusion, gender equality, sustainability, social responsibility, are part of the vocabulary of a new corporate culture.
– Interpersonal skills and teamwork that facilitate effective communication in small group situations, in times of crisis, or during the management of a re-organizational change due to market and/or technology demands, etc.
Therefore, the goal that we have in our time horizon that we are talking about today, that is, 2030, must necessarily take into account two basic sub-goals:
1º) Prepare students to communicate ideas effectively, since in the digital society in which we must live, the forms of communication are constantly changing, which makes digital marketing and digital thinking as a strategy, key elements for decision making.
2º) Prepare students to synthesize, analyze and integrate their knowledge of the different disciplines that encompass the financial, marketing, production, sales, HR, technological disruption, Big Data management, etc., so that they are able to provide innovative and credible solutions to organizational problems and opportunities.
Antonio Alonso, president of the AEEN (Spanish Business School Association) and general secretary of EUPHE (European Union of Private Higher Education)