We have never lived in more uncertain times and such an age of disruption with societal unrest, market volatility, corporate scandals, unprecedented technological advances as well as environmental crises. There is a growing awareness across business and society that the status quo cannot continue and we need conscious leaders. Leaders who are aware about what’s going on in the world, have a high level of engagement in wanting to do something about it and who operate with humanity at their core.
Over time, traditional business schools have been good at adapting to market trends by reinventing programs, pedagogies, technology and industry collaborations, all the while facing increased competition from challenger educators. However today business schools face a pivotal point as they have a responsibility to reflect and consider how to best prepare and nurture future leaders to become a driving force for social transformation. This responsibility and setting a path of reimagining how we teach should reach beyond just business schools.
The conventional focus on profit, growth and productivity should coalesce with purpose and societal impact so that students can learn the value of reflective thinking and view business through different lenses. Businesses do not operate in a vacuum as their impact is felt across society. For this reason, business educators need to help students develop critical perspectives to challenge the past, societal inequalities and consider not only profitability but how they can contribute to their community.
Rethinking of the curriculum and pedagogy primarily around societal trends such as climate change, sustainability and technology are being embedded across business schools in their curriculum or industry accelerator programs.
At Kings Business School, there are a number of initiatives that bring industry expertise and topical issues into the curriculum including the King's Business School Consultancy Project that pairs groups of finalyear undergraduates with local small businesses and charities in the London boroughs of Westminster, Lambeth, and Southwark to consult and help them overcome a challenge or strive towards a goal. The project brings to life the societal challenges faced by local communities.
Globally, there is a shift to interdisciplinary approaches and Singapore Management University’s College of Integrative Studies is an example of such an approach where they go beyond a single discipline or traditional paradigm to navigate the inter-related issues of a complex world.
Business schools across the globe have also set up research groups focused on innovations in business education pedagogy. Imperial College Business School EdTech Lab is dedicated to building an evidence base to evaluate educational technologies and actively experimenting with emerging technologies including AI, Virtual Reality, holograms and learning analytics.
In Australia, the University of Sydney’s Business School has a large research group focused on Co Design: Transforming education and the student experience in business research where they ideate and evaluate different approaches to areas such as learning and teaching spaces through to connected learning at scale. And these are just a couple of examples of pedagogical innovation in business education as curriculums are increasingly industry informed covering topics such as data analytics and ESG to improve their programs.
In addition to these, there are also a number of global alliances of business schools along with industry partners to ensure best practice in business pedagogy, as well as addressing the skills gap. These include such as the Future of Management Education (FOME) Alliance, The Academy of Business in Society and the Babson Collaborative all focused on enhancing business education. This is all positive and looks future proofing business education to address our rapidly changing world.
However, without reflecting on the past and taking into account the inequalities in our communities, they do not address the underlying complex social issues we are facing. There is currently a gap in learning from the insights of humanities and social sciences in business school curriculum and pedagogy.
King's Business School has introduced a number of innovative initiatives in keeping with their commitment to being open, inclusive and diverse however acknowledge there is still more work to be done. Their Global Leadership Challenge is run in collaboration with the organisation Common Purpose and focuses on the importance of cultural competency in the modern world to identify the skills needed to cross cultural boundaries. The school has also established the Diversity Mentoring programme with its Alumni body and runs summer schools for disadvantaged young people from local schools.
In a recent issue of the EFMD Business Magazine, Global Focus, Chris Pitelis stated that dealing with social and economic sustainability requires a focus on ethics and morality –this can come from philosophy. The influence of philosophy and epistemology on business has so far been minimal as has law that looks at antitrust action as well as power in business from the perspective of politics.
In particular, at a time when there is so much social and media attention on topics such as decolonisation, business schools have been slow to adapt decolonised educational approaches and curricula, where we must rethink, reframe and reconstruct and decentre western knowledge and acknowledge the insights and skills gained from marginalised communities.
What is needed is a robust and well researched interdisciplinary business pedagogy that provides business educators and their students with more holistic frameworks and tools they require to become conscious business leaders and contribute in meaningful ways.
Decolonised education could provide opportunities that not only support and develop marginalised communities but also co-creation of new content and pedagogies by embracing insights from other disciplines and in collaboration with the wider community. Students would also better understand societal issues when they partner their business school education with the community and real-world experiences.
Tackling any of the complex societal challenges we are facing requires diverse and reflective thinking and business schools should embrace this approach when considering innovations in teaching.It will take courageous and committed academics to bring about the change required along with robust and researched pedagogy.
Change can be uncomfortable and that creates a reluctance to change especially when there are few if any inter-disciplinary journals and minimal career incentives for deep interdisciplinary work. However, as we’ve seen with the embracing of new technologies, ESG and other issues, there are business academics who have a keen willingness to learn and adapt to enhance their teaching.
Business schools have the opportunity to lead the way for other faculties. By reimagining education as a tool to serve society, rather than just shareholders and closing the gap that currently exists, the impact of learning can be expanded making it more inclusive and valuable for future conscious leaders and to us all.