Future of business schools

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Business schools that actively reform have the potential to reshape markets and produce the leaders of tomorrow, writes Ashish Jaiswal

There are now 14,000 business schools around the world rolling out more than two million MBA graduates every year. In the UK, as elsewhere, business schools are fast emerging as the most popular choice of finishing school for the corporate world – attracting engineers, doctors and even scientists.

A Financial Times survey revealed that an MBA degree from a top business school almost doubles a graduate’s salary, with annual salaries in excess of £120,000. Universities see their business schools as cash cows on account of the high tuition fees they command – while many graduate degrees at the University of Oxford presently cost around £14,000 per year, an MBA enrolment in its Saïd Business School will net the university a tidy sum of £46,000. A cursory overview of the financial state of business schools therefore presents quite a rosy picture.

Yet, as strange as it may sound, the most popular degree is also the most criticised. For example, MBA graduates often lack basic business skills and are consequently found wanting in their early jobs following graduation. On the other hand, business schools are condemned by scholars and industry experts alike for preparing a workforce led by narrow utilitarian aims so often at odds with the grand mission statements they promote. Harvard Business School, for example, claims to prepare students for “a lifetime of leadership”.

Clearly, business schools are at a crossroads in their development. They are drastically in need of a comprehensive overhaul. However, if the right reforms are adopted, then future business schools and their MBA programmes could look entirely different to those we see today. The five major changes we need to see in our business schools of the future are:

  1. Currently, MBA programmes primarily aim to train their students to find a job in a corporate environment. Thus, business schools largely seek a certain type of student: risk averse, less entrepreneurial and largely – if not solely – interested in the financial and consulting sectors. In future, the best business schools will create job creators rather than job seekers. Promising students will not be suffocated by standardised tests and conventional careers but rather encouraged to innovate and defy accepted norms. Business schools will become a fertile breeding ground for start-ups and entrepreneurial ability will be considered one of the most important skill sets on a graduate’s CV. On this basis, the majority of the top 50 business school alumni will work for themselves rather than for someone else.
  1. The future MBA curriculum will move away from current ‘silo teaching’ where subjects are divided into distinct categories such as finance, HR, and marketing. The current system will be replaced by a unified, integrated curriculum. In future, navigating the increasing complexities of a global environment and identifying new opportunities will be imperative for a graduate’s professional success. Futurism will therefore become a core subject in leading MBA programmes.
  1. The case study method, currently the most popular taught methodology in business schools, is already obsolete. This method – largely based on fictional, time and company-specific data – will be replaced by teaching methods utilising actual, global, interdisciplinary data. The curriculum will move towards a systems view dealing with global and macro-economic issues. This trans-disciplinary curriculum will lead to more business graduates spending time in, for example, a molecular or computer science lab rather than the trading floor.
  1. The dismal percentage of female faculty members teaching the MBA in leading business schools today is startling. At Judge Business School at Cambridge University, only 12 per cent of faculty members are female – the second lowest in the top 100 business schools. Oxford’s Saïd Business School, where 18 per cent of faculty members are female, also falls far behind representative numbers. Future business schools will be required to commit to a minimum percentage of female faculty members in order to consolidate experience across the gender divide and so establish a fairer, more creative and encompassing workforce.
  1. MBAs are often accused of being snobbish, cut-throat in their competitiveness, and, at times, even unethical. Currently, most MBA courses make only a cursory nod to business ethics. The changing face of the MBA will lead to a curriculum underpinned by ethical philosophy. With the promotion of a social business philosophy, we will see a much greater number of social entrepreneurs graduating from business schools.

Market forces will inevitably shape passive business schools of the future, even compelling some to close. However, business schools – and their alumni – that actively reform have the potential to reshape markets. The most active institutions will reform their courses to produce the business leaders of tomorrow. These business schools will be the ones to shape the future of the MBA – and of business.

Ashish Jaiswal is Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies and author of How to Reform a Business School – The Ivy League Way

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Ashish Jaiswal

Ashish Jaiswal

Ashish Jaiswal is a writer, futurist and Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies.

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