Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 3pm

Boston University Reports on Business Education’s Future: MBA News

New report outlines ideas for the future of business education

Back in October, Boston University School of Management and IBM held a three-day online discussion over the future of business education.

The ‘Jam’ – intended as a 60-hour international brainstorming session - attracted around 4,000 participants, from faculty members at leading business schools to industry employers and MBA students, past and present.

Six months on – during which time Boston University School of Management has undergone a name change to the Questrom School of Business, following a US$50 million donation from retail industry magnate, Allen Questrom - and the Jam’s key findings have now been published in a report, with the help of IBM analytics. So, what did the Jam team at Boston University discover?

Questrom School report identifies key challenges

Split chiefly into two sections, ‘Reimagining Business Education: A World of Ideas’ first addresses eight key topics of contention identified by the Questrom School as the Jam’s most discursive.

Among these recurring themes, some interesting challenges came to the fore. For example, how to ensure that business school research is accessible and relatable to industry practitioners. As one participant surmised, ‘business leaders simply don’t read most of what we write’. Another challenge dealt with the value of business education, not only to students looking at increasingly high MBA price tags, but also its value to employers and the world at large.

A business school’s ‘value’ goes on to form an integral part of the recommendations Boston University’s report makes in its second part, or ‘roadmap for the future’.

Recommendations from the Business Education Jam

Regarding value, recommendations include expanding how schools measure the ROI of an MBA – or related – degree to encompass more than just financial considerations. For example, by finding ways to measure how graduates contribute to organizations and the job satisfaction that their qualification has helped them to achieve (albeit in ways that don’t seem overly self-serving on the part of the business school). Another recommendation raised was to improve upon the way in which industry needs inform business education curricula – with one participant suggesting that an approach akin to product development, where the final ‘customer’ (the employer) is consulted prior to development of the ‘product’ (the course).

Of course, for those at the point of considering business school, the crux of the matter is really whether universities and schools are convincing enough to be worthy or your time, application and subsequent hard work during the course of a qualification undertaken.

So, the Questrom School report also presents the Jam’s recommendations with a view to keeping innovative classroom practices flowing, particularly in terms of emphasizing the value of an on-campus experience at a time when online technology poses a very real challenge to a traditional business education.

As well as keeping teaching methods fresh and inviting, the report also points to the need for schools to ensure that they can meet the changing competencies required for leaders to work and thrive in the realities of the 21st century business world. Of course, constantly reassessing curricula is already a common practice among many of the world’s leading MBA programs, but it can’t help to reaffirm how quickly things can become stale or irrelevant, and how quickly the interests this generation’s students can drift in different directions.

Business education’s role in shaping future leaders

The report concludes with a roundup of what Jam participants felt the leaders of tomorrow should most embody and the role business education must play in this respect. Tapping into trends that will be familiar to most, fostering ethical and entrepreneurially-minded leaders was deemed essential. On the point of ethics, the Questrom School report calls for a greater integration of this dimension within business school curricula, but also to make organizations aware of the need to assess every aspect of their enterprise along ethical lines.         

Returning to the point about business school research, and the trouble faculty authors have in making their findings heard among employers, it seems, to this author, important to remember that a traditional role of the business school has been to influence and even determine industry practice. Even amid the, necessary, calls for greater levels of collaboration between educational institutions and employers, the ‘outsider’ advantage that business schools can hold in bringing balance to debates over the role of business in modern society shouldn’t be forgotten.

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).