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International Business School Deans Predict 20 Business Challenges To Be Embraced In 2023



20 Predictions From Business School Deans. Photo by Ashton Bingham.

Will business schools be impacted by the ongoing aftershocks of COVID, the climate emergency, economic instability and geopolitical tensions in 2023?

That’s the question put to 20 business school deans from around the world, who in turn responded by predicting the following 20 issues that their institutions will need to combat in 2023:

1. Students will need to be equipped with the tools to embrace change

We can’t be paralysed by the fear of what the future may hold. Business education needs to focus on innovative ways of thinking to transform the way we live, work, and respect the planet. Innovation has to be a key theme for us all over the next 12 months and beyond. We should embed innovation through our research and how we help our students develop as future leaders. They will be inheriting a world that will look increasingly different from the one today. We have to give them the tools to embrace change.

Fouziya Bouzerda, dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management


2. Interdisciplinarity and collaboration with industry will be crucial

At Exeter, we have been working in an interdisciplinary way with colleagues from areas such as medicine and engineering for a long time. It is an approach that we will see increasingly in business education. The world is faced with some interesting but very complex challenges. Interdisciplinary working and collaboration with industry partners is the best route for solutions. For example, there is now a very pressing need to work out alternative sources of energy and fuel. The silver lining, I hope, will be that the progress of environmentally friendly solutions will speed up, which can be only good news.

Professor Alexandra Gerbasi, dean of the University of Exeter Business School


3. ‘Just-in-time’ teaching will be in demand…

We are going to see a shift from ‘just-in-case’ to ‘just-in-time’ learning. Traditionally, most education, especially GME, has followed the ‘just-in-case’ model. Students learn all manner of topics with the reassurance, ‘you’ll need this one day’. However, the Google generations are reared on accessing information only when it is needed. One of the drivers of lifelong learning—and stackability (or is that snackability?)—will be a market-driven demand for intensely relevant, just-in-time teaching.


 4. …and simply getting things done will also be important

There will also be increased importance of smart, executional skills: the simple ability to get things done. Coupled with the emphasis on immediate applicability, there will be more focus on execution not just analysis. For far too long GME has been obsessed with the power of complex analytics, with actual implementation left to take care of itself. We routinely hear talk of ‘hard skills’—by which people usually mean sums and spreadsheets—and ‘soft skills’—the skills of actual execution, motivation, and persuasion. The nomenclature is telling. This will be the year that execution gets blended with analysis.

Professor Ian Fenwick, dean of Sasin School of Management


5. We will question the relevance of an MBA

I think we are going to see significant developments in MBA programs. Is the qualification in step with societal changes around work/life balance, remote working, and portfolio careers? It is still a flagship qualification, but one that traditionally struggles with gender balance? If we are to attract more women (as well as men reconsidering more and more their contribution to their household/family life) to programs, a more flexible, family-friendly approach is needed.

Professor Jean Charroin, dean of ESSCA School of Management


6. ESG and sustainability will continue to be the focus…

We are seeing a growing interest in ESG (environmental, social, governance) as a career as businesses (and their investors) are thinking increasingly deeply about how they address environmental, social and governance concerns throughout their operations. The days of simply producing a CSR (corporate social responsibility) report are gone, and students are attracted to ESG as an area where they can make change happen. At King’s, we have launched an Environmental, Social, Governance Management MSc and issues of sustainability and responsibility are at the core of our new Executive MBA.

Professor Stephen Bach, dean of King’s Business School


7. …and the climate emergency will ensure that this is the top priority 

Historically, business schools have been focused on rankings and graduates’ salaries rather than the tools and values needed for more sustainable business… However, the threat of climate change is becoming ever more apparent, and future generations will continue to see the detrimental effects in their lifetimes. As a result, sustainability will continue to be intrinsically important to business school students.

With this in mind, as we look ahead to 2023, business schools will continue to face tough challenges including how to define and prioritise the skills and values associated with sustainability, and how to authentically increase the focus around this pressing issue. For example, how to integrate sustainability into teaching, research and operations; and the extent to which a failure to do so will undermine the future of business education.

Professor Steven McGuire, dean of University of Sussex Business School 


8. Mini-MBAs will continue to thrive – but won’t replace full-MBAs

In the last couple of years we have also seen strong interest in mini-MBAs and bespoke short courses covering similar content. These are not as a replacement for an MBA or EMBA; we have seen appetite from professions where the main focus is technical skills and knowledge, but where there is a growing appreciation of the value of learning leadership and strategic decision-making skills at an earlier stage in an individual’s career, and not just when they join an organisation’s top management team. At King’s Business School we have launched a very successful mini-MBA for in-house lawyers, and some similar bespoke programmes for science-led organisations.

Professor Stephen Bach, dean of King’s Business School


9. Businesses will recognise the importance of retaining and upskilling staff

This year looks challenging for many economies with uncertainty, inflation and, in some places, inflation coupled with a recession. This economic situation will spill over into how and who will take advantage of business education in 2023. We see in the market that employers recognise the importance of retaining their employees in these times of uncertainty. One way they will do this in the coming year is by investing more in training and upskilling their current staff. Such an approach is a win-win for both staff, employers, and business schools. These employers will not be looking for degree programs but short bursts of high-impact learning such as mini-MBAs that give employees needed skills in a time of uncertainty.

Professor Nora Ann Colton, director of UCL Global Business School for Health


10. Creating responsible, values-driven business leaders will be vital…

We see an increasing need to develop leaders who are value-driven, courageous and responsible. Therefore, shaping responsible leaders and measuring their transformation is at the heart of our strategy. This is part of a larger trend to measure impact, both in education and research, which we contribute to by increasing our societal relevant research.

Professor Koen Becking, dean of Nyenrode Business University


11. …and there will be a wider appreciation of empathy, consideration, and mindful management

2023 will be the year that values come out of the closet along with personal responsibility, mindfulness, and even humanity. The increased recognition of the limitations of unbridled pursuit of profit, coupled with innovation driven by sustainability, and the on-going impact of the climate crisis, will finally propel values to centre stage. Hopefully, with values will come wider appreciation of the importance of mindfulness in management: encouraging heightened empathy and consideration.

Professor Ian Fenwick, dean of Sasin School of Management


12. Face-to-face learning will still be preferable

[At Mannheim Business School], we doubt that online-only programmes are the future of management education. We are convinced that it is much more about creating high-impact learning journeys. This may include online elements, but in-person learning will continue to be indispensable. Management education—be it full-time or part-time, be it Master’s programs or executive education offers—is all about creating an inspiring space to learn. In our view, this is not entirely possible with purely online formats, since important parts of interpersonal communication cannot be conveyed as effectively as with in-person learning.

Especially in full-time programs, which often aim to transfer careers to the country where the program is completed, online-only formats make it nearly impossible to build the network necessary to land a good job in the respective country. So online programs may be the more convenient option at first glance. However, I consider face-to-face programs to be the better option in most cases.

Professor Dr Jens Wüstemann, president of Mannheim Business School 


13. AI, the metaverse and peer-learning will emerge to challenge conventional teaching

I predict a resurgence of attention in management education on sophisticated AI based on machine learning (ML)… The release of the breakthough text generator ChatGPT hits academics close to home as they need to question student assessment based on take home written assignments. ChatGPT is a great example of the growing power and breadth of ML applications, which promise to disrupt all of the functions covered in a classic business school curriculum from supply chains to HR.

Professor Peter Zemsky, deputy dean and dean of innovation, INSEAD

Our current students correspond to a new generation with new learning codes. The professor is no longer the sole guardian of information. Teaching and learning is now largely about sorting information and analysing sources, then prioritising, analysing and making decisions in an uncertain environment. Given this new reality and the development of hybrid teaching, educational innovation must also be at the heart of a business school’s commitments. I am convinced that teaching models will be challenged again in 2023 by artificial intelligence, by the metaverse, but also by peer-learning. These are all avenues that are already having an impact on our education innovation dynamic at NEOMA.

Professor Delphine Manceau, dean of NEOMA Business School 


14.  Schools will need to define their learning approaches – and listen to what students want 

I see 2023 as a year for business schools to reckon with the question of whether we are merely providing a brand name and a career outcome, or are we differentiating on the learning experience itself as well? That question becomes more relevant as we are asking ourselves how to cater to the online, hybrid and on-campus learner and the investments we are willing to make to engage them all. The different modes of learning that are part of our new normal encourage schools to define what their learning approach entails, and how to translate it consistently to different settings. Moreover, there is the learner’s voice to consider as well. I expect the on-campus learner to become more discerning and expect more engaging learning experiences that really capitalise on the live face-to-face setting.

Professor Marion Debruyne, dean of Vlerick Business School


15. Student mobility will continue to change

We are in an unstable world with frontiers, borders, and protectionism reappearing. This is going to impact student movements—some applicants are wondering why they would decide to fly far from home for general management education. The Covid pandemic opened up the possibilities of online learning and the younger generation is acutely aware of their carbon footprint. While I think the market for overseas students will continue, we are likely to see shorter, more flexible forms of learning being in increasing demand.

Professor Jean Charroin, dean of ESSCA School of Management


16. Students will need to develop strong analytical and operational skills to lead during geopolitical uncertainty  

War, high interest rates, geopolitical rivalry and increasing inflation will have far-reaching consequences for businesses, consumers and economies. In this context I think we will see increasing demand for business education because business schools provide students with strong analytical and operational skills that are relevant in all sectors and industries. I also believe business education will prove indispensable if we are to succeed in solving the greatest challenges we face, including climate change, the wealth gap between rich and poor countries, and the global energy transition. In order to remain innovative and relevant, develop new skills and solve common challenges we have to collaborate more. I hope business schools can be an arena for dialogue and learning in the face of increased geopolitical rivalry.

Professor Karen Spens, president of BI Norwegian Business School


17. The impact of tech redundancies might start to be felt…

Generally, students choose subjects according to acquired personal preferences and mid- to long term job market perspectives… If their career ideas cannot be realized at a specific point in time [for example due to economic downturn], business students from top business schools are well positioned. They may start their career as strategy consultants or at established companies and switch to start-ups or IPO firms later. Should, however, market conditions for tech companies and start-up business stay depressed for several years it is to be expected that [over time] students will change entrepreneurial electives to more general areas such as finance and accounting.


18. …but business school will train students to be adaptable

The business school’s perspective is a strategic one. As hardly any graduate will retire after decades in his or her first job, [the business school] curriculum is designed not to educate too specifically ‘on the job’ but to educate for general intellectual knowledge: with a focus on understanding facts and evidence and delivering tools for management and impact: in any type of commercial business, in any business cycle… What is of growing importance, however, is interdisciplinary working capabilities and the ability to connect with others, locally and internationally.

Professor Joachim Lutz, Dean of the University of Mannheim Business School 


19. Students’ mental health will continue to require full attention

While the well-being and mental health of our students was an urgent matter during the pandemic, it must remain a strategic priority for business schools. According to a March 2022 survey by the World Economic Forum, “70% of university presidents worldwide consider student mental health to be their most pressing issue.” I fully share this view. We need to deploy a range of innovative mind-body services that are both practical and affordable (eg. counselling by health professionals, wellness workshops focusing on personal development, risk prevention workshops, support for students with disabilities, etc).

Delphine Manceau, dean of NEOMA Business School


20. Ethical business will succeed

Substance will be key in 2023. In recent times, there’s been a lot of talk about ethical business in a broad sense—eco-sustainability, humane business, and fairness and equal opportunity, to name just a few topics. This year, we’re going to see those that have genuinely incorporated the values of ethical business into the fabric of their business pull ahead in front of the rest and make significant gains in achieving those commitments.

This is substance beyond rhetoric: in the next year you’ll see a correlation between those that pull ahead in their commitments to ethical business and the success they garner… It’s about having a moral compass. Irrespective of the organisation or industry, if we’re to deliver on this agenda, it’ll require personal buy-in from each individual. And that buy-in will lead to authenticity. Beyond having a genuine desire to be a force for good, it’s about knowing how. Professionals need to have the understanding to translate that effort into impact.

At Trinity, we’re producing graduates that do all those things: they lead with a moral compass; they have the know-how to enact those changes; and, crucially, they can do so in a digitally-intensive world. We’re creating professionals that can deliver ‘business for good’ across the three dimensions – business performance, financial wellbeing and, of course, ethical value/eco-sustainability.

Professor Andrew Burke, dean of Trinity Business School





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