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Featured Events , Future of Business Education Gabelli100 | Oct 09, 2020 |

Business Schools Driving Impact Amidst Rapid Change

By Claire Curry

Business school leaders in Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom shared the latest trends and innovations they are implementing to prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce during a panel at the Future of Business Education Conference held virtually on October 1.

The discussion, moderated by Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of the Gabelli School of Business, focused on the need to prepare students to adapt quickly at times of crisis and in a world—and global economy—that is constantly changing.

The COVID-19 pandemic tested such agility among students and professors, the panelists said, accelerating the use of technology and alternative teaching approaches to ensure that learning could continue during the lockdown.

“From one evening to the next morning, we were able to move completely to online teaching,” said Giorgio di Giorgio, deputy rector at Luiss, a private university in Rome. “It was ‘emergency teaching.’ Our students and professors did a great job of adapting.” The transition was particularly smooth in the business school, which was already delivering many courses online. Going forward, di Giorgio said, the real challenge will be “understanding how to best blend different tools for teaching. It will provide us with a lot of new opportunities.”

Business with Purpose

The pandemic also presented unexpected opportunities to put the concept of “business with purpose”—the mantra of business education at the Gabelli School—into action in real time.

In the same way the Gabelli School has reached out to the New York City business community to lend support through the pandemic, Oxford University’s Saïd Business School launched two projects aimed at assisting enterprises hit hard by the crisis, according to Dean Peter Tufano. The school also organized more than 100 firms and seven universities to “supercharge” global COVID-19 recovery efforts.

“We quickly focused on purpose,” Tufano explained. “I challenged our entire community: If we’ve been speaking these words, how are we going to demonstrate to the world that we really mean them?”

Then came an opportunity to really walk the walk.  

“Oxford has a large homeless population and in the middle of the pandemic and lockdown, the city was desperate to find housing for them,” he said. For four months, the school opened the doors of its residential executive education facility to house the city’s displaced homeless.

Emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and incorporating social development goals are other ways educators are infusing learning with purpose into business curricula. One example is a new program the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Ireland introduced, focused on renewable energy and environmental finance. “We created the program hoping that some of our graduates will be impactful in striving to reduce carbon emissions,” said Gerardine Doyle, the school’s associate dean and director.

According to di Giorgio, Luiss also takes a broad approach to interdisciplinary learning. “We talk about ‘life-large’ learning, not only ‘lifelong’ learning,” he said. “We try to expose students to a set of experiences that will help them become better citizens in our society.” These can range from working in a community garden to volunteering to welcome migrants.

Di Giorgio said that in the future, job candidates will be expected to prove their social skills, along with their other credentials. “When a former student applies to become a managing director of a big company [the prospective employer] will ask ‘What have you done to contribute to our sustainable development goals?’”

Success in Numbers

Measuring the impact of these new trends in business education isn’t easy because, Tufano said, they are very “long tailed. What you see traditionally is measuring things like ‘How many businesses did my graduates create? What’s the net wealth creation in terms of shareholder value?’”

However, quantifying how much impact a particular program ultimately has on the world is difficult if not impossible, even over the long term.

Doyle agreed but pointed out that there are short-term measures that reveal keen insights, including the research being produced at an institution and the level of alumni involvement. During the pandemic, Smurfit reached out to its alumni to help keep students connected and, according to Doyle, the response was “incredible.” Alumni volunteered to host webinars, create podcasts, and deliver leadership lessons virtually. “They gave of their time so graciously and generously,” she said. “That, we can measure.”

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