- Written by César Baena
Universities were created to advance knowledge in science, the humanities, and the arts, and by doing so, contribute to the overall improvement of society. Business schools are relative newcomers to this by comparison. While some business schools were born within universities, others were created independently, often as a result of business-government cooperation. The main goal of these schools was to train business leaders in the techniques and skills needed to manage the firm, enabling them to create wealth and contribute to society’s well-being.
There are different types of business schools: public, private, elite, schools that are part of universities, and independent schools. Despite differences in nature and models, what matters most is whether business schools are able to be sustainable in the face of future challenges. Technological innovation is disrupting entire industries, organizations and the way people work. Business schools can lead the discussion on how artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and global value chains will affect organizations and society as a whole. They need to adapt their curriculum to the fast evolution of innovation technology while bridging the gap between companies, science, and government.
Business schools also need to train managers to provide reasoned answers to the globalization debate. Global managers hone their skills to do business across regions, manage global teams, and navigate different, often contradictory, legal and institutional frameworks. They praise the benefits of free trade and unhindered commercial relations. The challenge for business schools is to empower managers to be creative in finding solutions to ensure that the benefits of a more interconnected world are felt more evenly across borders.
Populations are aging in the Western world, putting increasing pressure on welfare systems. Also, as millennials join the workforce, organizations need to adapt to their expectations; having grown up in the age of the internet of things (IOT), millennials shun hierarchies and have no qualms about changing jobs if they are not satisfied. In emerging markets, where youth make up the majority of the population, economies are not able to take in the talent coming out of their educational centers, let alone those with little schooling.
Business schools need to address the demographic issues managers face in both industrialized and emerging markets. In the former context, as people live longer and healthier lives in a time where technological transformation is rapid, there is an increasing need for education at all stages of life. Program delivery needs to be adapted to an active working population that requires online learning and flexibility. In emerging markets, it is now common to find inspiring examples of innovation and entrepreneurship. Business schools could be instrumental in bridging the gap between such initiatives and hubs of innovation in richer areas. As globalization tends to blur differences between regions, creative solutions can be found both in western countries as well as in emerging markets.
The business school of the future will address events that go beyond the boundaries of the firm. There is an increasing preoccupation with issues such as business ethics, climate change, mass migration, poverty, and political extremism. To make a lasting impact, business schools should enhance their curriculum by including topics in the social sciences and the humanities, adopting a holistic approach reminiscent of the one that universities embraced from their beginnings.