“You could say everything has changed.”
These were the words of Hanna-Leena Pesonen, Dean of the Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, in Finland, when speaking with my colleague, Stephanie Mullins, for an upcoming BlueSky Education Thinking Podcast.
It’s true, COVID-19 has been disruptive for everyone. There are very few nations, sectors and organisations that haven’t been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking at the business education sector specifically, it’s been a crazy time to say the least! Schools were forced to close campuses, which required rapid innovation in the educational delivery process. Countries everywhere quickly began to lock down borders, requiring students to travel home while they could, not knowing when they would be able to return. And plans for the next academic year were thrown into disarray, with many institutions having to implement online learning-only courses for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, for most business schools these challenges haven’t been insurmountable, and many have adapted to the new ways of working effectively, taking it all in their stride.
But, for many, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what the future holds for their institution, its programmes and its students. This is why, now more than ever, business schools need to embrace PR if they’re to success in a post-COVID world.
This is no less true for Europe’s business schools.
So, what will change for business schools post-COVID, and where does PR fit in with all of this?
Online learning is king
Well, for starters, one trend brought about, or at least sped up dramatically, by COVID-19 was the sector-wide shift from face-to-face to online learning.
With the need to socially distance, business schools have had to alter the way in which they teach, to ensure students are able to learn safely. These innovations in delivery are here to stay.
While it’s unlikely that many schools will avoid on-campus learning in the long-term, this new emphasis on online learning, and the distinct recognition of the value of online and blended teaching is undoubtedly going to remain a key theme in the post-COVID world.
The shift to online presents European business schools with a number of opportunities to attract new students to their institutions. This newfound flexibility that comes with online programmes can and will make the difference for many potential applicants who are keen to study with your school, but may not have the time or opportunity to enrol in a full-time, on-campus course.
Likewise, through online learning, often referred to as distance learning, European schools can attract students from untapped markets across the globe, who may want to study at an elite European institution, but can’t or don’t want to uproot and move to the other side of the planet to do so.
With these opportunities in mind, schools must utilise PR in the post-COVID world to attract these potential students.
Combining student and alumni stories with thought-leadership from faculty around subjects such as Edtech and innovation in the classroom, your school can demonstrate to potential applicants the value of the studying on their online programmes, as well as the depth of expertise the teaching faculty have.
While COVID-19 has undoubtedly converted many online-sceptics, there are still a lot of people who question the value of an online programme, and reject the idea that a course taught remotely could equate to face-to-face learning, so it’s key that business schools harness the power of PR to changing minds and secure applications.
A great example comes from MIP Politecnico di Milano who were keen to address any concerns potential students may have had about enrolling on Milan-based business school’s Online EMBA. Utilising the testimony of a current student, we reached out to leading business education publication, BusinessBecause, and secured an amazing article in which this student could discuss the initial concerns she had, and how her experience studying on the Online EMBA has been brilliant.
Alumni networks are vital
Another key theme for European business schools to be aware of in a post-COVID world is the value of their alumni network.
Now that’s not to say that most European institutions don’t already recognise the value of their alumni communities, but as COVID-19 has demonstrated, when the chips are down and the future looks bleak, networks like this can be crucial.
In an article for his Forbes platform, Matt Symonds spoke with a number of European business school leaders about the resilience of the European MBA jobs market and found that the alumni of those schools had played a critical role in supporting current MBAs in finding placements.
Speakers from schools such as ESMT Berlin and IMD Business School in Switzerland noted that they had found reassurance in such uncertainty in the incredible response to the pandemic from their alumni network.
So it’s pretty clear that in the post-COVID world, business schools would be wise to cultivate wide-reaching and engaged alumni network. PR will play a significant role in doing this.
Through effective PR and media relations, European business schools can create and maintain an engaged network of former students, harnessing the stories and expertise of alumni.
A standout example of this comes from Imperial College Business School. Keen to share with the media an example of what the school’s MBA graduates had gone on to do, Imperial enlisted BlueSky’s help to push some alumni profiles. With the one particular student we secured coverage in both the Financial Times, as well as the leading business education publication Poets&Quants.
Media coverage like this not only serves as a real life example of what can be achieved with the help of your business school, and so is great content for supporting recruitment purposes, it encourages other former students to engage with the school in order to have their own story shared.
We can’t say for certain what a post-COVID world will look like for European Business Schools But, what we do know is that institutions will need to embrace online learning (if they haven’t already!) and work to cultivate their alumni networks - PR being the key to success.