The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the higher education community globally. It is no longer a short-term crisis for universities and business schools. Most were forced to shut and go online almost overnight, and many have struggled to develop a clear plan on how they can open their campuses again, with this crisis an institution must have a visible leader. It is more important than ever that Deans raise their profile within the media.
What is a Dean?
The duties of a dean vary slightly depending on the institution they’re from, but most of the time their roles are very similar. Deans support and promote the highest quality of educational programmes, research, public service, and economic development activities of their respective business school. Each Dean must be an effective advocate, both within the university and externally – they play a key role in crafting the institutions public image with stakeholders, donors, alumni and the community to ensure they achieve their wider goals.
Why have Deans been seeking media attention?
In order for a Dean to maintain strong relationships with their stakeholders and the community they need to communicate with them – often through the media – which is what we have seen a lot of during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deans have been taking up media opportunities in order to stand out and promote their brand, which they are an important extension of. By doing this they are able to share messages about their school in a much more personal way than an email would be. In this uncertain climate, people don’t want a generic email that will be sent to everyone’s inbox, they want to see and hear what their Dean has to say and what their next steps in dealing with this pandemic are.
As our Associate Director, Stephanie Mullins, says in her EFMD blog; “the words of a Dean carry significance,” this is because they are the institution’s figurehead, therefore their words carry weight. Stephanie reiterates the point that establishing a credible presence in the media is key to fostering positive relationships with stakeholders and adds that, “many Deans are well prepared for this [media] and are adept at public speaking, media appearance, and civic functions.”
As well as using the media to reach out to external stakeholders, Deans will have also used this as a chance to inform prospective students, who are planning to study this coming academic year, about what the university will be doing to ensure they have as “normal” of a university experience as possible.
So, the Deans at the top institutions in Europe have been doing lots of media because they have recognised the importance of a leader’s visibility in communicating priorities and agenda to its wider community. Let’s look at this more closely.
Examples of this
Here at BlueSky we work with leading higher and business education institutions in Europe (and globally) and many of these Deans have been interviewed over the last few months to provide some reassurance – I’ll highlight some key examples:
The first example happened right at the start of lockdown, MIP Politecnico di Milano’s Dean Federico Frattini spoke with journalist Jonathan Moules, the Business Education Correspondent at the Financial Times, about how COVID-19 accelerated the switch to online MBAs. MIP were one of the first business schools to close as a result of the pandemic, due to their location, and this interview highlighted how well they coped with the switch to online (which was done in 24 hours) and set a fantastic example to other business schools and universities globally.
Another example is a piece in Poets&Quants, a news outlet that publishes more articles, series and videos on MBA programs and management education than any other media outlet in the world. The article explained how ‘Britain’s Business Schools Plan to Reopen in Fall’ and featured comments from a number of Deans, including the Dean at Imperial College Business School and Durham University Business School. This is a perfect example of Deans using the media to reach out to students who plan to start in September and explain how the university will work but also to say that if travel restrictions are still in place, that their online MBAs are a fantastic option.
The Dean at ESCP Business School’s London campus, Simon Mercado, has accepted a lot of strategically important media opportunities over the last few months. The first is an op-ed for AACSB’s BizEd magazine where he talks about international student mobility and how the pandemic has impacted this, he reiterates that people should ‘take a breath’ and look at the long-term picture where studies have shown that despite the pandemic, people still have a long-term interest in studying abroad. This shows that he is calm during a “crisis”, something that people look for in a leader. Simon was also interviewed for an article in the world-renowned media giant Forbes about whether international higher education can survive COVID-19 where again he is positive about the outcome.
The last few months have shown that is becoming increasingly important for Deans to build and maintain their institutions profile – it has a major effect on student recruitment, which in this current climate is very important, given many students may be thinking of deferring for a year as they don’t want their education or experience to be affected.
Right now, universities and business schools are in a very challenging environment, the lack of clarity as to how they can proceed in the next academic year as well as the travel and visa restrictions in place means that they need strong and visible leaders.