Following the fantastic response we've had to the BlueSky Education Thinking podcast's first season, we thought it was the right time for a one off live episode to discuss the issues facing business education in today’s COVID world.
We covered a huge range of topics in season one:
This new live episode covers all these topics and more, with participation and questions from our live audience on the current global situation and how business schools are adapting - Magdalena Wanot from EFMD even shared some insight into their virtual careers fair initiative.
With many of us working from home during the coronavirus crisis, you will find this discussion of all things business education particularly useful.
If you have a query regarding business education and the media, and missed your opportunity to ask live during the recording of this episode, worry not, we will be continuing to answer your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #BlueSkyEducationThinking or drop the Managing Head of Practice, Stephanie, an email on firstname.lastname@example.org - we look forward to continuing the conversation with you and we remain here to help.
Adrian: Welcome to the BlueSky Education Thinking podcast.
So, hi, I'm Adrian Barrett, I'm one of the Directors of BlueSky Education. And we've got Steph with us, who is the Practice Head and, a man who hopefully needs no more introduction, Matt Symonds, the man with his finger on the pulse of business education for more years than he would very likely care to admit to.
This is this is the first time we've done a live zoom based podcast, obviously brought on by the great changes that are happening in the world at the moment. You hopefully will have heard some of our pre-recorded podcasts, which are available on the BlueSky website.
So, what we want to do today is make this as interactive as possible. Questions about what's going on, trends, developments, etc., things that are keeping you awake at night. The idea is to get a discussion going here today, but also to post this on the site so it can be shared with the wider business education community going forward.
So, if I could just, as I'm the guy doing the talking at the moment, just start off. What I'd like to do is put a question to Steph on the basis that Steph is talking to journalists, writers, editors, who are specialising in the business education arena, all around the world at the moment. You know, what's the sort of the general feeling that you're getting from the writers as opposed to the schools themselves? Like are they seeing this as sort of end of civilization as we know it, or do they see any signs of, you know, signs of resilience. Like any positives that might come out of it on a long-term basis?
Steph: I can see signs of resilience and the positives about all of this. Initially, a lot of the journalists, writers and editors who focus on business education, were looking at the immediate impact. So, what were schools doing? Were they transitioning online? How are they coping with that? What were the timescales? Were people flying back home, and then studying online from their home countries if they studied in a different country that was home to them? And schools transitioned really, really well, so there was a lot of coverage to do with all of those topics and how schools were dealing with it.
And since then, there's been a lot more focus on student aspects. So, if students studied in a different country, and then they stayed there, how are they coping away from their families? What are the realities of actually studying abroad? Now that most of us are locked in quarantine measures.
And now there's a lot of focus on the future. So, what schools are going to do come September or October when the next term starts? What are their plans? What is the future? And what do jobs look like for the graduating classes, especially MBAs, what’s the future for these business leaders and where do they see their professions going?
So, it's been really interesting. And there's a lot of speculation now and a lot of focus on schools’ impact on what they're doing and what plans they are making. And some have initially been a bit hesitant to share that because there's no precedent. There's no-one who's done this before. So, it's totally new ground that they're making here. But it's been really, really interesting. And I'm sure Matt, you must have heard all of this from the schools, haven't you?
Matt: Yeah, I just emerged from two days with many of the top schools for an event that we organised with Poets and Quants Centre Court, where we invited a lot of the admissions directors and the Career Services directors from Kenan Flagler, Alison I see you’re with us, and many of the other top schools, I have to say I emerged from that with a real sense of determination, optimism, exhaustion. Admissions officers are dealing with bringing in the classes of September, not knowing whether those classes will be campus based, whether they'll continue to need to deliver classes online. All of these discussions about deferral, people that can't take their GMAT or GRE tests, and so navigating the yield that they have. But looking ahead, of course, historically, we've always seen that any economic downturn whether it was the .com bust of 2001, or Lehman in the financial crisis of 2008 - 2009, because the school has always been a counter cycle. And so they do expect real demand. I think one of the emerging messages, and I got that very strongly from many of the alumni that I've spoken with, it's something that I've always felt in any of these situations: You're better off with your graduate management education, MBA, specialised masters, than without because both in terms of networks and the productivity of those networks to support the next generation of graduates, of course, wonderful professionals working in the Career Services teams looking to support all of these individuals, but also the skill sets that they've been developing, you know, that resilience, that adaptability of being able to face these challenging conditions. I'm actually very optimistic about the role that business schools and their graduates will play over the next two, three years as the world that's been turned upside down slowly gets back on track.
Adrian: Are you seeing any specific initiatives or concrete ideas in terms of specifically looking at the jobs market as yet or is it? Is that sort of stuff, you know, still in development?
Matt: Right. It's a lot of that, we are very glad that we featured careers panels in the Centre Court event because it's often voices from the schools that perhaps don't get quite the same level of exposure. It was interesting to hear your comment about journalists that really want to understand, you know, how this might impact the job market for MBAs and other graduates this summer. And then beyond that. Many of them said that, of course, historically, if you go back 20-25 years, many of the consulting firms, I think it was in the crash of 1992, they pulled away from campus recruitment and regretted it bitterly because it sort of broke the connections that they had. And I think we then saw that in 2001, and in 2009 - 2010, just how determined they were to maintain their presence. So many of the careers services that are sharing with us have talked about the high levels of engagement. If anything, I think there may be a time lag. Whereas perhaps rather than starting your position at the Big Four or MBB, in July or August, as you might expect to as you come out of school, some of those positions aren't starting until the fall or even January of 2021. But the hiring intent is still there. Technology, of course, and not just Amazon that in many senses is having a good COVID. But you know, the technology solutions we're all relying on during this period. I think there's a sense that there'll be tremendous demand there. And of course, with all the deans that I talked to, all of them have talked about health care and the impact that business schools and their graduates can have in the healthcare space in the next 10-20 years. And I think those projections have just quadrupled, or certainly multiplied, in terms of opportunities that we'll see in that space. So, of course, there are the downsides when oil is worth $11 a barrel, or the aviation industry that's been decimated, you know, retail is going to take a long time to get back on its feet. But all of those core recruiters seem to be very steadfast, and so for the time being they’re, I guess, quietly confident about what they might see for the remainder of this year. It'll be tough. But I think with the sort of determination that the graduates are showing that they're reasonably confident.
Adrian: But are you seeing any reports of particular initiatives which are involving, you mentioned the Alumni Associations and anything sort of concrete there as yet or is that still too early days?
Matt: Yes. I mean, I've seen the internal documents that have come from the Deans of Columbia Business School and INSEAD reaching out to the alumni bases to encourage them to think about the opportunities there might be for the class of 2020. But very interesting to hear just how many alumni didn't wait for that communication. They've already written to their schools and said, how can I help? You know, I remember when I was in this such situation 10 years ago, and it was through the alumni network of the school, that I was able to identify opportunities. And so I think, you know, alumni themselves have been particularly proactive and reaching back out to their schools to say, how can I help, which is just speaks to the sort of this tremendous resource I think that graduating from these schools offers to candidates in the current job market.
Adrian: Right, right. Okay. Is there anybody who is with us today who has got any sort of example of what their school is doing or schools that they're aware of are doing in terms of trying to address the job market? Trying to involve alumni to look at that?
Steph: Yeah, please just pop your comments in the chat and we can read them out or unmute you or share any of those ideas because I know, I'm lucky enough to speak with schools every day all over the world. And there are so many different initiatives and the alumni and students I speak to who are so passionate, and they love the schools that they studied at. And there are schools like the University of Manchester, they've launched a fund to support the graduating class coming into this new job market. And that's going to be supported strongly by their alumni. And it's different initiatives like this that are going to be so important and that are going to be spoken about, seen in the media, and the educational press are going to love all of these different aspects.
Adrian: So the messages that need to be pushed out at the moment very much need to be reassuring, but have to be credibly reassuring, they do need to be backed up by specific examples rather than just wish lists.
Matt: I think it's also a good example of, given these unprecedented conditions, of collaboration. You know, you talk about the initiative at Manchester and Berkeley has, for example, has guaranteed the living expenses of their students between year one and year two as they look for internships over the summer. EFMD, of course, is very active with the higher ed, virtual career platform that I think you know, it's going to be rolled out 20 or 25 of those events in the coming weeks and months at which brings a great number of schools together and I think just this idea of how schools can then work together because you know, these conditions that we face are for all of us, I actually think that either by sharing best practice ideas, this has worked, something that can then quickly be adopted by other schools or even pulling those resources, you know, to give their graduates the very best opportunities in a very challenging time.
Steph: Yeah, I mean, Madga from EFMD has just messaged to say that they've launched a virtual career fair. So I'm just going to unmute her. And she'll tell us a little bit more about that.
Magda: Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. So yes, I'm happy to share the initiative that we've just launched that Matt has kindly mentioned, which is a series of virtual careers fairs, and as you said, this element of collaboration in this very challenging time is critical. So we've worked with fire edge to pull resources and launch a series of career fairs, which are geographically specific, and industry specific to help the career advancement and development of graduates and students in this difficult time. And it's been a great success. We actually had the first fair only yesterday and we have had more than a hundred schools on board and 60 corporates right now. So this is a new experience for both sides actually. And we've had some interesting feedback coming from the corporate recruiters as well. That's, you know, moving from this traditional campus based recruitment into virtual space that we've already experienced in the industry. It brings an added value for them as well to continue their talent and management within their corporate talent recruitment units. So thanks so much for having me.
Adrian: And Madga are you finding that the corporate recruiters are embracing this quite enthusiastically? I mean, are they being flexible, about adapting to these new circumstances?
Magda: Actually yes. And to speak very personally, I was a bit wary on this side when we launched this initiative, because I thought, you know, the first reaction from corporates in this very uncertain times might be, you know, we're sort of putting on hold our recruitment initiatives and so on, but they've embraced that quite enthusiastically. And there's been a tremendous response coming from them. So we're really happy about the outcome.
Adrian: It's very encouraging, isn't it? Yeah. I think this is perhaps a difference to what's happened in the past, you know, when there have been sort of huge downturns in MBA recruitment. It used to be that recruitment was almost done on a sort of like a just in time basis, whereas over the past, certainly over the past sort of five, six years, perhaps even over the past 10 years, there's been this move to pooling and pipelining of talent. So it's not just ‘we need somebody tomorrow’, ‘we need somebody next month’ it says, let's go out there and start building relationships with the people that we want now that we might want further down the line, it's more of a strategic approach to things which, you know, fits in brilliantly with the sort of initiative that you're taking.
Magda: Yeah, it does. And actually some of the schools, they’re kind of put forward recruiters that they traditionally work with for common resource and the good of the network, which is which is also very commendable. More for you know, and kind of a sign of solidarity and compassion.
Adrian: Because I suppose there is always a danger in in a situation like this, that sort of everybody thinks we need to look after ourselves, but from what you're saying. There is a sort of solidarity, you know, we're all in this together. So we've got to find a way to answer it together.
Madga: Yeah, absolutely.
Steph: Thanks so much Magda. Thank you. Yeah, that was great. I hope you don’t mind, but I'm just going to remute you because we have another question.
Thanks, Magda. That was wonderful. And Ali is interested in knowing how the future of business schools would look in a global economic crisis. And, Matt, would you like to kick off with this one?
Matt: Crystal Ball question, isn't it the future business education? Yeah. It's robust. I think, if you look at the challenges, of course, that COVID has presented on so many levels, starting with delivery. You know, if we look back over the last 10 years, there's been a very slow and conservative move towards more online delivery. But the FT still only has 10 online MBA programmes in their annual ranking. And Allison could no doubt speak to the launch of the online MBA at UNC Kenan Flagler, that was a pioneer, one of the top schools offering that sort of delivery, there was tremendous resistance from the alumni. And you know, what does this do to the brand? That now looks very prescient, I think. And it's interesting to see how schools like UNC, like Durham, like MIP in Italy, Imperial, Michigan, you know, they've all invested heavily in developing online courses. So this scramble that we've seen in the last two months to transform the courses online, I think, you know, those schools perhaps have been particularly well positioned to ensure not just the classes delivered, but I think that much deeper thinking about pedagogy, about what is you know, successfully delivered online, how you manage to maintain that level of interaction between faculty and all of those voices of students in the classroom. Harvard Business School has been wrestling with this and of course, at HBS and now HBS online, I think has a lot of ideas about how they can continue to deliver the case method, which traditionally, has been a very fast moving and interactive live experience in a classroom. So I think you know that we will see a shift. Right now I see two mindsets. There's this growing generation that feels that online learning in a way you want when you want fits with the sort of flexibility that they required, whereas those that have been plunged into it that have chosen the full time MBA, and suddenly having to move to online delivery, for them that's an understandable shock. We talk about how sometimes the professors are adapting to this more quickly than the current students, but I wouldn't be surprised if in the next decade, both for the FT ranking, but among the top schools, we would triple or quadruple the number of business schools that offer online MBAs, online specialised Master's programmes. I think this will be a tremendous, tremendous acceleration for that, that is going to require a lot of resources. It's not something that schools can do lightly. But I think in a sense, COVID has broken down some of the resistance from faculty, and this generation of students that are ready to embrace it. Executive Education, that's always been, for some schools, a major part of the revenue stream. And that's, you know, come to a crashing halt. Again, within the Executive MBA. That's one of the discussions that we had in the podcasts earlier this year, looking at the EMBA, which very often was adopting a blended learning model, and using a lot of those virtual learning platforms. I think that that, again, looks like it was a good investment to make, because with the uncertainty of how quickly we will rediscover that sort of international mobility that we used to take for granted. I think the ability to blend both live, campus based learning and online is going to be more and more important. And I think that corporations themselves will buy into this idea as they're getting used to people working from home, that they can also pursue their education and studies from a laptop versus spending three or four days in a residency of executives. So, you know, that's part of the business school model that we often overlook. Right now, it must be really hurting the business schools to have seen that revenue stream come to such an abrupt halt. And we'll see that pick up slowly. But, you know, transitional times, I do see a silver lining. You know, we've often talked about how business education and higher education in general was ripe for disruption. And I think that the schools that are nimble and agile and can really move beyond this opportunity, will do very well in the future. I think it'll be tough for others. I think, you know, we will see some closures, we will see certain programmes being closed down but you know, again, that speaks perhaps to another of our podcasts of how you stand out for the strength, the specialisations and the faculty expertise of your institutions and those networks. I think that podcast in particular was very interesting about what certain schools have done, you know, to really leave their mark. And to be clear for candidates what they offer.
Steph: Yeah, absolutely. We had one of our podcast series was on standing out from the competition. And that might be another great topic do again for our next series, because things will change so much in this time. And we have another question, from Rob Read. So Rob, I'm going to unmute you so you can ask.
Rob: Lovely. And, yeah, I think this is this is to everyone, but perhaps maybe Matt more so, and I just wondered what your opinion was on whether ASEAN business schools were any better prepared to come out of this quicker and stronger than their European counterparts due to their previous experience with the SARS crisis coinciding with the global downturn 10 or so years ago? And is there anything that European schools could learn from this and quickly to reduce long term damage to numbers, perhaps brand reputation? And with the numbers down, potentially with rankings in a few years’ time?
Matt: Yep. Yeah, it's a great question of different parts of the world and their responses and therefore how they might bounce back. I think one of the interesting case studies for this right now, and of course, it's a work in process, is INSEAD that operates with primarily out of Fontainebleau and Singapore, but also with the campus in Abu Dhabi. And they've also got that beautiful new research centre in San Francisco that they opened and then immediately had to close, but the school has been discussing internally, with typically their September and their January class starts, would they be able to shift many of those students that otherwise would have started the programme in Fontainebleau to Singapore, given that in the early months of COVID-19, in Singapore, the government and the country had done well to really limit the impact. Of course, it was just, what 10 days ago that the number of cases flared up again, but how they could then use having a dual campus structure and shift some of their learning, I think it's still too early for them to make that prediction. But there are a number of schools, as you know, Rob, that have pursued this multi campus model, you know, ESCP that has campuses in five of the major European cities, others that have explored bases across Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. The Asian School of Business was another recent launch about five years ago. It was MIT Sloan that partnered with a major Southeast Asia bank. One of their challenges is that they've relied on a model where every week they would fly professors out from Cambridge, Massachusetts to deliver courses in the campus in Kuala Lumpur. And right now, of course, with a lockdown, they're not sure how they'd be able to pursue that. So will Southeast Asia recover more quickly? They've often showed the discipline, I guess, to crack down on these sort of cases. And I wouldn't be surprised if those schools emerge perhaps a little more quickly with campus based learning before some of the European schools.
Steph: That was a great question. Thank you, Rob. That was fabulous. If anyone has any further questions, please pop them into the chat. There was just one more that I think was probably prompted by comment we made and it was, what topics do we think we will cover in the next podcast series? We actually have one recorded from the last series on events, which became completely irrelevant due to Coronavirus. So perhaps we'll release that as a special one day. Anyway, we’ll return to it when things are a little bit more normal, but what will normal look like? And Adrian, Matt, there are any other topics in your head that you think we should cover?
Matt: A big one for me is mobility. And interesting with Magda talking about the virtual career fairs where you're still looking to tie multinationals whether they're based out of Zurich, London, Berlin, that are hiring graduates of EFMD member schools out of Spain and Italy and Lithuania, you know, the sort of connections that they look to make across borders.
I think the other big one is, in terms of already in the last two or three years with a Trump administration and the uncertainty that had created around H1B visas, we’ve already seen the impact in terms of study destinations for international students. This is an election year. And clearly Trump intends to use the theme of immigration as one of his cards. And it was only 10 days ago that he announced that they would stop all immigration, immigration stopped anyway, but he does like to take his own position on those things. And I think that's a great concern to US business schools, there's been this scramble for them to pursue a STEM certification because that may give more opportunities for their graduates if in theory, the MBA somehow had a sort of a science technology component to it. But it also picks up on Rob's question about, you know, which parts of the world might open up more quickly, and how some of the fundamentals of ideas of study destinations may change. You know, Chinese students that were, you know, there was just a direct feed towards the US, have been prepared to look elsewhere in the last three years, you know, whether that's Canada, a lot of European business schools who've been recipients of that, and that expressed interest, and clearly over the next 6-12 months, based on the ability to then receive, safely receive and welcome those students, you know, I do wonder about how international students will think about their own study plans, would they feel more comfortable targeting schools in Southeast Asia, rather than Europe or North America. So I think that sense of mobility and study destinations is going to be a big theme to follow.
Steph: I totally agree. And I think the schools that communicate well in those areas and to those areas at a time like this will really begin to see the difference. Absolutely. Adrian, any final comments just before we wrap up today?
Adrian: It's something that we've touched on in our own talks is that how the business education community carries on putting out positive messages without sounding like it's just sort of whistling in the dark. How you shape and then communicate and carry on communicating credible, positive messaging to really get the message over that this, yeah, this is awful, none of us wanted this to happen - but, you know, this could be like a stimulus for a leap forward in the way that business education operates and is delivered. And it'll be different. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be bad, it could actually end up being something really positive.
Steph: Definitely, and I must say one of the positive things to come out of this is the need for Business School experts. Because before it was like, people didn't want to listen to experts, but it's almost heralded a new age where people want to hear from academics, they want their input, they want their speculations about what's going to happen to the economy, what's going to happen to different sectors. So there are definitely things that we can see that've really come out of this and worked, worked really well.
Matt: Yeah, I think it's always entrepreneurs that are going to save the world rather than the politicians. And with that entrepreneurial mindset. You know, I think how that applies to business school graduates. It also reminds me that we've seen unprecedented sums being pumped into the economies, you know, to cover this period through COVID, but not losing sight of other major societal challenges, including, of course, climate change, and many business schools as they look at themes of sustainability, again that was another podcast that we discussed. You know, whether it's the 17 SDGs of the United Nations that RSM and other schools have embedded in their curriculum. I think climate, the environment, is still an absolute priority. So as we move through COVID, and it will be painful, to not lose sight of some of those other areas where business schools make such a massive contribution at a local, regional level and an international level.
Steph: So we just have one final question from Tomaso from Bocconi. So I'm just going to unmute you and you can ask away.
Tomaso: Hi everyone, I just wanted to look at something, this is a very big question that regards specifically communication. Just because, I mean, Italy, unfortunately was on the front lines, so one of the first countries where everything really escalated. So we, here at Bocconi, it's been since the end of February. Now, so for two months where our communication was focused 99% on Coronavirus, so communicating what's been happening regarding the switched online teaching, getting out or research on the topic, or experts in the newspapers commenting, and we've done stories of all our alumni who are working on the front line, etc., etc. And we were just starting to sort of debate internally whether it's sort of time to move on a bit, you know, start talking about other things, but is there any interest in the media for other topics? Is it time to start talking about other things, looking forward, and I just wanted to hear some thoughts on this.
Steph: Absolutely, a brilliant question. Thank you so much. And I think a lot of schools have started off in a similar vein, just communicating, sharing their expertise, sharing their stories. I've seen a lot of schools who want to be quite strategic in what they want to be known for. So there's a school in France who really wants to know for entrepreneurship so they've pushed how entrepreneurs can cope with the current crisis to the press so they can be seen as the experts in that and hopefully that will encourage any entrepreneurs and people looking to learn more about that to apply for their programmes and to look at the school a bit more closely. Matt, Adrian, what are your thoughts on Tomaso’s question?
Adrian: I think that it's important to have the strategic picture in mind all the time that okay, I can completely understand, given the fact as you saw that Italy was in the in the front line, you needed to engage around COVID itself because of so much media focus on that. But I think that the longer this goes on, I think we're already seeing ourselves, that there is there are people wanting to write about other stories. And so there is an appetite for the right sort of stuff, the correct, you know, credible material that one would have put out before all this, this blew up. So it's a question of getting that balance and, and constantly thinking of the long term picture rather than just the here and now.
Matt: I'm reminded that there was a survey of British television viewers, what did they remember of the nine or 10 O'Clock News the night before? And this is back in the early 80s, during the conflict in in the South Atlantic. And so they all said, well, of course it was talking about that. Nobody could remember anything else other than the final segment that was about a duck that had learned to ride a skateboard or something. And that somewhere, I think, we've seen this absolute blanket coverage. It's been nothing but COVID. And it sounds like the initiatives, Tomaso, that you've taken at Bocconi have really been very reactive and responsive to that. But we are starting to see this need for either more positive stories, or, Steph mentioned earlier looking at the future, which of course, is always speculative. But as I can imagine, in the Italian market, whether it's for design for the fashion industry, retail, tourism and leisure of course, you're how you're then starting to look at those industries in the future. So that's still related to the COVID story.
The FT was very slow with COVID. You know, I was writing about the fact that business schools were moving to Skype to do their round two MBA interviews in the end of January. And you know, the FT really didn't catch on to this idea of how schools were starting to adapt to what was emerging out of China. And then suddenly, we saw nothing else. But I think in perhaps the next three, four months, of course, it will still be what 80 - 85% COVID. But how you then explore that 15 or 20% of those other stories, because there's clearly a growing appetite for them.
Steph: Really great, really great advice and after all, communication should be about those goals. And those goals still exist for business schools. So how can we help meet them with our communications now, even though we're dealing with media landscape, but as Matt said, it is slowly changing. We're seeing more positive stories, more non COVID stories. So it's all about how to leverage that.
So thank you, everyone, so much. for joining us today. And if you want to hear any more from us, please drop us an email. We're always happy to help and answer any questions. If you'd like to listen to our podcast, then please head over to the website. And we'll be adding this as an extra episode as well. And we really appreciate your time. So enjoy the rest of your day. And thank you, everybody.
Matt: Stay safe everyone.
Adrian: This has been the BlueSky Education Thinking podcast. Thank you for listening.