Business Schools have been the crucible of business and industry for a long time. Business education dates back to the last century, with Harvard University starting its Graduate School of Business Administration in 1908. The growth of business education has been phenomenal in the past half century as business schools have sprung up to fulfill a universal need for thought leadership, education and training of business professionals. There are more than 16,000 business schools operating worldwide at this juncture, as per the estimates of Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
The business environment is turning increasingly volatile, uncertain and complicated due to the combined force of technology, markets and geo-politics. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook are the five most valuable companies in the US today, edging out erstwhile giants such as ExxonMobil, Berkshire Hathaway and General Electric. In such a dynamic scenario, many business schools will go extinct within a short span of two decades and others will undergo a total metamorphosis. The role of B-schools is not merely to prepare students for the industrial economy of today, but to foresee what is to come and respond accordingly.
The renowned management guru, Peter Drucker, said, “The only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different.” And yet, this essay is an attempt to do some crystal ball gazing from the standpoint of the present.
There is a drastic change in how the millennial generation pursues learning, thanks to its familiarity with technology. The role of the teacher needs to be re-visited in such a situation. The B-schools of the future will move away from the board and desk structure of the classroom so as to keep the students engaged in the subject matter. Digital lectures, AI-enhanced assessments and VR-powered simulations are already making learning interesting in select pockets, and the use of these technological tools will only get amplified with the passage of time.
There is likely to be a larger focus on experiential learning or learning by doing, and less on theory. Conventionally, the students learnt core concepts of business in MBA schools and put those insights into practice in the work environment. The future of business education would consist in bringing the two worlds together by teaching the business fundamentals and getting the students to put them into practice while still at school. According to Scott DeRue, Dean, University of Michigan Ross School of Business, the future of MBA education is already being felt in the ‘experiential’ atmosphere that is being created in business schools worldwide. The MBA programs will also be better tailored to individual needs such that the entire learning experience will be on demand and customized.
AI and Big Data are revolutionizing business operations and services management, and this is only at the nascent stage. Moreover, the 3-D printing technology is under development and holds the promise of a huge upheaval in the manufacturing space. There will be a huge demand for people possessing both technical and managerial skills in these evolving domains. A few business schools have already taken the first mover advantage by launching MBA programs in these fields, and others will have to inevitably jump onto the bandwagon sooner than later.
There is a trend towards specialized business degrees such as MBA for Educators and MBA in Health Management. The current-day students demand wider career choices and employers are looking to hire candidates with specific skill-sets, as the career climate is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial and conventional domains such as education and healthcare are forging ahead of the competition. With the breath-taking developments in new niches such as AI and Big Data, the business schools will have to offer educational courses in those business areas.
Online education is gaining popularity due to various reasons. Online courses have no constraints of time zones as the entire world is transformed into a classroom and offer greater interactivity as there is always someone at the other end to provide feedback. Business schools will be compelled to deliver their existing course offerings online or in hybrid formats in order to cater to the students and working professionals at various stages in their careers. There will eventually come a time when at least some business schools will only offer online degrees. GMAT online preparation is already a reality.
Philanthropy has come into vogue in the post-capitalist and post-modern society of today. Companies are exploring ways of giving back to society and becoming more responsive to societal issues, thanks to heightened societal expectations and greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR). The business curriculum of the future will reflect the prevailing social realities and charitable causes. The business schools will also do their bit by creating awareness and increasing the intake of under-privileged students.
Business schools are partnering with the tech industry on account of the rising power and reach of technology. Tech giants such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft are hiring in big numbers at some of the top schools of the world. A total of 20% of the Harvard MBA Class of 2018 secured internships at tech companies and a record 25% of Kellogg MBAs accepted positions in the technology industry in 2017. There will also be a greater degree of collaboration among the business schools themselves as they will seek to leverage competitive advantages of geography, specialization and alumni networks.
To conclude, the business schools need to re-invent themselves to remain relevant in the vigorous business and social environment, and to prepare the students for an unknown tomorrow.