Re-imagining the Business School Model – by Austin Okere

This pandemic has uncovered the soft underbelly of our unwillingness to think beyond the present and anticipate future eventualities.
There have been various experiences and pronouncements regarding the education of our youth in the past couple of weeks. At the local secondary level, my son’s school completed the syllabus for the current term through online classes at home. Far afield, the Harvard University is offering 67 online courses for free to help academics through lockdown and quarantine; while Coursera is partnered with 192 institutions from 43 countries and offering more than 3,200 online courses in 13 languages. In sharp contrast, the Kano State Government has ordered all schools to stop online classes immediately, while the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through an interview of their President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi with the Punch Newspaper has declared that E-Learning cannot work in Nigeria.

In his TED talk on the three ways to plan for the very long term, Ari Wallach canvasses: Trans-generational Thinking (thinking beyond just your lifetime), Thinking of possible futures and not just one future, in case of eventualities. And having a 30-year horizon in our thinking process, not just the next couple of years.

I wrote this article four years ago when I was invited as the Keynote Speaker at the GBSN/EFMD joint Conference at Accra, Ghana in November 2016.
It seems that the chickens have come home to roost.

The EFMD is a leading international network of business schools and companies (820 members from 82 countries) at the forefront of raising the standards of management education and development globally. EFMD runs the EQUIS and EPAS accreditation systems as well as the EFMD Deans Across Frontiers development programme (EDAF) and is one of the key reference points for management education worldwide.

The GBSN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening management, entrepreneurial and leadership talent for the developing world through better access to quality, locally relevant education. GBSN harnesses the power of a network of nearly 70 leading business schools that share a dedication to their mission to build management education capacity for the developing world.

Even though I spoke about Business Schools. The insights stretch across the whole educational system. The Chinese use the same expression for Challenge and Opportunity because they are the two sides of the same coin. We should not waste the crises of this painful pandemic, but rather exploit the opportunity to plan for Sustainability in our education system across all levels.

Time there was when an MBA from an Ivy League College will guarantee you a very lucrative high-profile job. This seems no longer to be the case.
I must tell you this story about a Kenyan lady who was settled in the UK. She had borrowed heavily to do an MBA at a business school hoping that this will secure her future. Three years after graduation, she was facing eviction from her Council accommodation for back rents and no job in sight, albeit with a huge student loan overhang. You cannot but empathise with her in her confusion, when through streaming tears, she told the court bailiffs how disappointed she was that she did everything right and felt rather short-changed by the system.

In my view, the real questions become: Are we setting the right expectation for Business School aspirants? Have schools missed the train of the Digital Revolution? Why are they refusing to innovate in today’s age of Digital Platforms?

After over a decade of being an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Columbia Business School in New York, and serving on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship, these are my insights about the need to re-imagine the Business School model to produce graduates who can thrive now and into the future:
• We need to start teaching people to learn “how to learn” than just to learn to master something, in this fast-disruptive world.
• The inverted classroom should be the new norm – the creative contribution of the class with a facilitator is much more effective than the messianic delivering of long lectures by a “professor”.
• To what extent are business schools allowing influence from markets – is there a concept of Entrepreneur-in-Residence or Professor of Practice attached to the school, linking industry experience and market expectation with learning concepts in business schools?
• Are we empowering students to create their own entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial spaces after graduation – today’s knowledge workers prefer to sell their time and talents to many organisations and be paid on an outcome basis than getting stuck in a “9 to 5” job with one company – For example, Upwork provides a platform for matching requirements with skills in a shared economy.
• How can we encourage business schools to explore structures that teach how to leverage the need for inclusiveness, by bringing products and services to non-consumers through low-cost efficiencies and wider availability than the fierce competition in a shrinking pie of current consumers?
• How can education reach more people more affordably? Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs is gradually taking the toll off traditional schools leveraging the ubiquity of broadband and connected devices – how well have we embraced the concept of MOOCs – concerns around quality of programs and teachers, while relevant, should not stop this viable way of reaching more people. They should be seen as a complement to traditional business schools than the competition, especially in emerging markets, where 80% of the world resides, and are more likely to be excluded in a formal setting.
• Regulation needs to catch up in this new area, as we open the door to online education and degrees

Hoping for an automatic lucrative job after an MBA is now a myth. The reality is that you should think along the lines of Bring Your Work (BYOW) to the party – this speaks to the need for deep entrepreneurial empowerment in the business school curriculum, and alignment to industry and social realities.

In my view, it is an indictment on the education system that many companies are now acting as their incubation centres with University-like academies for new employees, following the apparent disconnect between graduating students and the job requirements of today. I believe that Universities should be collaborating with these centres to obtain valuable feedback for their curricula.

The biggest threat to success is success itself. Business Schools have been very successful over the centuries. It is difficult to simulate hunger when you are full. You get into a comfort zone, and complacency sets in. You tend to assume an arrogance borne out of a false sense of invincibility that prevents you from opening yourself to any new ideas. As change is the only constant in life, the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn, and continuously adapt has become crucial for survival and sustainability in the education sector. The global leadership space is like a game of musical chairs; always one chair short, to eject whoever is not able to adapt fast enough. Business Schools have to get on the innovation train in order not to be left behind on the tracks. We used to say that big fish eat small fish, today it seems that it is the fast fish that eats the slow fish. It seems to me that there is no better time for deeper collaboration between town and gown than now.

Austin Okere is the Founder of CWG Plc, the largest security in the technology sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at CBS, New York. Austin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network, and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. Austin now runs the Ausso Leadership Academy focused on Business and Entrepreneurial Mentorship

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