Sat. May 28th, 2022

As politicians from around the world gathered in Glasgow last month for the COP26 negotiations to tackle climate change, the leaders of some of Europe’s top management schools have prepared to make their own contribution.

The heads of Cambridge: Judge, Oxford: Saïd, HEC Paris, IE, Iese, IMD, Insead and London Business School unveiled a program of webinars, a climate leadership toolkit and plans for wider collaboration under the umbrella of Business Schools for Climate. Leadership – or BS4CL for short. And they insisted that it be more than the first two of those initials.

Compared to business schools in other parts of the world, those in Europe – especially in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands – have long taken the lead on sustainability issues. Their peers have followed a growing range of courses, student initiatives, specialist institutes and dedicated faculty positions.

Yet like Colin Mayer, a former dean at Oxford: Said Business School, reason in our latest annual review of European institutions, there is still a separation between slow action by educators on the one hand and evolving business practices, regulatory pressures and demands of students and society on the other.

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Based on his work leading the British Academy Future of the Corporation program, he says shareholders’ priority still dominates over purposeful business in education. Even among those like the BS4CL schools, no one has “gone far enough to put corporate purpose at the heart of core courses”.

One reason is inertia at schools, which has long grown and developed expertise based on more traditional approaches and values. Another is that many businesses remain ambivalent or slow to move. To reform the schools, they will need to send clear signals to deans about the type of future managers they want to recruit, the training needed and the best research insights to use.

A final factor, in Mayer’s view, is the influence of business school rankings themselves, with assessments of performance based heavily on factors such as salaries, which drive the retention of pedagogy that favors the old profit maximization model.

The FT’s own rankings, including these latest “rankings” of European schools, give credit to the best graduates recruited in positions such as investment banking, for which high pay is a good measure of outcomes. But they also remove lower salaries from those entering other jobs, such as those in the public and non-profit sectors, to reduce any discrimination against schools and students pursuing less profitable careers.

We aim to further reduce the weight given to salaries in the future. The challenge is to find alternative credible measures to compensate that are consistent, comparable, outcomes-based and achievable to collect. It requires fresh thinking – also by business schools – in assessing the quantity and quality of teaching, research and how their own operations align with people, purpose and planet alongside profit.

Rankings still have a role to play as a benchmark for students, school boards and employers, given the explosion of new programs and business schools. They provide a filter and a form of liability, which is important given both the substantial fees charged and the opportunity cost of taking business degrees.

The FT’s approach is to be consistent and transparent in the methodology used, to encourage readers to examine the individual data points, to focus on the issues that affect them most and to look at the overall levels or groups of schools, rather than just the overall ordinal rankings.

The rankings also provide an access point to broader reporting and analysis of business education, and the diverse and rich approaches adopted by the various institutions. This report profiles a range of schools, faculties, alumni and broader key trends in the field.

Despite increasing competition from North America and Asia, European schools have certain comparative advantages in addition to sustainability. They are generally more affordable – and often with shorter courses – than their American counterparts. They typically offer a more diverse group of students and faculties from different countries.

Like their counterparts in other regions, they were forced to innovate rapidly in a process exacerbated by the pandemic. Some develop fresh specializations, as in health care or training of art managers, as well as the use of communication, performance, design and music to develop their students’ skills.

Others use podcasts, YouTube readings, and even television documentaries to provide direct insights, not just from executives and entrepreneurs, but from out-of-the-ordinary figures, such as pirates and money launderers. The European Common Online Learning Initiative develop a shared curriculum and promote virtual international exchanges. European business school innovation continues.

Andrew Jack is the FT’s Global Learning Editor

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