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Academia & Education

How Higher Ed Can Transform Society

Business schools must embrace the transformative power of education that is currently underutilized

  • June 2023

In a rapidly changing world, higher education institutions have a critical role to play in shaping the future. However, the transformative power of education is not fully utilized in the current system. Egon Zehnder recently facilitated a conversation with selected CEOs of Global Compact companies and business school deans from around the world, which raised some interesting challenges about the role business schools can play in transformation. This article explores the key themes that emerged from these discussions and highlights the potential for higher education to transform society.

Embracing Agility and Breaking Inertia

Business schools must acknowledge the need for agility in their operations and curricula. The traditional structures ingrained in academia can hinder universities from acting quickly and effectively. It is imperative to identify and push back against these outdated systems designed for a different time. By embracing change, academic leaders and faculty can foster a culture of innovation and responsiveness, enabling universities to adapt to the evolving needs of students and the world at large.

Shifting Perspectives: Lifelong Engagement

The purpose of education extends far beyond a one-year experience or a mere transaction. Deans emphasized the need to reimagine education as a lifelong engagement. It is crucial to change the impression students have of their educational journey, encouraging them to view it as an ongoing endeavor. This shift in perspective requires a concerted effort from academia to continuously engage with alumni, providing support and resources throughout their professional lives. By nurturing lifelong relationships, universities can equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate a rapidly changing landscape.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration for Greater Impact

The pace of change within educational institutions often lags behind the business world. To bridge this gap, greater collaboration is needed between business schools and other university departments, as well as with external organizations. Students and the world demand an interdisciplinary approach that transcends traditional silos. Faculty members must adapt their teaching and research methods to integrate knowledge and perspectives from various fields. Embracing collaboration fosters innovation and equips students with the skills necessary to solve complex, real-world problems.

Bringing the Business World to Campus

To truly prepare students for the challenges of the professional world, universities must bring the business world to campus. By establishing closer ties with innovative companies, universities can create immersive learning experiences and foster a culture of applied research. Through project-based learning and close proximity to faculty and students, business schools can revolutionize the nature of research, aligning it more closely with the needs and realities of the industry. This integration of academia and the business world promotes relevance and enhances the impact of education.

Navigating Complexity with Purpose and Values

In an era of diminishing trust and transparency, institutions of higher education have a responsibility to anchor themselves in strong values. Leaders must proactively communicate their decision-making processes, involving colleagues, clients, and the public. Agreement on every issue may be impossible, but alignment around shared values is crucial. Universities can contribute to fostering a more informed and ethical society by upholding and promoting truth, trust, and transparency in their own operations and through the education they provide.

Diversifying Future Leaders Pools through Lifelong Learning

To ensure a diverse pool of future leaders, higher education institutions must actively seek out individuals with different perspectives and values. This can be achieved by focusing on trade skills and reskilling employees.

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