Much coverage has been given to business schools’ claim that their curricula are shaping up to the social and environmental dimensions of modern leadership. ESSEC Prof. Stefan Gröschl turns on the spotlight and takes a glance.
Do full-time MBA curricula cover CSR & sustainability? By Stefan Gröschl.
In a report published in 2020, several deans of leading business schools were asked about the changes to business school education in response to sixth successive years of declining numbers of MBA candidates[i]. The author of the report summarized the changes and responses of business schools to the application crisis as ‘innovating with technology and focusing on sustainability’. According to some of the interviewed business school deans these changes and responses are coming rapidly and are aligned to the fast pace of change in the world.
Business and society on the menu: Is it being served?
According to the report and its interviewed deans, the notion of sustainability, the focus on responsible leadership, and the emphasis on a business education that addresses socio-economic and environmental global challenges are already a reality in many traditional MBAs. One business school dean pointed out that in his school courses have been introduced on business and society, business ethics, political analysis, and public policies that focus on inequality, and environmental sustainability.
In another recent report[ii], more business school deans were asked about changes in business school education. And again, responsible leadership on the environment, socio-economic inequalities and other corporate responsibilities were named key priorities of business schools and their MBA curricula. Stanford’s Dean of the Graduate School of Business explained that his school was committed to educate leaders ‘to think broadly of their role in society’.
Getting to the core of it
So I had a look at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the other top nine business schools of the 2019 Financial Times ranking, and browsed through the curricula of their traditional full-time MBAs. I wanted to see if leading business schools and their MBA program directors walk their deans’ talk, and had integrated in their offers of core courses elements that address and cover today’s global socio-economic and environmental challenges. Challenges such as income inequality and poverty, economic growth with the use of fewer natural resources, circular and green economies, global warming, climate change, waste management, etc.
Five out of the ten business schools had each one course on business ethics, and corporate governance and responsibilities. One school offered a course on business and society. Most other core courses of these leading top ten business schools focused on finance 1, finance 2, financial accounting, managerial accounting, corporate finance, micro- and macroeconomics, marketing, human resources management, leadership, strategy – in sum: mostly the usual MBA core courses covering basic business functions, management aspects and the business environment in which companies operate. In fairness to the business schools and their MBAs through which I browsed, they all might address aspects of our global socio-economic and environmental challenges in individual sessions of their core courses; or they might even offer whole courses that address some of the urgent societal and environmental challenges – but they mostly remain elective rather than mandatory courses. Courses on climate change, the use of common pool resources, life cycle analysis, and many other environmental aspects, courses on international relations, courses focusing on systemic, nonlinear and paradoxical thinking, courses that take transdisciplinary rather than unidisciplinary perspectives to global challenges and problems continue to remain optional to MBA students and stay largely outsiders of business schools’ MBA core curricula.
The need to be both shaken and stirred
When it comes to the challenges we have been facing for quite some time now as businesses, societies and educators, business school deans and MBA directors might want to consider Charles Handy’s advice: ‘Should we not have compulsory lessons on political theory, and philosophy, on history? And if that means we cannot do international finance 3, well, so be it…because at the moment I am not sure about the people we are turning out from our business schools are fit to lead the world’[iii].
The uncertainties and severity of disruptions we are currently seeing and experiencing as societies and businesses alike, illustrate that more and faster revisions and changes to MBA curricula are needed- not just to attract more future MBA candidates, but even more so, to better prepare our current MBA graduates for the complexities and ambiguities they face in today’s rapidly changing environments.
- [i] Murray, S. 2020. How business education will change in 2020 and beyond. At https://find-mba.com/articles/how-business-education-will-change-in-2020-and-beyond
- [ii] Nugent. T. 2020. 9 Trends That Will Shape Business Education In 2020, According To Deans. At https://www.businessbecause.com/news/mba-degree/6623/9-trends-that-will-shape-business-education-in-2020-deans
- [iii] Handy, C. 2009. Key note speech at the 3rd Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna
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- Read a related article: The Making of a Good Business School – distinguishing purpose from profit
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- Read a related article: Bringing Educational Diversity into Business Schools.
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