WHILE BUSINESS ALWAYS WILL
be affected by new technologies and global trends, it is impacted just as much by changes in government regulations and public policy. Business schools—particularly those located near government offices in capital cities—must contribute not only to “the business of business,” but also to the “business of government” if they truly are to be partners with industry.
Our institution, Victoria Business School (VBS), is situated in the heart of Wellington, the seat of government for New Zealand. Public policy is being made here every day, and that knowledge has influenced the composition of our programs, the direction of our research, and the way we engage with both the private and public sectors. It also is reflected in our current slogan: “Capital thinking. Globally minded.”
While our journey has been shaped by our location, we believe every business school has the capacity to generate substantial impact on its region, whether it is located in a manufacturing hub, a technology stronghold, an agricultural region, or a large metropolis. In fact, creating local impact has become more of an imperative for business schools in recent years as stakeholders and governments have required greater accountability from educational institutions. AACSB International has recognized this imperative by calling for business schools to develop a “collective vision” that positions them at the intersection of academia and practice.
Every business school will find itself at a slightly different intersection. At Victoria Business School, ours is the one between business and public policy.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
For VBS, a focus on public policy is a natural fit, as our parent institution has built much of its strategic vision around its role as a capital city university. Furthermore, along with 14 Australian universities, Victoria University of Wellington is part of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), which is an initiative of the Australian and New Zealand governments. Together, they provide postgraduate programs for public sector practitioners.
VBS is deeply involved in this collaboration. The head of the School of Government at VBS serves on ANZSOG’s board of directors and its audit and risk committee, while other staff members serve on its research committee. VBS staff helped establish the ANZSOG Case Programme, which features 172 cases and 1,380 active users worldwide. Other VBS staff members teach in ANZSOG programs and speak at annual conferences.
In addition, VBS has developed its own specialization in the field of public policy. The School of Government is one of the six units that comprise our business school. VBS has offered a master’s of public policy since the mid-1980s, and our Institute for Governance and Policy Studies was established in 1983.
However, in the past decade, VBS has placed much greater emphasis on developing our contributions to government agencies and public policy. We’ve done so by focusing on four types of initiatives: establishing partnership chairs, contributing to public policy reviews, expanding the curriculum, and extending the global reach of our school.
With each partnership chair we’ve launched, our goal has been to focus on important contemporary New Zealand issues and support partner organizations with research collaboration, staff development, and policy development. We consulted extensively with New Zealand business, public sector, and community leaders as we created the chairs. Each one is supported by an advisory board comprising members of diverse partnering organizations, which include government departments, public policy agencies, businesses and professional firms, and private trusts.
Among the new creations are the Chair in Digital Government, established in 2007; the Chair in Public Finance (2011); the Chair in Economics of Disasters (2013); The Bank of New Zealand Chair in Business in Asia (2013); the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice (2014); and the Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership (2016). The chairs conduct research, publish newsletters, organize conferences, and provide insights to governmental bodies.
The effects of these efforts can be both profound and far-reaching. For instance, the Chair in Digital Government investigated ways to make it easier for small businesses to interact with government online. After receiving a low response to an online survey, the researchers concluded that when interacting with the government, participants were dealing with administrative complexities that went beyond channel and technology issues. Researchers ultimately recommended that government agencies build their online channel strategies in close collaboration with the business community and with the business customer in mind.
For instance, they recommended that agencies develop user-friendly websites that offered easy access to staff members and quick response times. They also called for improved internet access in rural areas, better integration of services, the acceptance of digital signatures, and ways to enhance information-sharing. The full report is publicly available on the chair’s website and has been discussed with several government agencies, including the Inland Revenue Department and the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment, both of which are implementing the recommendations.
As another example, the Chair in Economics of Disasters generated influential research on the economic consequences of the severe 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, the most costly event to hit any high-income country in more than 60 years. The chair focused on research to answer two crucial questions: What are the likely long-term recovery trajectories for the city, and how can we understand the evidence about the likely risks? For instance, the chair’s research showed that even though 75 percent of the recovery costs in Christchurch will be paid for by insurance, the heavy reliance on insurance funding led to high rates of building demolitions and delays in claim resolutions. Such information will influence the way insurance companies and government agencies plan for their responses to the next earthquake.
The Chair in Economics of Disasters also is shaping the future insurance regime in New Zealand through research, public speaking, and policy consultations with government agencies and private sector insurance bodies. For example, the New Zealand government is evaluating a reform of the public earthquake residential insurance scheme, which was established in the 1940s, and the chair is participating in the reform discussions. For this chair, as with all of the ones established at VBS, we anticipate the focus will evolve over time as we see changes in public policy and the needs of the community.
CONTRIBUTING TO PUBLIC POLICY
VBS also has participated in public policy reviews for the New Zealand government. For instance, in 2009 the New Zealand Government commissioned a Tax Working Group that brought in several academics from Victoria University of Wellington, including the business school. VBS hosted the meetings and provided support through its Centre for Accounting, Governance and Taxation Research. The recommendations of the Tax Working Group provided the foundations of the wide-ranging New Zealand tax reforms introduced in the 2010 Government Budget.
In addition, VBS faculty have shared their expertise with government and public policy agencies. For instance, in 2012 and 2013, one of our professors was co-chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty established by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Among the 78 recommendations listed in the final report were calls to reform child support, implement public-private microfinancing schemes to provide low-income families access to affordable credit, support educational programs for teenage parents, and provide free primary healthcare for all children 17 and younger. To date, 35 of the recommendations have been partially or fully implemented.
Whether our graduates find careers in business or community organizations, they will benefit from understanding government policy and the legal process.
At VBS, our professors know how important we consider service on external boards. We explicitly look at service to the business school, university, profession, and community when we’re considering academic promotion. We also look for effective engagement when we’re selecting people for senior leadership positions. In addition, Victoria University of Wellington hands out an annual Engagement Excellence Award, and several staff in the business school have been recipients.
Academic staff are invited to participate on various review boards on the basis of their reputations in their fields. Agencies usually approach staff directly, but sometimes they ask for advice as to whom should be invited; at that point, we consider the research and teaching record of the candidates, the relevance of their research, their ability to work effectively with boards, and their experience with public engagement.
We know our school’s reputation is bolstered when our professors are involved in public policy boards, but there are many other benefits. For instance, our classrooms are enriched because academics draw on their experiences and insights to illustrate their lectures. Professors also make connections with government ministers and experts from outside the business school, and they’re often able to invite these experts to participate in guest lectures.
If other schools want to make sure their professors are considered for policy review boards, they should encourage their academic staff to engage with external stakeholders in their fields of expertise and to take opportunities to publicly comment on issues where they have knowledge. Business schools also should provide opportunities to help academics develop the skills needed for public engagement and commentary. For instance, the school could offer media engagement training or training in writing short articles for broad audiences. Schools also might consider whether candidates have these skills when they’re recruiting senior academic staff.
EXPANDING THE CURRICULUM
At VBS, our programs prepare graduates for work in business, public policy, or community organizations. We also recognize that whether our graduates find careers in business or community organizations, they will benefit from understanding government policy and the legal process. For this reason, our bachelor of commerce (BCom) includes a compulsory core course dedicated to these issues.
We also have built degree programs around critical topics, such as our public policy major in the BCom program and our master’s degrees in public policy and management. In 2015, we launched a master of professional economics (MPE) degree. This came about after a governmentwide review had concluded there was “a dearth of experienced economic input into policy advice across the public service generally” and the New Zealand Treasury found that there was “no support of formal postgraduate training in economics” of an intermediate or advanced applied nature.
We partnered with leading economists from government, financial institutions, and consultancies to develop the MPE as a hands-on program that would help graduates learn to analyze contemporary world problems. We also designed the program to appeal to people from different educational backgrounds—such as policy, law, or engineering—so they can complement their existing knowledge with an understanding of economics.
The applied nature of the program is part of what appeals to students. The majority are working professionals who bring in problems from their own workplaces and incorporate these into their studies and projects. In the MPE program, they learn the type of economic analysis typically performed in public policy organizations, as well as business and consulting work, in which they learn to understand trade-offs, evaluate options, and work in interdisciplinary teams.
We also have developed many ways to allow VBS students to get hands-on experience in the public policy field. For instance, those who enroll in our master of public policy program can participate in the ANZSOG Graduate Pathway program, which offers three-month internships in various state sectors for a limited number of graduates. VBS also operates a Summer Research Scholarship program in which students undertake research projects for private and public sector organizations under the supervision of professors and staff from the partner organization.
In addition, our partnership chairs find ways to enrich the public policy aspects of our curriculum. For instance, the Chair in Digital Government offers an executive course on using social media for effective public engagement; it also has established a master’s program in e-government, to teach students how to manage complex online government initiatives.
Victoria Business School is located in the heart of
Wellington, the seat of government for New
Zealand. It highlights that connection with the
slogan “Capital thinking. Globally minded.”
CREATING GLOBAL REACH
Our focus on business and public policy also extends to our international education efforts. Our executive education activities are heavily weighted toward training staff in public sector agencies, and a significant portion of these are directed at government officials from emerging markets. During 2014 and 2015 we delivered programs for government officials in Vietnam, Indonesia, West Papua province, and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
As an example, the PNG Foreign Service Training Program, which is delivered in both Wellington and PNG’s Port Moresby, includes modules designed to help the PNG Department of Foreign Affairs rebuild its department. Three cohorts of 30 participants have gone through the multidisciplinary program, which combines contributions from VBS, the university’s English Language Institute, and the School of Earth Sciences. In addition, New Zealand diplomats teach parts of the program.
We’ve also hosted international conferences linked to our work at the intersection of business and the public sector. The 2015 Global Political Marketing and Management Conference brought together researchers and practitioners from various parts of the world to investigate the impact of marketing and management on political activities. The conference focused on the current trend in which political marketers have moved from a short-term transaction-based approach to a relationship- and network-based approach, a trend that extends far beyond political campaigns. Researchers offered a number of topics on the theme, ranging from the factors shaping political brand preference in India to the ways market-oriented leaders communicate.
Attendees included local and national New Zealand academics, as well as scholars from Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. The global impact of the conference extended well beyond the participants due to the publication of a special issue on political marketing in the international Journal of Nonprofit and Public Sector Marketing. (See www.tandfonline.com/toc/wnon20/28/1.)
DIVERSIFYING OUR OFFERINGS
While we have used our capital city location to create a focus on government and public policy, we don’t want to become over-reliant on government funding and engagement. The predominant range of programs we offer continue to cater to the needs of the business community, and we diversify our portfolio of offerings by determining what other needs our graduates can fill in the local community.
For instance, over the past decade, the Wellington area has emerged as a “Silicon Harbor,” and it now produces a quarter of New Zealand’s gross domestic product related to information and communications technology (ICT). To fill the growing need for managerial talent in this sector, we have launched a master of information management; we’ve also created a master in business analysis as part of the ICT Graduate School that was recently established by Victoria University of Wellington and two other tertiary institutions.
In addition, we always try to keep track of what skills employers want from our graduates. We recently commissioned a survey of several thousand local business and public policy institutions and asked them to rank the importance of 20 skills and attributes they look for when recruiting. They identified excellent verbal communication skills and a good work ethic as the top attributes, followed closely by skills in interpersonal interactions, teamwork, critical thinking, self-management, and initiative and enterprise.
The survey made it very clear that our informal professional development opportunities—such as leadership programs, business case competitions, and team projects—are essential components of what we offer to students to support their career development. As a result of conducting this survey, we know not only what attributes we should be helping our students cultivate, but also what co-curricular initiatives we should be offering.
At VBS, we have taken advantage of our location in the capital city to craft distinctive programs rooted in local context. In addition, we have worked to strengthen our research and teaching standards by earning accreditation from international agencies such as AACSB and EFMD. Through these processes, we’ve created a virtuous circle of increased student enrollments, higher quality staff, improved facilities, better student experiences, and more effective engagement with business and public sectors.
Similarly, we believe other capital city business schools can benefit by supplementing their business-focused programs with programs, centers, and chairs focused on public policy. But even schools that aren’t in capital cities can adapt the same strategies in their own operations. By working with the most important and powerful institutions in their areas, business schools can help shape their communities as they strategically coordinate their research, programs, and teaching with their communities’ biggest concerns. (See “Becoming the Go-To Source” at right.) In doing so, they can craft distinctive programs that suit the local market, strengthen the regional economy, and secure their place in the region.
Bob Buckle is pro vice-chancellor and dean of commerce at the Victoria Business School in Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Daniel Laufer is head of the School of Marketing and International Business, an associate professor, and a member of the faculty management team at the Victoria Business School.