Why Business Schools Will Find Strength in Numbers

Like businesses, business schools have become ever more aware of the need to connect with each other and collaborate in order to remain competitive, or simply survive.

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The digital revolution, boosted by artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the internet of things, has accelerated the rate of change in global economic activities and revolutionized the ways in which organizations must conduct business. It is no longer enough to operate on a national scale; regional economies have been transformed into global trading corridors and hubs, and even the smallest of companies are now expected to conduct themselves at an international level, alongside much larger, well-seasoned players. In addition, as technological advancement continues to have a huge impact on the “triple bottom line” (social, environmental, financial) of businesses, regions, and countries, organizations are faced with the additional pressure to become more socially responsible and ensure that the resources they gather are managed ethically and efficiently.

These global challenges are too big for organizations to master on their own. To design effective solutions, they must collaborate with existing partners, but also, often, with competitors.

What is true for organizations is equally true for business schools. As the ones shaping the future generation of global business leaders, we must ensure that what we teach reflects the activities and needs of the modern business landscape. Like businesses, business schools have become ever more aware of the need to connect with each other and collaborate in order to remain competitive, or simply survive. To operate internationally, to tackle the world’s most pressing social challenges, and to create effective change, we must work together to engage our global networks.

In short, we must embrace the mantra of open collaboration. Only by collaborating with others both beyond the classroom and beyond our own institutions will we be able to develop and enthuse future leaders and entrepreneurs who can create, use, and share knowledge to deliver equitable and sustainable futures around the world.

Collaborating with industry

Business schools like those at the University of Warwick, LUISS University, Nottingham University, and Durham University have, in recent years, been actively introducing a number of professors in practice to their faculties. This has allowed the business schools to welcome a broader spectrum of professions and backgrounds into their networks and create an exciting research environment that bridges the gap between academic theory and traditional business practice. Collaborating with industrial partners in this way also helps business schools improve the relevance and application of research-led curricula for students outside the classroom. For instance, at Durham University Business School we partner with industry so we can facilitate fresh business thinking and match our students with leading industrial gurus.

Industry collaborations can also help business schools better engage with global supply networks and partners, enabling faculty to address some of the world’s most pressing questions and subsequently providing graduates with the necessary tools to do the same. For example, at Durham, this year our faculty have been engaged in methods to improve service quality and customer satisfaction with international chains, working directly with Brazilian small- and medium-sized enterprises to guide their efforts in entering new markets and sustaining competitive advantages. Some are even analyzing the effectiveness of smartphone apps that would help protect users from domestic violence and abuse. Faculty can then incorporate their findings into lectures, debates, and practical projects for students.

Other schools are engaging in similar partnerships to create entirely new programs tailored to a specific industrial or organizational need. For example, the Cranfield School of Management delivers a unique Executive MBA program with accounting firm Grant Thornton to ensure that students gain maximum insight from commercial application. This collaboration not only addresses the current productivity and management skills gap but also uses the U.K. government’s new Apprenticeship Levy to bring scale and wider accessibility to business education.

In addition, business schools are digital delivery of education a core priority by using massive open online courses (MOOCs) and asynchronous content. For example, the Durham MOOC on open innovation has been used as a core post-graduate training module for scientists and engineers from Durham, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, and the University of Edinburgh Business School. This form of global engagement is becoming more critical with the advent of blockchain technologies, which allow business schools and employers to create trust via smart learning platforms like Gradbase for qualifications and accreditation verification.

Collaborating with Educators

Beyond corporate partners and service suppliers, business schools, like successful businesses, must collaborate with their peers to offer students the most effective and relevant learning experiences. For example, a program like the Quantitative Techniques for Economics and Management (QTEM) draws on expertise from an international network of 19 leading business schools and corporate partners to help students develop strong quantitative competencies and analytical skills, in an international and intercultural context.

At Durham, we have taken steps to join forces with emylon business school in France to develop a comprehensive partnership on research and teaching activities. This allows students to undertake a six-year global doctorate in business administration (DBA) program, and enables students to interact with not just Durham and emlyon but also their associate networks in the U.K., France, China, and North Africa as they explore the future impact of technologies on organizations.

Collaborating with fellow educators allows business schools to forge thought leaders who can push the boundaries of accepted business practice by encouraging students to think independently, conduct their own research, and find new ways of tackling the issues at the heart of their respective industries. Business school peer partnerships can offer new ways for students to experience different cultures beyond what can be achieved through overseas visits, helping them to become truly global citizens.

As an example, Durham has launched a Global Citizenship Program, operated through a multi-university partnership, that enables students to learn about and study within a wide range of countries and cultures. While a global program of this nature was challenging to coordinate at times, it has been successful in helping students critically explore the implications of issues like the U.N. Agenda for Sustainable Development (ASD 2030) and engage with experts and policymakers to discuss problems and potential solutions related to such global issues. In one partner project, we work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the award-winning artist Mark Edwards to organize a series of impactful student projects that address the broad challenges of climate change, poverty eradication, and environmental sustainability.

Though it may sound counterintuitive, by developing partnerships with our contemporaries—and sometimes our competitors—around the world, we are able to improve our educational offerings for students, share best practices and new ideas with the wider business education community, and ensure that our business schools can keep providing value to industry for many years to come.

Kiran FernandesKiran J. Fernandes is the associate dean for internationalization and professor of operations management at the Durham University Business School. He is also the executive director of the Northern Powerhouse Innovation Observatory and a fellow of University College Durham and the Wolfson Research Institute. He serves as a non-executive director and vice chair of the UK National Commission (UKNC) for UNESCO with special responsibility for higher education