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University business schools must embrace the opportunities from the pandemic in order to survive and flourish, say academics

MDX Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nic Beech co-authors paper in the British Journal of Management about the future of business schools

In a paper published in the British Journal of Management, Professors Nic Beech – President of the British Academy of Management and Vice Chancellor of Middlesex University London – and Frederik Anseel – President of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology and Associate Dean at UNSW Sydney Business School – call for management researchers to embrace the opportunities the pandemic has presented, not only to combat potential threats to their existence, but to add value to organisations, businesses and society.

In their Manifesto to Higher Education and Management and Business Education, Beech and Anseel outline the considerable threats facing the sector. The short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant moving teaching online. For business academics this has been a significant issue because of the large numbers of students who study business compared to other disciplines. In the UK, business schools teach 15% of all students, 19% of postgraduates and 31% on non-EU international students. The fact that business is the most popular subject for international students combined with the inability of students and staff to travel creates a ‘perfect storm’ of reduction in income, increased complexity and volume of new work and increased cost. This is impacting on university budgets. In the UK, it has been estimated losses to the sector will be £2.5bn and there have been predictions of 30,000 job losses.

However, the authors highlight the opportunities that exist and argue:

“We also see the emergence of new approaches to management education and research, which might contain the seeds for a future vision for our communities” and they call on institutions “to break their disciplinary shackles and seek to develop collaborations within social sciences and across other disciplines.”

The opportunities outlined by the authors include the move to online education that could stimulate an increase in blended and more accessible forms of education to support life-long learning. Digital learning environments have been predicted to disrupt management education for decades but most business schools have been slow in changing, they say. The authors add that the crisis has forced a shift from physical to digital in a matter of weeks and teaching styles have had to change. The pandemic has provided an ‘electric jolt’ to research, with many academics taking a problem-oriented approach seeking to address the challenges associated with Covid-19.

Researchers need to move towards conducting research with business and society instead of about business and society, argue Beech and Anseel. In these times of Covid-19, there is an increase in calls for research into Covid-related management and business research, with a focus on topics like leadership in times of crisis, working from home, technology and work, virtual teams, resilience of individuals and organizations, job loss and insecurity, unemployment and wellbeing and firm strategies for economic recovery. The authors conclude by saying that colleagues with in-depth expertise in these areas are vital to life after the pandemic and that the opportunities exist and needed to be embraced.

Find out more about courses at the Middlesex Business School

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