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Reimagining the Business School Model

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Austin Okere’s address on reimagining the business school model at the GBSN/EFMD joint Conference at Accra, Ghana.

Time there was when an MBA from an Ivy League College will guarantee you a very lucrative high profile job. This seems no longer the case.

In fact, I have to tell you this story about a Kenyan lady who was settled in the UK. She had borrowed heavily to do an MBA at a prestigious school hoping that this will secure her future and help her pay off her loans. 3 years after graduation, she was facing eviction from her accommodation for back rents and no job in site, with a huge student’s loan overhang.

You really could feel for her in her confusion, when through her tears she told the court bailiffs how disappointed she was that she did everything right and felt rather short changed.

The question is:

  • Are we setting the right expectation in the current clime
  • Have business schools missed the train of the digital revolution, and the attendant efficiencies in cost and reach that today’s technology platforms provide? Or do they simply refuse to innovate?
  • Is bigger still better – in the past we used to say that big fish eat small fish, today it is the fast fish that eats the slow fish

In these few minutes, I will share some of my thoughts and insights after 6 years of being an Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Business School in New York, and serving on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. I do sincerely hope that that Prof. Samuel Bonsu and I can subsequently touch on some of them during our interaction.


When I look at re-imagining the business school model, the major re-imagination points are:

  • Hoping for automatic lucrative jobs after MBA is now a myth. The reality is that you should think along the lines of Bring your own work to the party (much the same way that employees were bringing their own devices to work in the past decade) – this speaks to the need for deep entrepreneurial empowerment, and alignment to industry and societal realities
  • We need to start teaching people how to learn to learn than just to learn to master something, in this fast disruptive world
  • The inverted classroom is the new norm – the creative contribution of the class with a facilitator is more effective than the messianic delivering of long lectures by a professor
  • How much are business schools allowing themselves to be influenced by markets – is there a concept of entrepreneur-in-residence or Professor of Practice, linking industry experience and expectation with learning concepts in business schools
  • Are we empowering students to create their own entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial space after graduation – today’s knowledge workers prefer to work on projects on a freelance basis, rather than get stuck in a career job – For example, Upwork provides a platform for matching requirements with skills
  • How can we encourage them to leverage off the need for inclusiveness, by bringing products and services to non-consumers through low-cost efficiencies and wider availability, especially to the bottom of the pyramid
  • How can education reach more people more affordably
  • Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs is taking the toll off traditional schools on the back of the ubiquity of broadband and connected devices (smartphones, tablets, notebooks etc.) – how well have we embraced the concept of MOOCs, or do we thump down our noses at them – concerns around quality of programs and teachers, while relevant, should not stop this viable way of reaching more people. They should be seen as a complement to traditional business schools than competition, especially in emerging markets, where 80% of the world resides
  • We also have to consider Regulation. This is very crucial as we open the door to the concept of online education and degrees
  • In my view, it is an indictment that many companies are now acting as their own incubation centres with University-like academies for new intakes following the apparent disconnect between graduating students and the job requirements. Shouldn’t we be talking to them on collaboration between their academies and our schools, as a feedback mechanism for our curriculum?

The biggest threat to success is success itself. Business Schools have been very successful over centuries. It is difficult simulate hunger when you are full. You get into a comfort zone, and complacency sets in. You tend to assume an arrogance borne out of a false sense of invincibility that prevents you from opening yourself to any new ideas from any quarter. As change is the only constant in life, the ability to learn how to learn and continuously adapt has become crucial for survival and sustainability. The global leadership space is like a game of musical chairs; always one chair short, to eject whoever is not able to adapt fast enough. Business Schools have to get on the train of innovation in order not to be left behind on the tracks.

It seems to me that there is no better time for deeper collaboration between town and gown than now.

About GBSN and EFMD

The EFMD is a leading international network of business schools and companies (820 members from 82 countries) at the forefront or raising the standards of management education and development globally. EFMD runs the EQUIS and EPAS accreditation systems as well as the EFMD Deans Across Frontiers development programme (EDAF) and is one of the key reference points for management education worldwide.

The GBSN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening management, entrepreneurial and leadership talent for the developing world through better access to quality, locally relevant education. GBSN harnesses the power of a network of nearly 70 leading business schools that share a dedication to their mission to build management education capacity for the developing world

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About Author

is the Founder of CWG Plc & Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Business School, New York. Austin also serves on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship and on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network (GBSN).

1 Comment

  1. Surely, there’s the need to close that widening gap between the universities and companies. Thank you for addressing this concern.

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