Business school administrators are more likely to agree that their faculty were willing and able to transition online than to agree that students had transitioned comfortably due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a survey of more than 300 schools, just 24% of business school leaders strongly agreed that students have made the shift comfortably, with the majority—58%—saying they somewhat agree.
That survey finding by the business school accreditation agency, AACSB, is among the more surprising. After all, B-school deans have privately groused about the reluctance of many faculty to adapt to the online world. But the forced migration caused by the pandemic effectively gave most professors little choice. The fact that faculty made the transition with a higher level of comfort than students suggests that “challenges still existed in ensuring an optimal virtual experience despite the technically successful transition.”
There are different expectations for what that experience will look like from different levels of access to quiet workspaces and other circumstances that could be contributing to anxiety,” believes Juliane Iannarelli, chief knowledge officer of the AACSB in an interview with Poets&Quants.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: FINDING & IMPLEMENTING EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
It may also suggest, however, that students aren’t all that eager to pay on-campus tuition rates for a diminished learning experience. At several business schools, including Stanford, Wharton, UCLA and IE Business School in Spain, MBA students have pulled together petitions asking for tuition refunds in the wake of the shift to remote instruction.
Overall, there is good news and bad in how business schools around the world are coping with the worldwide pandemic and how it has abruptly altered the way business is being taught. Roughly four in ten senior business school administrators said that finding and implementing experiential learning alternatives has been the most difficult challenge of all (see table below).
Roughly one in three B-school deans said that lack of comfort by faculty with online tools has been a challenge in the transition to remote instruction, equal to connectivity and technology difficulties and work-life balance issues in shifting to the virtual world.
Some 32% of the responding deans believed that the content in their business programs was not easily adapted to an online format, while 28% said that sustaining engagement levels with long-distance learning posed a challenge, according to the survey by the AACSB accreditation agency.
‘IT SEEMS TO BE A FAIRLY SUCCESSFUL MOBILIZATION’
Generally, however, most schools report making the shift to the virtual world without too much difficulty. “Business schools are pivoting quite substantially as the pandemic spreads across the globe,” adds Iannarelli. “In early every country, business education has moved completely online.” About 80% of the AACSB’s member schools said that they have achieved 100% online delivery of their courses, while 14% have transitioned more than three-quarters of their classes online.
“It seems to be a fairly successful mobilization,” she adds. “When we asked school leaders about the willingness of their faculty to make the transition, many reported that it went well. Over 90% of schools agreed or strongly agreed that their faculty was willing to make that transition.”
The survey—fielded over a week’s time until yesterday—includes responses from more than 300 business schools globally: 161 from the Americas; 62 from Asia Pacific; and 84 from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia (EMEA).
SIX OF TEN DEANS WORRY THAT REDUCED STUDENT ENROLLMENT WILL POSE FINANCIAL IMPACTS
A looming concern among business school administrators is the financial impact of the crisis on student enrollment. Some 60% of the responding deans expect reduced student enrollment or intake to have a significant impact on their operating budget and financial strategies. This concern is most widespread among respondents from Oceania (94%) and the least widespread among schools in Asia (38%), the Middle East (29%), and Africa (25%). A much smaller proportion expect impacts from reducing tuition rates—most prevalent in Oceania and Latin America at just under a third of respondents in each region.
All over the world, of course, most students are no longer on campus but rather at home taking classes on their computers. If anyone is left, according to the AACSB, it’s most likely those providing technology support (nearly 50 percent of schools say this service remains operational on campus at some level). Just under a third of the global network is keeping campus administrative offices operational, with schools in Asia and the Middle East reflecting the highest rates at nearly 50 percent.
The conversion to online courses has been enabled by the mass mobilization of faculty to convert their classrooms to virtual ones. Globally, 92% of administrators strongly or somewhat agree that their faculty have been willing and able to transition their courses online. Strong agreement on this point was reflected by 73% of schools in EMEA, 57% in the Americas, and 49% in Asia Pacific, the survey found.
‘THE MOST PREVALENT CHALLENGE HAS TO DO WITH CONTENT’
Just 8% of schools reported challenges related to unclear or conflicting expectations of faculty—the lowest by far among a series of challenges faced by schools in this transition. A third of business school administrators indicated a lack of faculty comfort with online tools as one of their three leading challenges to overcome.
“The most prevalent challenge has to do with content, particularly experiential learning,” says Iannarelli. “We will see a fair amount of iteration after the initial transition. Now that courses have been moved to a virtual format, the focus is shifting to how to enrich that experience. There is a lot of dialogue between faculty and students about where those opportunities exist.”
The ultimate financial impact of the health crisis and the ensuing recession has many worried. The survey found that 42% of schools expect a significant impact from reduced fundraising revenue. Regions where this concern is more widespread include the U.S. (64%) and Canada (43%), as well as among the small and dispersed set of responding schools from Africa.
A THIRD OF SCHOOLS EXPECT LOST EXECUTIVE EDUCATION REVENUE
Approximately a third (34% expect lost executive education revenue to be a significant impact. Canadian and Latin American schools were the most likely to share this concern (86% in each region). Across other regions, the lower proportion of schools reporting this as a concern masks the significance of the impact expected by individual schools that have large executive education portfolios.
In the U.S., impacts related to changes in schools’ resource allocation from or contribution to university operations loom heavy (at 60%), as universities grapple with broader enrollment concerns, refunded room and board fees, and the prospect of reduced government (state) funding. U.S. schools also are unique globally in anticipating significant impacts to endowments (43%).
On the expense side, payroll reductions or eliminations are expected to make a significant impact at 19 percent of business schools globally. A broader 42% of schools have implemented hiring freezes (with varying levels of significance to the impact). Other personnel-related impacts include freezes on faculty and staff promotions at 11% of schools, and a small number of schools (6%) anticipating personnel reductions.
‘BUSINESS SCHOOLS ARE IN A LIVE EXPERIMENT AT THE MOMENT’
Other expense impacts include increased costs to implement campus sanitation measures (most prevalent in Asia where more than half of schools reported this concern as significant), and general attention to cost-cutting. Responses from individual schools reported experiencing cuts ranging from 1 percent to 50 percent of their operating budgets. Many alluded to reallocations of expenses and taking advantage of cost savings from travel restrictions and other canceled activities.
“There are a lot of questions but not a lot of answers at this point in time,” concedes Iannarelli. “We asked them to share their most important question and what came out of that was planning amidst uncertainty and what the reality would look like in the next term. The question being asked by many in business schools at the moment is what long-range impact this might have. There is nothing about this situation that fundamentally changes what we have come to understand before the pandemic: that lifelong learning is really essential to today’s economy. Business schools and their faculty and staff are in a live experiment at the moment with technology and the opportunities it can bring. I suspect there will be elements of it that stick around beyond this pandemic.”