10 Business Schools To Watch In 2021

Said Business School, Park End Street, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, 16 November 2017

University of Oxford (Saïd Business School)

The Saïd Business School has long been ahead of its time. Founded in 1996, Saïd is part of the University of Oxford, a world-famous institution founded in the 11th century. Here, MBAs join colleges, the same as Oxford students have done for centuries. They dine in formal dining halls, sing in choirs, join rowing teams, participate in Oxford Union debates, and don formal attire or gowns – sub-fusc – to complete the examinations. In other words, MBAs are no different than their Oxford predecessors: Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde, and John Locke.

Along with medieval traditions, Saïd also comes with a cutting edge curriculum that approaches business far different than a standard core. The MBA program’s mission, quite literally, is to change the world.  It boasts a curriculum the focuses heavily on social impact, entrepreneurship, innovation, and interdisciplinary learning.

“Oxford Saïd is a unique community of people committed to using their business acumen to solve complex, pressing, global challenges,” writes Vaughan Bagley, a 2019 grad. “From our core finance and accounting courses to our electives and extracurriculars, the school constantly encourages us to think outside the box about what responsibility businesses have to social and environmental sustainability, and what it means to be an entrepreneurial business leader in the 21st century.”

Indeed, Saïd is predicated on the notion that business is a force for good, explains outgoing Dean Peter Tufano. That means going far beyond profit-and-loss and shareholder value to using business tools as a means to address social inequities and evade environmental catastrophe. “Our students need to understand how big, complex systems worked, and how to intervene in those complex systems and to understand something about the underlying science or whatever,” Tufano adds in a 2020 interview with P&Q. “That’s the Global Opportunities and Threats course. We’ve oriented our scholarships to entice students who have that kind of learning in terms of not only people who want to do traditional things but also students who have a real desire to make change.”

That commitment is born out on a number of fronts. For one, the school prides itself on its diversity. Among the 311 students in the Class of 2021, you’ll find 67 nationalities, with 92% of the class hailing from outside the UK. Since Dean Tufano took over in 2011, the percentage of women has nearly doubled to 47%, while the percentage of African students has almost tripled to 13%. When it comes to gender parity, the school made concrete steps to make this vision a reality. In March, Saïd received $1.65 million dollars from the Laidlaw Foundation to boost scholarships for women over the next three years. That doesn’t count new programming, such as workshops, events, and alliances, designed to sharpen leadership skills and foster networking for women. These efforts, adds Tufano, aren’t just for show.

Peter Tufano, outgoing dean of Oxford University’s Said Business School

“Research shows that a better gender balance in the student cohort leads to better outcomes.”

When operating at a global scale, it also helps to be open to changing quickly and profoundly. In response to COVID-19, for example, Saïd evaluated and adjusted every aspect of their curriculum and delivery. For example, the section format – four “streams” of 80 students each – was whittled down to 16 streams of 20 students with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous material.”

“The students are in these very small, intimate learning groups with their faculty,” Tufano observes. “What’s happened is that we’ve taken all of the lecturing elements and we’ve stuck those largely in the asynchronous part. Then the really valuable time that the students have with the faculty is all discussion-based. Both the faculty and the students really, really, really enjoy that. It’s been supplemented with things that even a few months ago, we hadn’t anticipated. All the courses are going at one time, getting together on a Friday with all the students and just having an open discussion about what’s going on in the world and how that relates to their courses or all sorts of innovation that we hadn’t even planned.”

Yes, the struggle may change, but not the purpose. That is epitomized by Global Opportunities and Threats (GOTO), a course where student teams develop solutions to issues such as the future of work, water management, and (this year) climate action. However, such programming is threaded throughout the curriculum – a differentiator that prepares MBAs to face down what’s big, scary, and critical.

“It’s not just one course at SBS,” writes Amandine Roche, a 2020 grad. “Not only do the professors in our core management courses integrate examples with an environmental, social, and governance focus, but the programme has specialised courses in which the whole cohort is involved. This includes courses such as Global Rules of the Game, Responsible Business, and Global Opportunities & Threats: Oxford (GOTO). This aspect of the Oxford MBA was important to me when I was comparing programmes. That’s because it is aligned to my belief that, as global citizens and leaders, we cannot ignore the impact of our individual/collective actions and decisions on the environment, society, and governance structures right now and in the future. I strongly believe in actively taking a long-term view and considering the perspectives of all stakeholders who could be affected by my decisions.”

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