GMAC Europe: The Future Of Graduate Business Education Is Social, Adaptable & Digital

What does the business school of the future look like? Not exactly an easy question to answer.

However, the latest report from the Graduate Management Admissions Council tries to tackle the question — at least from a European perspective.

At a time when the relevance of graduate management education is being re-evaluated, the council interviewed 19 deans from some of Europe’s top business schools. Its latest report, “The Future of Graduate Management Education,” released this month, distills these discussions into five distinct themes: technology and digitization, social and responsible, content, learning journeys and relevance.

The industry paper provides a pulse on what the deans “predict what the future holds for graduate management education and the work needed to stay relevant and functional to society at large,” GMAC says in a release.

We’ve highlighted some of the major themes from the European B-school deans below, or you can read the full report here.


While the pandemic accelerated the use of technology in the classrooms, traditional in-person classes should not simply be uploaded to an online platform, the report finds. Rather incorporating technology and digitization requires rethinking pedagogy and what classrooms, campuses and users experience should look like. In person classrooms, meanwhile, must be able to offer something online classrooms cannot.

At the start of the pandemic, most business schools weren’t prepared for fully online learning, but were able to adapt quickly.

IESE Dean Franz Heukamp

“We were unprepared not because of the technology because the technology was mostly ready,” SDA Bocconi dean Giuseppe Soda says in the report. “What wasn’t ready was the way in which we approach education online—all the programs, all the courses, all the curricula were set for non online programs. … I think at the end we have been learning how to translate our content into something fitting better with the technology and now we are ready for the future.”

What the pandemic did prove was that business schools could in fact widen their reach, interacting with more students who otherwise would be left behind.

“We can actually reach many more people at a much lower cost, so make it much more affordable for people to be part of education projects,” IESE dean Franz

says in the report. “There is an opportunity to make education or business education more accessible for people in all kinds of situations–personal and professional.”


“The biggest challenge to our academic community is to sit down and create a framework that can figure out how do we actually reconcile the objectives of the company with the objectives of society,” says Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD.

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

This, in fact, echoes a good deal of reporting in Poets&Quants over the last several years. Many professors we interview tell us they want a greater emphasis on the role of business in mitigating climate change, promoting social progress, or improving the human condition. And business schools are making investments in or creating centers to help. Take, for example, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise or NYU Stern’s Center for Business & Human Rights.

GMAC’s interviews with European deans revealed that most believe that lessons in ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability should be woven into the whole business school curriculum. In fact, Anthony Brabazon, dean of University College Dublin, says students already want these things, and business schools must be able to offer them.

“Incoming students are much more concerned about environmental issues, about long-term sustainability,” he says in the report. “They’re beginning to push us as educators to deal with issues of sustainability, of societal good throughout our program profile.”


Even as business and technology evolve at a break-neck pace, business education has been slow to follow suit. Content delivered in a balanced business education must move away from traditional silos and toward an interdisciplinary approach. That includes subjects such as analytics, data, and innovation, as well as history, sociology, and more.

Daniel Traça, Nova

“We are moving from a socio-political, economic environment where the game was set and all you needed was for managers to know how to do pony tricks,” says Daniel Traça of Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon.

Meanwhile, new students want shorter, flexible, and more personalized programs with more stackable programs. A rise in demand for pre-experience graduate programs and a flattening or decline for demand in the traditional MBA mean business schools need to better adapt to student needs.

All interviewees in the report mentioned that lifelong learning should be emphasized over the transactional structure of current degree programs. Educational options should be available throughout a candidate’s life and career.

“I see a certain fatigue of the traditional business degrees,” says Josep Franch, dean of Esade Business School. “The market is looking for different, non-traditional types of offerings.”


While demand for managerial expertise has never been greater due to major global disruptions, Cambridge dean Mauro Guillen tells GMAC, business schools must innovate to stay relevant.

They must also define their purpose and strategy to differentiate themselves in a landscape where the whole world is now the market. “There are thousands of business schools around the world because we had a retail model, a location-based model, where you had to come to a campus,” says Marion Debruyne, dean of Vlerick Business School in Belgium. “With all the digital possibilities the question is when that geographical differentiation disappears what remains in terms of location-based differentiation and differentiation at large?” She thus sees a real need for schools to define “what makes your school special.”

Schools, therefore, will need to define what makes them special through adaptation, experimentation, and transformation. “This mindset of change, however, is redundant if not applied throughout the whole organization, a process requiring leadership that realizes the power of people,” the report concludes.

Read the full report here.


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