For 2023, Some B-School Predictions AND Resolutions

For 2023, A Prediction AND A Resolution

Laurence Wainwright teaching the inaugural cohort of Oxford’s MSc in Sustainability, Enterprise and the Environment in 2021. Of 2023, he writes that he sees five trends in graduate business education, among them a “call for business schools to manifest renewed levels of cooperation and recognition of our independence within broader systems and among our stakeholders.”

The unprecedented levels of turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity that characterized 2022 have resulted in many of our taken-for-granted assumptions becoming redundant. The challenges and opportunities this has created for business schools are extensive.

While the extent of what we face can be overwhelming, there is much to be optimistic about. This unparalleled window of opportunity provides a unique opening for fundamental reconceptualization of critical interactions and underlying value structures — importantly, those between economies, society, and nature. We know that business is a major contributor to the daunting set of social and environmental challenges that humanity faces. But we are increasingly recognizing that business also holds many of the solutions.

Business schools are realizing the significant role they must play enabling this — not just through carrying out meaningful research with real-world impact, but by educating leaders who possess the necessary courage to grasp the reins and steer business in a new direction. 2023 will be a challenging-yet-exciting year for higher education institutions across the world — especially business schools. I see five major trends that will require thoughtful and deliberate responses.


For 2023, A Prediction AND A Resolution

Laurence Wainwright sees a mandate in 2023 for “cooperating in new ways with one another, with other departments across our universities (something that business schools have historically done fairly poorly) and with the communities in which we exist”

The first of these trends is the now-overwhelming demand from industry and society alike for sustainability capabilities. Starting with a trickle in the early 2000s and reaching a flow by the 2010s, this appetite for trained sustainability specialists has now grown into a gushing river. Business schools have a moral responsibility not just to produce graduates with a broad set of knowledge and skills to start, manage, and grow organizations; but to produce purposeful citizens who can lead impactful change across society and organizations toward net zero and sustainable development.

Business has finally woken up to the fact that sustainability cannot be a “tack on the side” feature. Business schools must follow suit and deeply embed sustainability not just into curricula, but into our identity and purpose. Moreover, what we teach about sustainability should be holistic and systematic, covering everything from biodiversity loss to climate change to equality, diversity, and inclusion.

There have been some promising signs in 2022. Berkeley Haas has been leading the charge in embedding sustainability into everything that they do. Oxford University has shown that a truly interdisciplinary sustainable enterprise master’s course, covering everything from the physics of climate change through to interpreting ESG metrics, can be achieved through extraordinary cooperation between business schools and other faculties. The Copenhagen Business School — long a leader in business sustainability education — has shown the value of close engagement with sustainability practitioners. Deans must now continue to build what has been started. The wind is well and truly in our sails.


The knowledge, skills and attributes that business school graduates will need to not just survive, but thrive, in the 2020s are broad, dynamic and interdisciplinary. The curricula, assessment regimes, and teaching and learning approaches of many business schools are still very much based in a 2010s mindset and in many instances need overhauling.

On assessment, we must be prepared to ask ourselves fundamental questions around how and why we assess students and the learning outcomes of courses and programmes. For too long, assessment regimes in business schools have been a fairly mediocre affair, with little innovation and a tendency to stick with conservative tasks and mediums that prioritize ease of administration ahead of teaching and learning excellence. Moreover, we must ensure that assessment tasks are congruent with the learning outcomes we are striving to achieve. A course learning outcome emphasizing creativity cannot be manifested through an assessment task asks for rigidity and risk-averse tendencies. We must be willing to put everything on the table for consideration and be candid about the fact that assessment, for better or for worse, plays a huge part in what students focus on and what they ignore.

New artificial intelligence technologies with unprecedented capabilities (for instance, AI ChatGPT) may be the final nail in the coffin for take-home essay assignments. Such tasks may not only carry an unreasonable level of risk in terms of plagiarism and ghost writing via-AI, but could also represent an increasingly redundant skillset. 2023 may see the rise of real time assessment methods that call for students to think on their feet, such as viva voces.

In terms of graduate attributes, business schools must continue to keep a close finger on the pulse of practice, societal norms, and research to ensure that we set up graduates for a life and career in which they can manifest their fullest potential in the world.


Leadership development is another key area of opportunity for business schools in 2023. We know from research that the complex wicked problems facing society and nature cannot be ‘solved’ in a linear, cause-and-effect manner that draws on management and hard power. Rather, they must be ‘tamed’ by leadership – offered up by leaders who draw on soft power, who ask questions rather than dictate, and have the ability to navigate in unprecedented levels of uncertainty.

Historically, business schools have had a mixed scorecard when it comes to leadership development. The tendency has been to focus on leadership at the individual level of the leader — with a fairly narrow frame of reference build on outdated stereotypes of a leader as a confident extrovert behind a microphone.

Leadership for wicked problems is fairly unique: it is about service to others; service to the “mission”; a genuinely transformational mindset and ability to navigate in uncharted waters; and the courage to manifest a style of leadership that is honest to the temperament and personality traits of the leader. As such, we must ensure that not only is leadership development embedded into all aspects of our educational offerings, but that we are enabling the right styles of leadership.


The fourth trend is the increasing need to keep a constant finger on the pulse of what is happening in practice, to ensure that our students are ready to hit the ground running. It is also about equipping students with a realistic rather than overly idealistic frame of reference as to how things are in the real world.

Historically, business schools have been good at this. However, doing this properly in the 2020s is about much more than just a weekly seminar series with mid-level managers from consulting firms. It is about exploring live case studies. It is about speaking to individuals and organizations across a wide spectrum. It is also about meaningful and immersive experiences that require students to physically leave their comfort zone and get their hands dirty. In the MSc in Sustainability, Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, students are taken on a week-long trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, to hear from top Danish business leaders as to why Nordic companies are leading the way in terms of sustainable enterprise. Speakers are encouraged to be very candid with students about some of the perhaps-uncomfortable realities as to how things work in the ‘real world’. And the pragmatism and trade-offs that are necessary to get things done.The objective is to create resilient, pragmatic leaders who have both the theoretical knowledge and street smarts to thrive in industry and lead impactful change towards a sustainable future.


Finally, 2023 will call for business schools to manifest renewed levels of cooperation and recognition of our independence within broader systems and among our stakeholders. This means cooperating in new ways with one another, with other departments across our universities (something that business schools have historically done fairly poorly) and with the communities in which we exist. It also means proactively involving stakeholders — whether industry, alum, employers or government — into the design and execution of our educational offerings. We must practice what we preach in terms of cooperation ahead of competition, and seek out symbiotic relationships that create value for many.


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