MBA professors under pressure to show business relevance

Online learning came of age when the world went into lockdown in early 2020, with professors forced to embrace technology to keep lessons remote. The fallout from this could forever change the traditional “sage-on-stage” model of MBA teaching – and the roles of those who teach it.

Professors were once the central figures in the MBA class, imparting knowledge by giving lectures. But with much of the curriculum now available online, faculty need to think carefully about how to add value.

Jochen Wirtz, Professor of Marketing at the National University of Singapore Business School, says professors increasingly act as guides to help students learn, often leading discussions with guest speakers. “Before, you just went in front of the class and taught,” says Wirtz, a German who joined the school in 1992. “Now we have to rethink our approach.”

He believes the increased use of technology has benefited students, who can study the basics at their own pace online, while contact time is spent in interactive discussions, sometimes involving senior executives. Videoconferencing has also made it easier to attract these guest speakers. “Covid has been a healthy shake-up for teaching,” says Wirtz.

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In the wake of the pandemic, academics are facing pressure on multiple fronts. There is growing competition from alternative instructors and criticisms that business school research lacks practical relevance. “It’s extremely difficult for faculty right now,” says Caryn Beck-Dudley, president and CEO of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the accrediting body.

There is also good news, especially for the academic elite, with rising salaries. According to the AACSB, between 2007-08 and 2020-21, the average salary of top-ranked business school professors across all disciplines increased by 36%, from $127,200 to $173,300, outpacing inflation. in the USA.

Mauro Guillén, Dean at Cambridge Judges Business School in the UK, says academic institutions are in fierce competition to hire the next generation of promising professors from the best doctoral programs. “Every year there are a small number of superstars, and everyone wants them, says Guillén. “It drives up wages.”

As stars command higher and higher salaries, it drives up the overall salary average, while schools that lose top teachers to rivals have to pay more to replace them.

Business schools also compete with the resources of the private sector – which generally pays more – to attract the best PhDs. The high opportunity cost of a job in academia is reflected in the number of business professors who also earn extra income through speaking engagements or consulting work.

Although there is, so to speak, a glut of PhDs in the labor market, many cannot find academic employment. The best business schools only want to hire PhDs from the best programs, but this talent pool hasn’t kept pace with the growing demand for business education in recent decades.

“The supply hasn’t changed much, but the demand has increased,” says Sankaran Venkataraman, senior associate dean for faculty and research at the university. University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “Schools are very careful who they hire. Origin is important.

Many institutions report that they cannot increase the size of their doctoral programs due to pressures on their operating budgets, leading some to seek funding from donors to boost the supply of talent. Unlike MBA students, who pay tuition fees, doctoral students receive funding from the institution. Venkataraman says the total cost could exceed $100,000 for each doctoral student per year, and very often they will continue to work for a competitor. “For a school, it’s a strange proposition,” he says.

Some schools hire more industry executives to teach classes. They are often less expensive than full professors and provide real-world experience. This reflects the need to strike a balance between academic rigor and practical training. Many schools are criticized for focusing their resources on theoretical research that reaches a narrow audience with limited practical application.

Ding Yuan, Dean of China-Europe International Business School in Shanghai, says the tenure system is partly to blame. Designed to protect academic freedom, tenure essentially gives professors employment for life. It is an ‘up or out’ system, with academics required to achieve promotions within a certain time frame. This pushes them to “publish or perish,” Yuan believes, emphasizing quantity.

Some institutions have replaced tenure with fixed-term contracts, but measuring the impact of research is still in its infancy. Franz Heukamp, ​​Dean of Spain Iese Business School, calls for broader performance measures, such as grants, patents or references in policy documents. “We need to go beyond academia and serve society as a whole and solve real-world problems,” he says.

The best professors have the ability to convey these ideas convincingly, says Jacques Olivier, dean of faculty and research at HEC Paris. They have excellent presentation and communication skills, and can read and adapt to their audience. “People who write excellent articles but are unable to convey their ideas are unlikely to influence students, scholars and the general public,” he says.

Some deans suggest that doctoral programs do not equip candidates with these skills and instead focus on research, forcing schools to train young scholars to teach on the job. Prospective MBA students have limited means to assess the quality of teaching and research, but deans make an indirect link with their ability to charge high tuition fees.

“What makes the school famous is the quality of the faculty,” says Andrew Rose, dean of the National University of Singapore Business School.

He says that institutions must invest in this development. “The reason Harvard is Harvard is not because they teach better things, but because the people who teach are really cutting edge.”

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