09 Aug 2021 19:58 IST

Covid paves way for a ‘distributed business school’

Students are co-serviced in clusters with host institutions around the world offering a multitude of courses

The business schools are subjected to disruptions that can best be characterised as a dual-layered process. On one side there are forces such as demographic changes, shifts in educational consumption patterns, and technological innovation. Covid-19 adds a second layer, that creates its own challenges for business schools and, in addition, acts as an accelerator for more fundamental changes.

Business schools are transitioning towards an ecosystem-based provision of management education leading to the unbundling of full-service business schools as we know them. The transition towards ecosystems will be characterised by the growing importance of institutional in-betweenness for academic production and greater fluidity of network links. Many scenarios can be envisioned for how existing business models may be impacted.

Crisis response

One may envision degree programmes evolving into portfolios of micro-credentials that may be offered by different providers, segments of existing value chains being taken over by specialist organisations (degree granting, payment services, admissions, and placement, ), or faculty work being substituted with team work to achieve scale, and service the multitude of stakeholders more effectively. Mobility barriers imposed by Covid-19 may in addition give rise to the “distributed business school” with students being co-serviced in clusters with host institutions around the world.

Covid-19 is furthermore providing a strong push for the creation of technologies in support of remote provision of degrees that will have a lingering effect. Edtech allows students to combine offerings from different institutions with degree-awarding powers potentially held by an independent certification platform.

The current pandemic provides incentives to speed up the transition to an ecosystem-based provision of management education with the emergence of the “distributed business school” concept as a one crisis response. The spread of Covid-19 has brought cross-border student mobility very quickly to a halt. Western business schools will largely park their students on foreign campuses while countries such as India, with many outbound students, will provide hosts. The “distributed business school,” if it takes shape, can be the beginning of an unbundling of degree programmes that can lead to students accumulating the required credits throughout the network of interlinked schools. While designed as a defensive move by western business schools, it can evolve into a unique development opportunity for host institutions.

Novel approaches

Many business schools will be facing a brick-and-mortar problem with the up-to-recently very modern infrastructure potentially no longer matching future market requirements of ecosystem-based provision. Many business schools may in the end stumble over the sunk cost dilemma. Technology savvy business schools will embrace the necessary changes more quickly. India being one of the global hubs of educational technologies, may have an advantage. In fact, it promises to be the currency that will enable Indian providers to advance into the elite group of global business schools and, in the process, help to reshape management education.

Covid-19 will impact professorial work in mainly two ways — by further fostering the casualisation of faculty employment and by converting campus facilities as a place for faculty to work. In the wake of the pandemic universities around the world have closed their campuses and discontinued face-to-face instruction. Most business schools have transitioned to online delivery, and some have since moved to a hybrid model where students can choose between classroom and remote instruction. Management education appears particularly suited for online delivery by unlocking novel approaches of enhancing the students’ cross-cultural learning. Furthermore, online education mirrors the advancing virtualisation of the managerial workplace.

Sharpening competitive positioning

A process of thoughtful, intentional online learning redesign involves more than adopting an alternative delivery system. It changes content as well as form; it entails rethinking and sometimes abandoning familiar elements of instruction for something new. Education encompasses social and cultural formation and, hence, the question arises as to what kind of sociality is possible when students and their faculty only meet in the digital space. Doing it well requires time, technical support, and development investments. Covid-19 offers the opportunity to universities and business schools to reconstruct their curricula and pedagogy.

Covid-19 promises to be a watershed event for higher education and the disruptive immediacy promises to be particularly pronounced for business schools. It will lead to a shake-out of incumbent institutions that are overly invested in the status quo. Indian B-schools are as such outsiders that have slowly and persistently pushed into the global rankings. They in effect have additional degrees of freedom in defining their journey towards an ecosystem mode, the sharpening of their competitive positioning, the management of their faculty resources, and the pedagogy employed in teaching, as well as the value provided to stakeholders. If Indian B-schools play their cards wisely, they can benefit from so far not having been fully invested in the internationally accepted institutional logics.

(The writer is Director, Jagdish Sheth School of Management (JAGSoM).)