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Reflections for UK business schools from the AACSB International Deans Conference

20th March 2024

Last month I had the great pleasure of joining a group of UK Deans at the AACSB International Deans Conference in Barcelona. Whilst the the conference didn’t offer too much in the “reasons to be cheerful” department, I was very cheerful to have the chance to sit, listen and learn and get to spend more time in conversation with many more of you, our members.  

Ahead of the conference I met with Lily Bi, who, like me, is in her first year in post. We both agreed that it is vital for us to find ways to collaborate, particularly around promoting the value of business schools and the benefits of international students to the global economy and society overall.  

The tone of the conference was set by opening keynote speaker, Gianpiero Petriglieri of INSEAD, who declared “the past is not sustainable and the future is not yet imaginable” – discuss!  He went on to tell us about the “Big Mess” caused by digital disruption, perma-crisis, generational shift, a transformed era and paradigm change. Gianpiero could have been speaking about the UK higher education landscape! 

The session on revenue models also gave some reassurance that UK Deans are not alone when it comes to battling with governmental policies on immigration – it seems our American, Australian, Canadian, Danish and Dutch colleagues are suffering too. We were left in no doubt that across the globe the pressure is on for Deans to build resilient revenue models that face multiple challenges alongside immigration policy, including the changing preferences of undergraduates, labour market shifts, geo-political conflict, demographic cliff-falls and economic factors, to name but a few.   

If these two sessions weren’t enough, one of the final sessions focused on what is keeping Deans up at night. High on the list came student enrolment, faculty recruitment, financial management and resources, as well as adapting to change, which became a dominant theme of the conference.   

The session on the Business School in the Age of AI offered some good tips on how to take back control and make AI work. The session highlighted an interesting perspective on the need to teach people how to learn using AI, just as we have all been taught how to learn using a book – one to discuss at our Learning, Teaching & Student Experience conference in Birmingham in May! 

The final morning’s keynote sent me on my way home with some good pointers on how to generate confidence, tackle resistance and explore new challenges. My colleagues and I will certainly draw on these as we tackle our two overarching priorities in the coming 18 months, which will be around securing the financial sustainability of the UK’s business schools and universities and accelerating small business productivity and growth for the benefit of the UK economy.