Photo of over-the-shoulder view of computer monitor showing pregnant woman teaching student remotely

Who Will Teach Tomorrow’s Business Students?

Today’s business educators need different skills, behaviors, and methods than they did pre-pandemic, which could affect future faculty recruitment.

Down campus corridors, behind name-plated office doors, business school faculty were among the first to feel the impact of COVID-19. When campuses closed and schools switched to online delivery, thousands of business school professors were forced to adapt. For many, it was their first experience of teaching fully online.

A recent survey by Henley Business School reveals the stresses many faculty felt from this switch. For 2,600 U.K.-based academics, teaching online was more time-consuming; student engagement was harder to gauge; and virtual research conferences were a poor substitute for face-to-face events.

As the pandemic places new demands on business school faculty, schools are adapting their hiring processes and the skills they look for in their academic recruits. COVID-19 could change not only how curriculum is taught but who will teach the business students of the future.

Tech-Savvy Faculty

Post-COVID, more professors will be comfortable teaching online. Some faculty have long experimented with digital delivery methods to support their teaching, but the collective experience of teaching online during the pandemic will accelerate this trend.

At the multicampus ESCP, for example, digitally adept faculty based in Italy and Spain—the European countries first impacted by coronavirus—trained faculty in other ESCP locations to ensure that, when their campuses shut down, online teaching could start the next day. The school runs training programs on the best online delivery formats, how to introduce new learning tools, how to communicate online, and how to balance group exercises with video.

France’s Grenoble School of Management, where classes are 100 percent online until November, launched a “drink your own champagne” campaign, encouraging faculty to share online teaching experiences and best practices. Feedback from the sessions helps faculty update their future courses and teaching methods.

Because students still craved the social dimension, Grenoble worked closely with its student association, involving members in the production of online learning content with semesterlong feedback via surveys and working groups.

“We created the social ties that online delivery might have broken,” explains Grenoble’s new dean of faculty, Federico Pigni. COVID-19, he says, has led to more collegiality among faculty, with collaboration across departments.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the need to look for digital savvy when recruiting. Trinity Business School, of Trinity College Dublin, has more than doubled its student numbers in the past four years and began a major faculty recruitment drive this year.

Trinity faculty still perform the same core elements—a mixture of research, teaching, and administration—but the type of teaching expected from faculty has changed. The flipped classroom approach, where students learn course content independently before putting learnings into practice in class, has become the norm online.

“We’re looking for people who are tech savvy,” Trinity dean, Andrew Burke, explains of the school’s faculty needs. “People were using flipped-classroom techniques before the pandemic, but COVID has accelerated the diffusion of that.”

Teaching vs. Research

Historically, many schools recruited faculty based on their research strength first and teaching aptitude second. Yet schools have increasingly focused on hiring great researchers who are also great teachers. COVID-19 will hasten this trend.

When Valerie Moatti, dean of faculty at ESCP, recruits faculty, she checks for a passion as well as a competency for teaching. She asks candidates to provide examples of creative ways they have changed teaching methods in their classes, how they plan to challenge new generations of students, and how they use digital tools.

ESCP has just launched a new “ESCP” faculty recruitment model to manage its hiring of faculty focused on four different areas:

  • Equilibrium: Faculty who balance teaching with research
  • Scientific: Research-orientated faculty
  • Corporate: Faculty suited to executive education and impact research
  • Pedagogical: Faculty most focused on teaching

Faculty are recruited into one area for a three-year cycle but are encouraged to move across focus areas. Increasingly, Moatti stresses, ESCP is hiring faculty focused on teaching. “With the COVID crisis, testing new tools and being agile and flexible in your teaching is becoming even more important,” she says.

Consolidation

While some schools continue to recruit, COVID-19 prompted recruitment freezes and cuts for many others. In Australia, adjunct faculty on part-time contracts were the first to go.

The academic tenure model is unlikely to be hit; some U.S. schools have offered tenure-track faculty extensions in the timeline because of coronavirus disruptions. Faculty need time and stability to conduct research. Plus, the rigid system of journal submissions and publications, and how that can impact a school’s position in rankings tables, means the focus on research is here to stay.

However, with business schools moving toward blended program delivery, the longer-term consequence of the pandemic may be a reduction in faculty numbers across the board.

“You’ll start to see universities trade the online component,” Burke from Trinity explains. A school with a strong reputation for online delivery may run the online learning component of a program for several schools before the on-campus components are delivered independently. Schools that incorporate the online courses would therefore hire fewer traditional professors. Online delivery also enables more alliances between schools and shared degree programs.

“There’ll be big consolidation in the industry,” Burke continues. “Even universities committed to their own on-campus education are going to find opportunities to increase student numbers by delivering other programs online.

“If that happens, schools with bigger brands will soak up more students and you’re not going to need as many faculty to deliver as many courses.”

Diversity

The faculty who remain may look different than the educators students see today.

Female academics, often primary caregivers at home, have seen their professional lives more disrupted by COVID-19 than their male counterparts. Women are making significantly fewer submissions to academic journals than they did before the pandemic.

Jenifer Lewis, director of degree programs at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business in Kazakhstan, says schools need to act now to support female academics. “We should examine how the tenure process inherently disadvantages women and others in a primary caregiver role,” she says.

The lockdowns and travel restrictions, combined with the rise of online learning, is impacting international recruitment of faculty as well as the willingness of faculty to relocate. Andrew Crisp, owner of higher education consultancy CarringtonCrisp, says this could lead to regionalization of faculty recruitment, which in turn could impact diversity.

At the same time, online delivery gives professors—working mothers, for example—greater flexibility. Recruiting virtually also extends the reach of mid-tier schools, which are able to recruit internationally as they can move in early and organize interviews without flying people in to interview on campus.

Faculty teaching online from sun-loungers in the South of France? “We’re not there yet!” says Crisp, but COVID-19 could change the makeup of faculty at business schools.

Whatever their numbers, tomorrow’s business school students will be taught by professors who are more adaptable, more focused on teaching, and more digitally savvy than ever before.


Marco De Novellis, editor, BusinessBecauseMarco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodn_bb.