Why One Business School Focuses on Global Health

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Monday, January 24, 2022
By Nora Ann Colton
Photo by iStock/FatCamera
University College London has opened a school to address the current and future health crises that will have devastating effects on the world.
  • The pandemic, aging populations, and climate change are all contributing to a greater need for better health solutions.
  • To meet the growing demand, healthcare workers must leverage technology and work at preventing illness, not simply treating it.
  • UCL’s new Global Business School for Health is designed to train the next generation of healthcare managers.

The global COVID-19 crisis has had a sweeping impact on our society. It has expanded our vocabulary as we learned many new scientific terms and changed our attitudes as we embraced a “new normal.” Therefore, as we enter the third year of the pandemic, it’s hardly surprising that the University College London (UCL) has launched its new Global Business School for Health (GBSH).

Yet the UCL GBSH is also a response to healthcare issues that have been part of the global discussion since long before the onset of the pandemic. It is important to understand these issues because they are so significant that they will affect society—and business—for years to come.

A Snapshot of Global Health

In places like Japan and Europe, aging societies are putting a strain on health systems ill-equipped to serve an increasing number of individuals who are living longer and have co-morbidities. Even in regions with more youthful populations, middle- and lower-income countries have witnessed an increase in noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. At the same time, society is dealing with infectious diseases that have yet to be eradicated.

Currently, most countries spend upwards of 10 percent of GDP on healthcare services—and in countries like the U.S., that figure is closer to 20 percent. Moreover, the demand for services has outstripped supply across the globe, and healthcare is now one of the largest sectors in the world.

All of this would not be such a pressing concern if we could increase the supply of health services to meet the demand. However, two barriers make this an impossible task, given the way the healthcare ecosystem operates right now.

First, the unmet demand for healthcare will continue to grow for three reasons:

  • The world population is aging.
  • People who have low incomes, received poor education, and live in risky environments are more susceptible to illness and recover more slowly—and in many countries, this segment of society is growing.
  • Climate change is impacting all of us in terms of our health and well-being, and its debilitating effects may speed up the demand for healthcare.

Second, the healthcare management models of the past will not allow us to deliver adequate healthcare to everyone who needs it now and will need it in the future. We cannot train enough doctors and other clinical professionals to meet the growing need.

One reason for the workforce shortage is that the healthcare sector is heavily reliant on expert professionals who cannot be replaced by technology, as William Baumol explains in his book The Cost Disease. Yet we cannot simply expand the healthcare workforce indefinitely—if we did, we would create a lopsided world where most people were working in healthcare, leaving too few workers for other industries. Moreover, given the aging population, it would be impossible to keep pace with the need for healthcare simply by increasing the number of workers in the field. We must search for another solution.

A Call for Radical Change

The best way to address the healthcare crisis is to reimagine the ecosystem in two key ways.

First, we must enable our healthcare professionals to work smarter, not harder. To do this, we need to teach them systems thinking and show them how to leverage technology and data.

We must enable healthcare professionals to work smarter, not harder, and we must shift our focus from treating illness to preventing it.

Second, we must shift our focus from treating illness to preventing it. We must provide diagnostic care so that people either don’t require treatment at all or they can be treated in ways that do not absorb huge resources from our healthcare systems.

Revamping the system is a big ask for a sector that is currently overstretched from coping with the continually mutating COVID-19 virus. Yet the virus has probably brought about a decade’s worth of change in healthcare by forcing the sector to adapt its services, points of contact, and supply chains in ways that couldn’t have been imagined two years ago. Moreover, COVID-19 has forced us to step outside of our traditional academic silos; it has required us to engage in cross-disciplinary thinking to find innovative solutions that will address the ongoing pandemic.

How can a business school help?

An Integrated Curriculum

At the UCL GBSH, healthcare management is not an afterthought. Our goal is to take a different approach to training the next generation of healthcare professionals who will lead public, private, and not-for-profit organizations around the world.

Our mission is to engage in health and healthcare management research and to graduate interdisciplinary, ethical professionals who are prepared to improve outcomes across many different healthcare systems. The school is a cross-disciplinary department of the university that brings together academics, global leaders, medical consultants, innovators, and policymakers to tackle pressing issues in healthcare management.

Our 12-month MBA in Health is designed to provide students with the typical management skills associated with an MBA and the ability to apply those skills to the healthcare sector. As students are onboarded into the program, they undergo personality assessments and participate in career coaching to make sure they take the fullest advantage of the program’s opportunities.

Healthcare is integrated throughout the curriculum, not just limited to a few modules. Modules are offered in integrated blocks where students acquire knowledge through cases, examples, and readings. Each block concludes with a “wrap-up week,” in which healthcare professionals come in to engage the students in active learning related to the business topics they have just covered. In the final block of the program, students explore contemporary issues in the healthcare sector.

In addition, students have a chance to engage with senior healthcare leaders, our MBA in Health team, members of our executive-in-residence program, our career services offices, and personal development experts.

A Project With Global Implications

A key part of the program is the global health challenge module, which students participate in over the entire year. In this module, they work with a team of UCL academics and industry experts to find solutions to health crises in low- or middle-income countries. At the end of the year, they undertake two-week supervised trips to the countries where their projects are based.

It’s relatively easy for us to find such projects for our students to pursue. The GBSH is located within UCL’s Faculty of Population Health, and many of our colleagues are engaged in health projects around the world. Our research links are particularly strong in Southeast Asia, Africa, China, the Middle East, and South America. Within the Faculty of Population Health, there are active research partnerships and field sites in more than 40 countries.

In the global health challenge module, students work with academics and industry experts to find solutions to health crises in low- or middle-income countries.

In 2022–23, we anticipate being able to offer our MBA students a chance to work on three major projects in India, the Middle East, and Africa. These projects will look at financing healthcare, improving access for disadvantaged communities, and using frugal technologies to embed digital innovations in rural settings.

As MBA students undertake their global challenges, they couple the experience with a consultancy project in the health sectors where they plan to work. A career coach will help students find good placements aligned with their career goals. The coach will guide students as they write consultancy reports that they will deliver to their chosen partner organizations. The goal is for students to work with their clients to identify and shape their projects and to use the projects to develop their academic, professional, and personal skills.

A Passion for Healthcare

The MBA in Health will launch in September 2022. We have just announced that it will be led by Julie Davies, who headed the Open University’s MBA program for more than 25 years. Davies also has led research projects funded by Erasmus and Health Education England, and she was the content advisor for the U.N. Women Second Chance Education Programme for the countries of Chile and Jordan.

We are currently recruiting our first class of 25 students. We expect them to be managers, business specialists, and medical professionals looking to elevate their careers.

To ensure that we admit a diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds, we have established several scholarships. Some target students from low- and middle-income countries; some are aimed at women; and some are designed to attract students from our local area, East London. It is important for us to recruit students from East London not only because it is the home of our new UCL East campus, but also because it’s an area that has been particularly impacted by COVID-19.

Our hope is that, whatever their backgrounds, students who enroll in our MBA in Health program will be driven by a passion to make a difference in healthcare management and a desire to bridge the gaps between the components that make up the mosaic of global healthcare. We want them to have an experience that is transformational—not just for themselves, but for society.

Nora Ann Colton
Director of the Global Business School for Health, University College London
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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