If “the end of history” has itself long been relegated to the history books, European business schools are exemplars of how the past is instead catching up with the present and reshaping the future for the next generation of leaders, executives and entrepreneurs.
A new era of geopolitical and economic disruption is under way, with fresh twists on the cold war, just at a time when a fragile post-pandemic world could have benefited from greater solidarity. The prior intensification of globalisation has increased the dependence and vulnerability of different parts of the world, not least squeezing trade and labour flows, including of students to and from China.
Some of the ugliest conflicts are taking place close to Europe’s southern borders. The Hamas massacres in Israel on October 7 this year and the response in Gaza is triggering fierce debates on campus, sparking fresh reflections on geopolitical stability and creating economic ripples alongside the deep human suffering.
On Europe’s eastern flank, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year continue to reverberate westwards: in students and faculty fleeing the region; in a freezing out of western businesses; and in complications to investment and political alliances alike, with implications for decision makers worldwide.
We report in this issue on the solidarity with Ukraine shown by schools elsewhere in the region, such as Poland — although, as the war drags on, there are concerns about the continued funding required for such support. We showcase business schools in other formerly communist nations such as Slovenia, which have nonetheless taken a very different path to Russia and continue to thrive.
There is more turbulence ahead. A recent survey by GMAC, which runs the GMAT admissions test, indicated a slowdown in applications for business education — including in Europe. Our own data shows that their alumni earn less than peers in other parts of the world.
These trends raise questions about how far the current model needs to be rethought, with fresh reflection on what is distinctive about the continent’s business schools. Such questions are weighing on the minds of current deans, as well as a new wave recently appointed or now being recruited.
The good news is the continued healthy supply of European business education. Our annual “ranking of rankings” presented here captures high-quality provision by 90 schools offering the Masters in Management degree pioneered in Europe, as well as the MBA, the Executive MBA and Executive Education courses.
We showcase insights from some of the schools’ leading professors, including reflections on how to make boardrooms more effective when group dynamics or a dominant founder can block frank discussion. Our latest “instant teaching case” draws on the turbulence after NatWest bank’s decision to remove as a client Nigel Farage, the controversial British politician. It explores the tensions between corporate and customers’ values.
European schools continue to make progress — albeit far from complete — on gender parity and inclusivity, including for disabled students. They are very open to international students, faculty and ideas — including from other specialisms. The historical appeal of their locations, access to a large labour market and their relative affordability appeal to many.
Overall, they stand ahead of their counterparts elsewhere in the world on issues including international business and climate — notably on the metrics in our rankings, such as teaching of ESG, setting net zero targets and auditing their own emissions to lead by example.
The schools also remain pre-eminent for their expertise in particular sectors, such as fashion and luxury goods. And they are rethinking and reinforcing their connections to other parts of the world, including Africa.
In the future, business schools everywhere will need to reflect on tighter life-long links with their alumni, including continued career support and training; and greater use of technology to provide more flexible ways to learn in hybrid and asynchronous formats alongside in-person courses.
They will face further demands to have impact through their research: not just publishing in prestigious academic journals but through teaching, engagement with local communities and the uptake of their ideas. In addition, there is rising demand for more work on topics of societal importance, led by climate change and inequality.
Such measures are not always easy to quantify or compare. That highlights the continued power of individual human judgment in an era of surging artificial intelligence. It explains why, even as we explore new metrics, we turn to expert judges to select best practices in the FT’s Responsible Business Education awards, of which the third annual edition will be released in January 2024.
Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor