The recent political shifts in the UK and the US have increased the need for universities to produce students who know “how to handle change, creatively and empathetically”, according to the new head of a leading US business school.
Mark Taylor, who became dean of Washington University in St Louis’ (WashU) Olin Business School in December, said higher education institutions should be training students to deal with the potential fallout of events like the election of Donald Trump and the UK's EU referendum.
“After the financial crisis, a lot of business schools had a lot of soul-searching for integrity, empathy, a strong work ethic,” he told Times Higher Education. “I was running a hedge fund back in 2008 when the financial crisis struck, and things changed in the financial markets and the economy that haven’t gone back. The old models don’t apply.
"Similarly in politics, if you look at the Middle East, Europe and now the US, the political scene is not recognisable from how you’d expect it one year ago or five years ago,” he told Times Higher Education. “That combination of political and economic uncertainty hasn’t been witnessed since the 30s.
“Something I’m keen [on] is making sure our graduates from our first and postgraduate degrees think about how to handle change creatively and empathetically.”
In particular, Professor Taylor, former dean of the University of Warwick’s business school, said a key objective for global higher education was to ensure students had a wide variety of skills.
As someone who, he said, instigated a policy of “looking at things differently” at Warwick – such as working with performing arts to encourage creative thinking – he wanted to reach out to other departments of WashU to produce students “equipped in soft skills, a number of disciplines – or [being] capable of being trained in a number of disciplines”.
“There is a recognition in other subjects that the world is very changeable and we do have to equip students for life, rather than the old-fashioned [belief of] ‘drilling them with one subject’,” he said.
He acknowledged the “very worrying” decline in funding that has been apparent in higher education, particularly in the UK. He said the UK government’s intention of “putting students at the heart of the system” since the time of the Browne Review went too far because, despite the importance of prioritising students, they are “not [the] only [ones] who should be driving higher education”.
“The tendency towards increased regulation at the same time as decreased funding is a very strange trend in the UK,” he said.
“To a large extent, universities should be trusted to do what they’re designed to do. I’m particularly worried about...putting students at the heart of the system because students aren’t the only [key parties]. Having the system marketised and driven by students alone is a mistake – you have to look at the wider picture.
"When there was more state funding that wider picture was naturally looked at. Treating the quasi-public sector in terms of HE as a private sector is really worrying."