Salesforce.orgEmbracing personalisation through technology to build the business schools of the future

Embracing personalisation through technology to build the business schools of the future

In terms of recruitment and retention, businesses schools have seen a huge shift as a result of the pandemic, with members of staff encountering both challenges and new opportunities

Business schools witnessed a huge increase in applications during the pandemic, but this posed a number of strategic questions for universities more broadly.

At a THE Campus Live UK&IE round-table session hosted in partnership with Salesforce, academics from across the UK came together to discuss how the conversation around recruitment and retention had changed over the past 18 months.

“You need to get students on board,” Julio Villalobos, CXO strategic industry advisor at Salesforce, explained. “This means changing our traditional marketing approach. We need to reach out to foreign-language speakers, have more native digital profiles and generally work on a hybrid ecosystem – but delivered in an omnichannel setting.”

“The irony is that during the pandemic, a lot of technological systems got fast-tracked but the initiatives around student onboarding could still be a lot better, certainly in terms of personalisation,” said Joël McConnell, executive director of marketing, recruitment and admissions at Imperial College Business School.

“The message has changed,” said Marco Mongiello, pro vice-chancellor for the University of Law Business School. “We used to talk to students in terms of jobs; these days we talk about skills. However, one area where we should be cautious is around generalising student engagement. Some students still want a single career path. The student cohort is made up of individuals. It’s important to remember that.” 

“A degree has to be about more than just content,” Melanie Currie, deputy dean at the Nottingham Trent University Business School, commented. “I think a space is emerging again after Covid to focus more on the student and what they are getting out of a degree programme. There’s probably going to be less focus on degree outcomes and more on other skills they are going to need.” 

Khalid Hafeez, associate dean of enterprise at De Montfort University, was also keen to address some of the challenges emerging in the job market. “In some cases, like accountancy or law, where a specific type of skill is needed, we are likely to continue to see traditional degree programmes. But, generally, the world of work is becoming more about skills, attitudes and behaviours. Some of that we can replicate through assistive technology; some of that we can’t.”

“Adding to the conversation around learning and student experience, there’s also operational efficiency to consider,” Bas Ten Holter, senior regional vice-president of education for the EMEA region at Salesforce, said. “We are starting to see institutions shift from high-value degrees to faster, short-term accreditation because these are more efficient to process for their back office.”

Despite the challenges, some institutions have enjoyed significant recruitment benefits by using technology. “We’ve experienced a huge increase in attendees to our open days since we put them online,” Julie Brooks, director of postgraduate programmes at St. Andrews Business School at the University of Edinburgh, acknowledged. “We've also had a hugely successful speaker programme over the past 18 months by launching these virtually. So, we’ve seen some massive advantages just by using very simple technology.”

Such simple improvements were seen elsewhere too. “For admissions, the length of the application form was negatively affecting our application figures,” Naga Sai Dinavahi, director of the UK College of Business and Computing, said. “By examining and minimising the process – letting students apply with their smartphones – we’ve seen impressive results.”

Whether such innovations have been minor or radical, they have still taken some getting used to for staff. “I think, in general, the staff attitude to innovation has gradually been changing,” Helen Woodruffe-Burton, director of Edge Hill University Business School, explained. “The events of the past 18 months may have forced them to change, but now they’ve really embraced new approaches. We had a small group of staff leading some of our new developments. There was a lot of hand-holding, and we put a buddy system in place." 

“We were quite fortunate at Bradford that we had worked on a distance-learning MBA for several years when the pandemic struck,” Natalie Wilmot, deputy head of the University of Bradford School of Management, noted. “We had a core body of staff that had really useful learnings from that. But, of course, working on a postgraduate MBA programme is not the same as an undergraduate degree.”

Whether business schools were familiar with digital learning tools or not when Covid-19 started disrupting traditional modes of learning, they now know that these recent innovations are here to stay.

“If business schools don’t embrace innovation, they will disappear,” Villalobos cautioned. “Lifelong learning, personalisation and flexible learning – these are all things that technology can help with. Business schools are no longer just physical places. They’re not just made up of bricks; they’re bricks and bits.”

The panel:

  • Julie Brooks, director of postgraduate programmes, School of Management, University of St Andrews
  • Melanie Currie, deputy dean, Nottingham Trent University Business School
  • Naga Sai Dinavahi, director, UK College of Business and Computing
  • Khalid Hafeez, associate dean enterprise, De Montfort University
  • Andy Holohan, product marketing manager, Salesforce
  • Bas Ten Holter, senior regional vice-president of education EMEA, Salesforce
  • Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor, Times Higher Education, (chair)
  • Joël McConnell, executive director of marketing, recruitment and admissions, Imperial College Business School
  • Marco Mongiello, pro vice-chancellor, the University of Law Business School
  • Julio Villalobos, CXO strategic industry advisor, Salesforce
  • Natalie Wilmot, deputy head, University of Bradford School of Management
  • Helen Woodruffe-Burton, director, Edge Hill University Business School

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