Why business education is a path to real impact

There’s a world of difference between wanting something to happen and doing something about it. And with all the talk and best intentions emerging from COP 27, it will take dedication, new tools and expanded capabilities to solve the climate crisis.

For Steve McGuire, Dean of the University of Sussex Business School in the UK, “If you really want to make a difference in the areas of sustainable business practices, business education gives you that path.”

Drawing on the intellectual strength and research influence of the University of Sussex’s world-class business school, the school has brought together the world-renowned Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) with the Department of Economics, which is already a world leader in development economics, alongside areas such as finance, Management, Marketing and Strategy to focus on driving innovation for social progress, with core competencies in sustainability and climate change.

Undergraduate, MBA, and Masters students have the fundamental and analytical understanding of the business world, but the influx of programs on topics such as sustainable development gives them the tools and techniques “how to make it better for the world”, not just for profit reasons. Here, according to Steve, the market for business education in the UK has taken a new, positive direction.

Originally from Canada, Steve has been the Dean of the University of Sussex Business School since 2015. However, he has been a prominent figure in the field of business education for over 20 years and has previously held academic positions at other business schools in the UK and continental Europe. This wealth of experience allows him to reflect on the changes he has observed in the industry – and also reason to be optimistic. Of course, fears surrounding the pandemic have created significant uncertainty, but he believes the UK’s business education sector is responding well.

“Business schools today understand the importance of teaching future leaders how to respond to change, how to be resilient, and ultimately how to contribute to a better society. Programs have been introduced that provide these skills and go well beyond the functional elements of the business.”

“For example, when I started, we never had business-in-society courses, nor did we have such different critical perspectives within the sector,” says Steve. The UK therefore has to be credited for having this increasingly pluralistic society in which our business school students can now thrive.

And thrive in Sussex. The University of Sussex Business School ranks highly in prioritizing responsible business, both in the UK and globally, as recently reflected in the Financial Times’ ranking methodology. Steve claims that few business schools have as much knowledge and history in exploring areas like sustainability as Sussex, and he is passionate about how business schools can create positive change.

But if sustainability has become the hot topic of the 2020s in higher education, Steve insists the focus will go well beyond that as we look to the future. For the Dean of Sussex, there will be a much broader focus in business schools on teaching students how to deal with increasingly turbulent environments – which, of course, will be impacted by climate change.

“How to get business graduates to understand societal risk in a more nuanced and holistic way is something that business schools need to navigate,” says Steve. “The focus on sustainability is important, but will always run in the background. Teaching students how to be resilient to instability in all sectors will be high on the business school agenda.”

And understanding societal risks can not only be taught, but also substantiated by scientific research. This is where the University of Sussex Business School excels. In fact, they have been at the forefront of sustainability research in Sussex since the 1960s – pioneering an issue long before it was even an ‘issue’.

“One of our key assets is our science base here, and as a result we attract students from all corners of the world,” shares Steve. An excellent example of their scientific distinction is their world-leading Science Policy Research Unit, or “SPRU” as it is widely recognized.

The University of Sussex in particular has also launched its own sustainability strategy to be one of the most sustainable universities in the world. Sussex was recently ranked among the top 50 universities in the world for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The university is also proud to be ranked 37th out of more than 1,400 institutions in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) World Impact Ranking. This makes the university the seventh best performing institution in the UK.

Throughout Steve’s career he has experienced a lot of uncertainty. In addition to the pandemic, which is permanently changing the global education markets, geopolitical tensions are also bringing new challenges. However, Steve is naturally pragmatic and hopeful in spirit and shares that business schools need to stay current with what is happening in the world and adjust their strategies accordingly for the benefit of their students and wider communities.

“When you face uncertainty and challenges that are beyond our control, you need to adapt and find new ways to function,” says Steve. “We can always prepare, but it’s important to take situations as they come. Learn from previous lessons, change your methods and move on”.

This is a vision Steve has and continues to convey to the University of Sussex Business School community. Encouraging today’s generation of students to think carefully about their choices and give them meaning beyond salary is no easy task, especially given the current political, economic and societal issues we continue to face.

However, the students must not despair. It is important for graduates to note that the business environment has evolved significantly over the past 25 years and the development of organizations’ awareness of issues related to EDI, the environment and their overall care and empathy for their employees is improving dramatically Has. Steve shares.

“Track the things you’d like to do and it will all go from there,” says Steve. “Be confident, the world may be more receptive than you think.”

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