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A Letter to Business School Deans: The Real Impact Of University-Based Executive Education

By Lise Hammergren

What 2020 has taught us – a summary from the university-based executive education industry, as experienced by the top 115 universities in the world.

The executive education benchmarking survey with data from 99 top business schools conducted by UNICON during the fall of 2020 showed – not entirely unexpectedly – that many of the world’s leading business schools suffered a fall in executive education turnover caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has also created a new demand for upskilling and reskilling, and new digital tools and methods have enabled a much wider reach of executive education initiatives, creating opportunities for inclusion, sustainable growth and real change.

Most business schools have in their mission statement creating impact, on the students, companies and indeed the world. The global Covid-19 pandemic turned 2020 into an extremely challenging year for UNICON’s member schools. At the same time we were presented with an unprecedented opportunity to create real impact.

Many industries have been ravaged in 2020, others have managed well and even flourished. The world’s leading providers of university-based executive education saw a significant loss of turnover, with clients cancelling or postponing programs. At the same time a new demand for online education and training emerged, and many programs were successfully transformed to online delivery. This transition has enabled a much wider reach of executive education initiatives.

What will the world need to get back on its feet in 2021? The last decade saw the emergence, then the full blossoming, of trends such as digital disruption, the need for sustainability and the importance of diversity. The realities of the post-pandemic world are still to be seen and experienced, but the underlying trends leading up to 2020 will undoubtedly define the structure of what is to come.

Entirely new skillsets – and indeed mindsets – are required to build the post-pandemic world. As Nikolay Ivanov, Manager at the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Management Education Initiative (PRME) and speaker at UNICON’s Team Development Conference in November, stated: “Executive education has the potential to enable current and future business leaders to rethink the way they are operating and conducting their business—and executive education is really the place where these things can be accelerated.”

Infographic: Transitions in Learning Delivery Method

Infographic: Learning Methodologies

The world’s leading university-based executive education providers have long been in the forefront of exploring new technologies to improve learning and growth for individuals and organizations, and many innovative approaches were developed by UNICON’s member schools in 2020. UNICON provides many opportunities for its members to connect and share challenges and ideas.

In 2020, the three key annual conferences went digital and were successfully hosted by Darden School of Business, Yale School of Management and Thunderbird School of Global Management respectively – giving the participants the opportunity to experience a range of technological platforms and tools.

Getting support, ideas and energy from your peers is invaluable in turbulent times. An informal UNICON networking initiative, called “Coffee break groups” has engaged more than 190 participants in quarterly online discussion around various topics (while following anti-trust regulations). UNICON also provides talent development initiatives such as the Leadership Academy, which this year also went 100% online.

In times of uncertainty, timely intelligence is key. In order for the members to be able to follow the development of our industry, flash surveys have been carried out all through 2020, with more to come in 2021. UNICON will also work with other organizations such as AACSB, SHRM and the Financial Times on gaining deeper insight into client needs and industry trends. With these collaborations UNICON also aims to promote the value of university-based executive education.

In building the post-pandemic world, lifelong learning will become more important than ever. As university-based Executive Education is all about using the power of knowledge to create new opportunities, I am nothing but hopeful for our future.

Lise Hammergren
UNICON 2020-2021 Board Chair
Executive Vice President, Executive Education, BI Norwegian Business School