The UCD College of Business will shortly launch a new strategy which will guide its growth and development over the five-year period from 2022 to 2026. The strategy is based on the college’s mission to “strive to lead the advance of the theory and practice of business, inspiring and co-creating a better future for our students, our staff, our alumni, and for business and society in Ireland and the world”.
The college will deliver on that mission through its commitment to empower, connect and create, according to Prof Tony Brabazon, dean of the UCD College of Business.
“We empower, develop and inspire current and future business leaders with the knowledge, critical thinking, soft skills, global perspectives and confidence to achieve their full potential, to innovate and lead responsibly with purpose and impact,” he says.
The strategy is based on four pillars – creating knowledge, transformational learning and development, embracing the world and building engagement.
The first pillar will see the college contribute to knowledge creation and leading debate in the academic and public space on pressing business issues. Areas of focus will include global challenges such as creating a sustainable global society, transforming through digital technology, building a healthy world and empowering humanity. “Building on our current and emerging strengths, we will focus on business-relevant aspects of these themes in key areas such as digital business, financial services, healthcare, food and professional services,” Brabazon explains.
The transformational learning and development pillar will see the college cultivate informed, critical thinking strongly grounded in disciplinary expertise and business and societal awareness. “We will prepare our students for careers in a rapidly changing world and provide the skills they need for their ongoing development,” he notes.
The embracing-the-world pillar sees the college recommitting to a global perspective across all of its activities. “This will inform our research activities, our curricula, staff and student recruitment activities, our engagement with global academic networks and other reputation-enhancing activities.”
Building engagement will involve leveraging and expanding the school’s strong community of stakeholders, comprising students, alumni, staff and industry, NGOs and public-sector partners.
The new strategy incorporates the learnings gained during Covid. “We originally went into the strategy-formation process just before Covid,” says Brabazon. “We had to pause as we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last or what the world would look like afterwards. When we resumed, we engaged in a lot of consultation with employers and alumni, faculty and students and benchmarked ourselves against business schools internationally. It was quite an intensive process.”
The college has come a very long way in 24 months, he adds. “Nothing stands still. Covid forced all educational institutions to rethink what they do. We spent the best part of two years delivering programmes primarily online. And we found that when we had to make the change were able to. For example, in September 2021, when were about to go back into classroom delivery, we were told that Dublin was going into a level-three lockdown. We had to switch to online almost overnight. That has created a degree of plasticity in the education sector which was not there previously. All of our staff had to embrace significant change in a very short period, and we all learned a lot about online education delivery.”
Students have become more informed consumers of online education, he points out. “Students want much more flexibility. The willingness of people to turn up to a fixed schedule of two to three evenings a week for a part-time programme is an issue, particularly when they don’t know where they will be on any given night. This demands a response.”
That has led to some fundamental questions being asked. “What lessons have we learned? What do we keep? What do we go back to? We are very unlikely to ever go back fully to the classroom in the way we were before.”
The resulting changes have seen the UCD Smurfit School part-time MSc in project management being made available fully online with students being able to opt to attend in person, over Zoom or to blend the two. The part-time MSc in management will also be available online from next September.
“We are also delivering a series of micro-credential programmes,” he adds. “This allows people to do a single module of a programme, come back later to do another and later possibly complete the course. They can use it to get an MSc over time. That’s quite a new development in the education market. It’s a new pathway to a degree. There is also an increasing requirement to engage in lifelong learning. Education institutes and business schools have to offer flexible pathways to upskill and gain qualifications.”
The new format for these programmes is not the same as the online delivery of lectures during Covid. “There is a difference between switching to online to keep the show on the road and designing something specifically for online delivery ab initio,” Brabazon explains. “One thing we learned during Covid was that we have to re-evaluate what we do in the classroom. It is easy to deliver content online with pre-prepared material. That allows you to decide what to do with valuable classroom time. There is a move away from content transmission to more active learning where we engage students in discussions, critical debate, simulation and group work. It’s a much more active learning experience than it was even a few years ago.”
Looking to the future he believes it will be a very exciting time to work in business education. “We see the UCD College of Business as part of an ecosystem of students, faculty, employers, alumni, government and other partners. We actively seek to work with that ecosystem when we are creating our curricula so that they are as rigorous and relevant as possible. The Irish phrase ‘níos fearr a chruthú le chéile’, that we achieve more when we work together, is very appropriate.”