Weighing up business schools’ work on sustainability

Truman Slate

Wilfred Mijnhardt has a dilemma. Europe is dwelling to some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious business enterprise universities, and it has been at the forefront of much of the global innovation in teaching and exploration on sustainability.

But when he analyses institutions’ performance based mostly on their place in in general rankings, allow alone their educational exploration output, he finds a significant mismatch with these doing most to foster responsible business enterprise schooling.

Mijnhardt, coverage director at Rotterdam Faculty of Management at Erasmus University, is one particular of a increasing variety of specialists discovering means to improved capture this kind of trends. It is also a concern on which the FT is reflecting and canvassing sights in conjunction with educational and sustainability teams. Notably, Mijnhardt has mapped the hyperlinks involving the business enterprise schools’ exploration output and the UN’s sustainable advancement goals (SDGs).

“Business universities are lagging guiding [other disciplines],” he states. “They imagine that if they generate a few publications that rely for rankings and accreditation applications, they are doing exploration. But this earth is much bigger than that and educational culture is so much more.”

Mijnhardt studied articles or blog posts on SDGs written by business enterprise school staff members due to the fact 2015 that ended up published in the FT50 list of influential journals. He found that the major institutions are ever more focused on the field, with solid output in Europe from universities at the universities of Glasgow, Leeds and St Gallen, for occasion.

But there are big gaps, with climate modify-similar matters explored far less in these articles or blog posts than themes this kind of as poverty reduction and innovation. Some of the articles or blog posts with the biggest SDG relevance and effect are published in more obscure and less effectively-regarded journals.

Wilfred Mijnhardt has mapped hyperlinks involving business enterprise schools’ exploration output and the UN’s sustainable advancement goals

Mijnhardt suggests business enterprise universities have moved more slowly than other educational departments to function on more interdisciplinary, collaborative and socially pertinent themes. A person purpose is they are less reliant on — and accountable to — exterior exploration funders which are ever more focused on the priorities of the SDGs. As a substitute, their exploration tends to be indirectly subsidised by superior tuition costs or donations.

Jerry Davis, affiliate dean for business enterprise and effect at Ross Faculty of Company at the University of Michigan, is more nuanced. “Business universities ironically are one particular of the previous preserves where by you are free of charge to adhere to your thoughts where by it goes, due to the fact you are not reliant on government or corporate funding,” he states. “We have perhaps more educational flexibility to uncover points.”

Chart showing that ‘Triple crown’ schools raise share of journal articles on Sustainable Development Goals

Faculties with the prestigious ‘Triple crown’ of accreditation from the AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS are publishing more articles or blog posts similar to UN sustainable advancement goals in the FT50 list of influential educational journals utilized in business enterprise schooling rankings

Nonetheless in follow, as a founding member of Responsible Investigation for Company & Management (RRBM), a community of teachers pushing for “credible and practical research”, he states more demands to be carried out to reorient his peers’ functions to jobs and publications that give greater societal effect.

A person critique of existing business enterprise school rankings, which include the FT’s, is that their calculations do not aim so much on these matters. As a substitute, they attract on facts factors this kind of as salaries that do not mirror — and may perhaps even perhaps undermine — increasing demand by college students, faculty and employers for a greater emphasis on this kind of social purpose, which include in their educational output.

But there is a more fundamental issue for these eager to carry about modify: the absence of consensus on means to meaningfully evaluate this kind of functions. Other assessments focused on the SDGs depend closely on subjective, qualitative judgments by college students and faculty. They are minimal by reference to their individual experiences and institutions, devoid of an exterior benchmark.

Chart showing ‘Triple crown’* schools' journal articles on the Sustainable Development Goals, 2015-19

Company school teachers have a tendency to aim closely on particular SDGs, most notably wellness, innovation, function, usage and institutions, even though subjects this kind of as the earth, poverty, schooling and gender obtain comparatively little awareness

It is in particular hard to assess the effect of “environmental, social and governance” things in classroom teaching or alumni professions. Even in educational exploration, extended scrutinised as a result of “bibliometrics” discovering the facts about published exploration, there is little settlement on which measures to use.

Concentrating on the written content of articles or blog posts that refer to the SDGs presents a proxy on the extent of activity about these issues. But it gives only a crude yardstick for the originality, worth or applicability of the underlying exploration.

Experts this kind of as Amanda Goodall, affiliate professor at The Company Faculty, City, University of London (previously Cass), advocate expanding the range of publications that are taken into account over and above these in the widely recognised and prestigious FT50, to include things like more interdisciplinary and expert journals. That would allow for a wider selection of themes but could also dilute the perceived educational high quality.

Applying citations by other teachers of articles or blog posts would aid counter criticism by introducing a peer evaluation of the high quality of any publication. But it does not give an indication of the effect over and above college walls: the extent to which exploration is go through, shared and implemented by firms, governments and other organisations. References to articles or blog posts on social media give some exterior validation of interest but also a superior diploma of “noise”. A improved method may well be just take into account references to educational exploration in the media, expert weblogs and coverage papers.

These are some of the issues on which the FT, RRBM, the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management community and other individuals, which include the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative of business enterprise universities, are looking for sights.

Despite the issues, Prof Davis is optimistic about academia’s capability to acquire alternate measurements, in part due to the fact of fresh new interest in societal effect inside of schooling and over and above. “Millennials have a fairly solid feeling of social justice and the influence of the function they do. I’m very enthused by the coming generations,” he states. 

Be sure to share your sights on how to improved measure educational exploration at ft.com/ft50

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