Chairman’s Corner: Reflections from the 20th OECD Forum

Business Education0 Comments

The OECD held the 20th anniversary Forum in Paris on 20-21 May. The Forum has grown significantly over the last couple of decades and brings together a wide range of government ministers, leaders from the public and private sectors, representatives from civil society including not-for-profits and college students. Each year, the OECD chooses a theme for the Forum. Perhaps aptly, the theme for this year was “World in eMotion.” It was a play on words to emphasize the rapid pace of change being brought about by digital technologies. The Forum had a rich agenda with many sessions exploring different facets of how technology is impacting our lives and our world.

Secretary General of the OECD Angel Gurria set the tone for the meeting with his introductory comments on how rapid progress in technology was creating both stresses and opportunities. Technology was increasing inequality and divides across society by facilitating greater value accumulation by the few. Questionable practices by some technology leaders had eroded trust for many and raised important questions regarding integrity and values. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and adoption of advanced automation had created fear in the minds of many regarding the future of work and the security of their jobs. Action is needed to address the risks and benefits of technology but requires coordinated and determined action from multiple stakeholders. Secretary General Gurria concluded by outlining a four point agenda for building a better future for all:

  1. create a new social contract of inclusiveness
  2. strengthen integrity and regain trust
  3. empower people to prepare for the future of work and
  4. strengthen international cooperation. The webcast for the session can be watched on this link.

The agenda of the Forum explored the above four action agenda items. I was asked to contribute to some of the sessions on skills and the future of work. I will use this note to share my observations from these sessions, especially as they relate to business schools.

Together with Vincenzo Esposito Vinzi, Dean and President, GBSN member ESSEC Business School, I participated in a session titled “Global Competencies and the Future of Learning: A Conversation with Deans” that was moderated by Dana Minbaeva, Professor and Vice-President for International Affairs, GBSN member Copenhagen Business School. The purpose of this interactive workshop was to initiate discussion around responsibility of business schools and universities in ensuring broader access to the type of skills needed for the Future of Work. This includes technical skills but also global competencies such as social and emotional skills, as well as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration.

The session discussed and explored answers to some complex questions: What does the global future look like for business schools? Can we actually deliver global competencies in local classrooms? What and how should we deliver management education to deal with the Future of Work challenges? Dean Vinzi described how ESSEC was emphasizing experiential learning with the goal of driving real world impact. Incorporating a global dimension was also essential and was the driver behind the multi-campus strategy of ESSEC. I spoke about Cornell’s experience in creating the Cornell Tech campus in New York city with its MBA program focused on the digital economy. The Cornell Tech campus has many innovations like a close cooperation across business and engineering, requiring faculty to teach in the local New York city middle schools and including real world impact as a key criterion for the selection and promotion of faculty.

There were many useful additional points made by the audience such as the need to focus on diversity and to emphasize life long learning. For me the main takeaway messages from the discussion included the following. First, it is hard for business schools to accurately  predict the future of work but it is important to try and understand this evolution better with a collaborative effort to study it from both research and practice dimensions. I do not know many business schools that have made understanding the future of work a priority. Second, business schools are already doing many things right to teach business skills to our students. However, we can do more to truly bridge disciplines and bring in a stronger multi-disciplinary focus in our education and research programs. The real “new” skills will emerge at the boundaries between business and other disciplines like engineering, law, medicine, philosophy and others. Business school faculty and students have to be deeply immersed in these boundaries. Third, business schools have thus far mainly paid lip service to life long learning. At best, we have a portfolio of executive programs that are only affordable and accessible for a select few executives. We have largely ignored the life long learning needs of most of our alumni and others who cannot afford our traditional executive programs. We need to come up with a better way to address the life long learning needs for people who work in and serve organizations – private, public and non-for-profit – in our local contexts.

I also took part as a speaker in a plenary session titled “Skills for a Future That Works” with a number of interesting speakers. The focus was on two questions: how can we best encourage workers to continue developing their skills throughout their lives? And how can governments encourage more purposeful teaching practices in the classroom? Manuel Heitor, Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education for Portugal spoke about the important link between knowledge and employment – how knowledge conveyed in the classrooms have to enable people to gain meaningful employment. He also emphasized that having an open culture and inviting more foreign students helps build the national knowledge base and the quality of domestic education. I spoke about the importance of combining human and digital skills as both dimensions are very important for our future. I also emphasized the need for organizations to focus on creativity and to allow for innovative ideas to be both generated from the inside and brought in from the outside. Sandra Sancier, Senior Partner, McKinsey&Company spoke about the work of the McKinsey Global Institute in predicting the future of jobs and how automation will affect jobs of the future. She emphasized that most workers will have to adjust to changes in the contents of their jobs and that they need to be agile and invest in life long learning.  Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (USA) spoke from the vantage point of both the education profession and unions. She emphasized that to help people achieve better lives, they needed a voice at work and a voice in democracy. She also highlighted the investment needed in schools  and pointed out that school teachers need the freedom to teach, without being dictated by specific top down narratives. The discussion in the plenary session was rich and you can watch the entire session on the following link.

Though the focus was not on business schools per se, some takeaways for me from the session as they relate to business schools were the following. First, we need to better understand how automation is changing the nature of jobs. This relates to my earlier takeaway on studying the future of work, but automation is changing the content of all jobs and we need to better understand how jobs can be redesigned to better integrate the best of humans with the potential of technology. Second, we need to focus on competencies and measuring the learning process. Traditionally we have focused more on content – this is aligned with the PhD training of most faculty. We have not focused enough on understanding the competency gaps for each student and on offering individualized learning processes to address the gaps and better enable our students to succeed in the workplace. Linking our content to competency gaps and doing so on a personalized basis will be key for the future. Third, business schools need to play a stronger role in addressing the UN’s sustainable development goal of providing quality and affordable education to all. This will need us to rethink our learning offerings and get ready to serve tens of thousands of students as opposed to a few hundred. We have focused for too long on quality education for the few. We have to shift to quality education for the many.

There were many other interesting aspects covered in the OECD Forum and I encourage you to browse through the content and some of the webcasts on this link. One session that I would like to mention in particular was on the release of the OECD Principles on AI, the first inter-governmental set of principles on the use of AI adopted by governments. I wrote my GSBN note for May ‘19 on the impact of AI on education and given the importance of AI for our collective future, I am sure I will write more about it in the future.

Thank you again for being such a great community of fellow GBSNers. And I wish you all a great summer ahead!


Soumitra Dutta is a Professor of Management at Cornell University and the Chair of the Board of Directors for GBSN. Previously he was the Founding Dean of the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell and Chair of AACSB Intl. He also co-chairs the Global Future Council on innovation ecosystems for the World Economic Forum.

Email: sd599@cornell.edu; Twitter: @soumitradutta; LinkedIn: soumitra-dutta;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soumitra_Dutta

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