Because corporate learning is a path to real impact

There is a huge difference between wanting something to happen and doing something about it. And despite all the talk and best intentions emerging from COP 27, it will take dedication, new tools and expanding skills to solve the climate crisis.

For Steve McGuire, Dean of the UK’s University of Sussex Business School, “Business education provides you with that pathway if you truly want to make an impact in the realms of sustainable business practices.”

Drawing on the intellectual strength and research impact of the prestigious University of Sussex Business School, the school has brought together the world-renowned Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) with the Department of Economics, already a global leader in development economics, together with areas such as finance, management, marketing and strategy to focus on driving innovation for social progress, with key strengths in sustainability and climate change.

Undergraduate, MBA, and Masters students have the fundamentals and analytical knowledge of business, but the influx of programs on topics like sustainable development equips them with the tools and techniques of “doing it better for the world,” not just for profit. This, says Steve, is where the UK business education market has taken a positive new direction.

Originally from Canada, Steve has been Dean of the University of Sussex Business School since 2015 but has been a leading figure in the business education industry for over 20 years, holding previous academic positions at other business schools in the UK and mainland Europe . This vast experience allows him to reflect on the changes he has seen in the industry and also reason to be optimistic. Naturally, anxieties about the pandemic have created considerable uncertainty, but he believes the UK corporate training 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 teach these skills, going well beyond the functional elements of the business.

“When I started out, for example, we never had business courses in companies, nor did we have such different critical perspectives within the industry,” Steve shares. The UK must therefore take credit for this increasingly pluralistic society in which our business school students can now thrive.

And thrive they do, at Sussex. Ranked high both in the UK and globally, the University of Sussex Business School has been ahead of the curve in prioritizing responsible business which has only recently been reflected in the Financial Times’ ranking methodology. Steve says few business schools have the in-depth knowledge and history of research in areas like sustainability that Sussex does, and he is passionate about how business schools can instigate positive change.

But if sustainability has become the hot topic of 2020 in higher education, Steve insists that, looking ahead, the focus will go much further. For Sussex Dean there will be a much wider emphasis in business schools on teaching students how to manage increasingly turbulent environments – which climate change will obviously impact.

“How to get business graduates to understand social risk in a more sophisticated and holistic way is something business schools will need to navigate,” Steve says. “The focus on sustainability is vital, but it will always run in the background. Teaching students how to be resilient to instability across industries will be high on business school agendas.”

And understanding social risk cannot only be taught, it must also be justified by scientific research. This is where the University of Sussex Business School excels. In fact, at Sussex, they’ve been pioneering sustainability research since the 1960s: pioneering an issue long before it was, well, a ‘problem’.

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

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

Throughout Steve’s career, he has witnessed a lot of uncertainty. In addition to the pandemic causing permanent changes in global education markets, geopolitical tensions are also bringing new challenges. However, pragmatic by nature and confident in spirit, Steve shares that business schools need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world and adjust their strategies accordingly for the benefit of their students and wider communities.

“Faced with uncertainty and challenges beyond our control, you have to adapt and think of new ways to function,” Steve says. “We can always prepare, but it’s also important to take situations as they come. Learn from previous lessons, change your methods and move on.”

This is an idea that Steve has and continues to instill in the University of Sussex Business School community. Encouraging today’s generation of students to think carefully about their choices and give them purpose beyond salary is no easy feat, particularly against the current political, economic and social issues we continue to face.

However, students need not be discouraged. For graduates, it is important to note that corporate environments have come a long way over the past 25 years and the evolution of organizations awareness of topics related to EDI, the environment and their general care and empathy for their employees has improved remarkably, Steve shares.

“Pursue the things you’d like to do, and everything will come out of there,” says Steve. “Be hopeful, the world may be more receptive than you think.”

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