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MAASTRICHT. October 2019, Maastricht University Campus Brussels. The Board of the School of Business and Economics (SBE) is on an awayday to discuss what they want the next five years to look like, before the topic will be discussed faculty-wide. There will need to be more diversity among students and staff. The educational model will remain the same, but more digital tools will be introduced. Research will become more practically relevant, with concrete, real-world applications: based on social issues and problems, with a focus on sustainable development, digitisation and globalisation. The 2020–2025 strategic plan of SBE has been a long time coming, but that’s it in a nutshell.
Any examples of what this will look like in practice? “Consider the global coffee market”, says Peter Møllgaard, dean of SBE. “How do you ensure that coffee growers in South America or Africa get a fair share of the profits? That’s how you achieve good governance.” This kind of research fits perfectly into the near future SBE envisions for itself. “It’s a global issue in the field of sustainable development. And you can also include digitisation by using big data or artificial intelligence.”
This doesn’t mean that SBE will no longer conduct basic research, says Møllgaard. Basic research will remain important as its results often translate into valuable information for society. “For example, research on consumer behaviour may lead to policy advice that governments and companies can use to improve their efficiency. Not just to increase their profits, but also to achieve climate goals, for example.”
Møllgaard doesn’t feel like the faculty needs to make fundamental changes to its educational model. “UM – and therefore SBE – has found a solid, unique model in the combination of Problem-Based Learning with the International Classroom.” He does believe it’s important to continue to develop the model. Digitisation will come into play here as well. “Nothing is set in stone yet”, stresses Møllgaard, “but it may include using videos or apps to stay connected outside of the classroom, or even augmented reality glasses.”
There is also room for development within the classroom, says Møllgaard. Despite years of effort in this area, tutorial groups are still not diverse enough. “Students from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium are still overrepresented in our classrooms. They share a similar culture. But students can learn so much from other cultural perspectives. We do have students from other countries – from Finland to Portugal and from Ireland to Romania, but it’d be great if we could attract more students from those areas to UM.” Ideally, tutorial groups would include students from all over the world, says the dean. “But internationally, we’re competing with top universities like Oxford.” This ambition isn’t included in the plan for the next five years. “It’ll be the next step. I believe in our product, but we must first optimise it as much as possible.”
In addition to diversity among students, diversity among staff must be encouraged. Says Møllgaard, “The more diverse the team, the better. Different people bring different skills and ways of thinking to the table.” Another priority in the coming years is balancing the ratio of men to women. “It doesn’t make sense that this ratio is around fifty-fifty among students, while only 18.5 per cent of our professors are women.”
Finally, the further development of the faculty takes centre stage in the plan. The Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI) and the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG) were recently incorporated into the faculty. If negotiations go well, the Maastricht School of Management (MSM) will follow. “With the further integration and knowledge of these institutes, our teaching and research at SBE will improve, for example where sustainability and technology-enhanced learning are concerned. Consider the Minor in Sustainability developed by MSI, coming to all faculties at the bachelor’s level, and our new master’s programme (see box)”, or updating existing degree programmes. Møllgaard cites Accounting as an example of a programme that may change in the future. “Up until now, accounting has been work done by humans. But people make mistakes. In the future, computers with artificial intelligence will take over from them. Students need to learn how to work with that kind of software. The world, and therefore our teaching, is constantly changing. The university must change along with it.”
People, profit and planet. Future leaders will know how to strike a balance between the three. From the academic year 2021/2022 onwards, students can learn how to do so in the new Master in Sustainable Business: Leadership Innovation and Management (SUBLIM).
The double degree master is “the first education programme developed as part of the partnership between UM and the University of York in the United Kingdom”, explain the initiators of SUBLIM, Annemarie van Zeijl-Rozema, associate professor of Sustainable Development, and Nancy Bocken, professor of Sustainable Business. Students can register for the programme at both York and UM. Both universities will teach a number of courses, and students can work on their group project and write their thesis at either university.
Each period, two courses – one taught by UM and one taught by York – will run parallel to each other, explains Bocken. In other words, it will be a hybrid form of education: all students will follow the programme partly online and partly in-person. They are yet to work out the specifics, says Van Zeijl-Rozema, but it’s clear that “students at York and UM will meet each other visually.” Students will not have to travel back and forth, although they are free to do so, says Bocken. Students who do study at both universities will graduate with a double master’s degree, one from each university. “Those who stay at their ‘home university’, don’t. They will get a certificate.”
Graduates from any bachelor’s programme – from law to political science, from economics to psychology – can register for SUBLIM. “The more backgrounds, the more different perspectives”, says Van Zeijl-Rozema. “Companies that keep fishing in the same pool reach a point where they can no longer innovate. It will be a truly interdisciplinary degree programme.”
York is launching the programme in September 2021. UM will follow a year later. Why? “It has to do with accreditation”, explains Van Zeijl-Rozema. “Accreditation is an internal process in the UK. In the Netherlands, it has to go through several levels of the university itself and then through the ministry and the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO).” Students at York will already be able to follow the courses that will be taught by UM in the coming academic year.