Revising our education experience
In January 2020, before COVID-19 was much of a topic for conversation, Plymouth Business School embarked on a revisioning of what a high-quality 2030 business education experience would look like from a student point of view, no matter where in the world they wanted to work.
We looked at predictive models and different governments’ industrial strategies, spoke to colleagues at different business schools in different countries, looked at the UN Sustainability Development Goals and took advice from international consultants, employers and our own alumni.
Every time there is a dramatic event like this pandemic or a shift in the economy, there are always winners and losers. But most importantly, there are always opportunities.
My background is in applied anthropology and the aim is to always apply knowledge and understanding to solve human problems and make the world a better place.
I've taught all over the world – Denmark, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, South Africa, USA – and being exposed to different places, cultures, economies and ways of teaching and learning has really helped formulate my personal philosophy.
We applied our consolidated knowledge and held the mirror up to ourselves. And while we generally liked what we saw, there were a few things around the edges that we realised needed to change.
We were delivering in the right subject areas, but we were too complicated and confusing to students and employers. We had, over time, added too many variants of programmes and too many elective modules so students were sometimes confused by choice and didn’t always have a consistent experience.
So we put all this into a pot, melted it down, skimmed off what was from the past and put together an offer that we know will best equip the next generation of students.
- Plymouth Business School retains its pride in supporting the internationally recognised focus on sustainability and social purpose of the University as a whole.
- We have redoubled our commitment to good business practice and social, economic and environmental responsibility.
- Our mission is to put business-ready graduates on a path to a successful career and a happy life.
Creating confidence and resilience
We are not just educating you for tomorrow. We're really thinking about what you will also need in 2030.
One of our aims is to educate you about where the economy is going and where the jobs are going, so that you can make informed choices.
The word that always resonates with me, and this was pre-COVID as well, but I think it’s more acute now, is ‘nimble’. Our current generation of 17 and 18-year-olds are already proving their resilience and it is our responsibility to give you the confidence to try and succeed in a whole host of different areas.
For example, a health degree is not necessary just for a health career, and business is not just for business, because a lot of business students go off and succeed in social enterprise, or in different areas where they apply their knowledge and skills. The average 18-year-old will change careers five to seven times during their working lives and the possibilities this opens up are really exciting.
We are starting to see this internationally. Take a fast-growing economy in China or India, where it was historically business, medicine and engineering. In China, we're starting to see the economy evolve and move into more creative industries. There is investment in a cultural offer. In South Africa, it's probably not actually changed much at all. Whereas it certainly has in the United States and through much of Western Europe.
Throughout our teaching, we need to ensure we understand the markets and what employers want and what employers need. What makes for good employees and good leaders.
But it is also actually understanding how the world works, why it is the way it is – whether it's following developing industry trends or working with AI. Putting critical thinking into practice.
And this is how we want you to think – questioning ‘what is it that you want?’ and ‘What motivates you?’
Thriving on industry challenges
The rapid expansion of artificial intelligence, the necessity of greening the economy and how we live, as well as an ageing population, means that some occupations will largely cease, while others, some of which we can’t even imagine or predict, will rise in your working lives.
That level, pace of change and insecurity is both exciting and scary. But we know the people who will be successful and have happy lives are those that can adapt quickly to new ways of working and living.
Everyone can do this and get comfortable going outside their comfort zone, but it does not come naturally to most.
We all live and breathe AI and we see incremental change with it, whether it's with transport and drone deliveries, with your insurance company or at the University.
We have Alexa and Siri capturing our information, machines learning about us behind the scenes. This is helping industry and governments know where our interests are, what products to sell us, but to also know what we're interested in, whether it's just the kind of music we're playing.
Are we going to need doctors in the future? Possibly not for diagnosis because AI will be better at being able to assimilate all of that information. As a consultant doctor at the moment, part of why you're paid a lot is that you have years of experience enabling you to spot the one-in-fifty-thousand thing. AI will be able to do that better than the doctors based on all the information they'll be able to gather about individuals relatively soon.
For people in remote parts of the world, drone delivery is an amazing opportunity, whether it's testing equipment or medicine that will allow people to survive. I know of a project where farmers in a developing country were given smartphones and it meant they could monitor the weather. They knew whether a storm was coming, so they could get their crops out now. And they knew if there was a rainstorm coming, so they could wait to plant.
With digital technology as it is now, it will also be interesting to see how many people want to go back to work and how many people want to stay home after COVID.
The blurring of lines between work and home is really, really going to change and be different for individuals and companies.
How will homeworking continue to be monitored? Twenty years ago, you did your work and presented your outputs. Now, organisations can watch what you're doing – remotely – and monitor your clicks and work behaviours.
Real experience every step of the way
As well as expert-led teaching, all undergraduate modules at Plymouth Business School have CV building activities integrated within them, for example, through micro-credentialing, real-world problem-based learning, or embedded direct employer activity.
We have ensured every module has a real-world problem-based exercise. We have direct employers involved in assessments.
You will have direct real-world employee engagement every month. Every module has at least one of the following three things:
- CV building activity;
- Problem-based learning; and/or
- Embedded employers activity.
We do this because we know it is key to student, academic and graduate success. Learning your subject and learning how to learn, becoming confident and resilient, as well as the friendships and networks you build while a student and later as alumni, are what we know will put you on the path to career success and a happy life.
This helps engage students – rather than talking theoretically about a problem an employer has, you can actually work with the employer.
We have the Inspiring Futures programme within the Business School which has been hugely successful in terms of direct employee engagement and students involved in knowledge exchange with employers and external organisations.
Inspiring Futures is uniquely designed to enhance the employability skills of our undergraduate students from the very start of their university careers, giving you the opportunity to work on consultancy projects which address real business issues set by organisations.
We understand how business and organisations work. Networks are key. And that's partly what we're doing through the programme – plugging you into these networks – those relevant business networks, whether they're the professional body or the local network, because it's the networks that make it a lot easier for you to get the job you want.
When you graduate you will have had your eyes opened and have accumulated skills that you wouldn't necessarily have engaged with directly.
You will understand why the world is the way it is and be aware of how things work. Learning how to understand how an industry or employer works – once you get that, that's how you get on the road to success.
Plymouth and the South West
Plymouth and the South West are safe, comfortable and environmentally beautiful, with some of the best air quality in the country. It’s a great location to relax in and try new things without the hustle and hassle of a large urban environment.
The successful cities of the future will be the cultural cities of the future. Essentially, for lots of jobs now and increasingly more and more jobs, you can live anywhere. And that's not just a COVID thing, that was on the line anyway.
So, it used to be that if you're a designer, you had to live in London because you had to physically go and bring your stuff and show it to people. If you're a designer now, you can live up on Dartmoor and you just send your stuff online and it's all good and nobody cares.
One thing that has changed in terms of geography, and this probably has been COVID-intensified, are the local supply chains. We're looking at those completely differently, we're not just thinking about a national supply chain. There's been a real refocusing of how we reinvigorate that local supply chain.
Our region’s economy is dominated by small-to-medium-sized business, and our students get real-world experience of working with them on their problems and opportunities for growth.
I think we will continue to have lots more SMEs, as people look to work for themselves, because in some cases, we'll have to – you might have been furloughed or lost your job, and that gives you the time to think differently. What do you want out of your own career and yourself?
People feel connected to the South West. You may come from here and might go away, go up to London or somewhere, but you come back because you know this is a great place for quality of life.
Plymouth is an attractive place for people to want to come and work because it has everything. The most important thing at the moment is high-quality broadband and the infrastructure in Plymouth is top-drawer. We're a smart city, a cultural city. We have The Box, the best regional theatre in the country – things that other places just don't have.
A happy balance
Alongside a successful career, we really want our graduates to have a happy life. It’s important and not something generally considered in business schools of the past.
It’s finding your own balance between what success and happiness is for you as an individual. Many more people are interested in social justice, environmental sustainability, economic justice, as well as health and wellbeing.
We’ve all come across people who had a very successful career, and are miserable. That’s not what we want for our graduates, and why we have worked to build capabilities around confidence, resilience into all our programmes. We want our students to develop an ability to be fearless and nimble when it comes to their careers and their personal values that drive their decisions.
We are lucky to have an excellent Students' Union which supports students in all kinds of ways, and active societies, be they business-related or something completely different.
But while students have greater access to information and expertise than never before, students today also have it tougher than students of the past – it is pretty much universally acknowledged that there is more stress and pressure on them, and student mental health and wellbeing is an open and real issue.
Within Plymouth Business School, we are investing in mental health and resilience training professionals, who are visible and known by our students, and are the first port of call for wellbeing issues.
These are people trained in spotting the early warning signs and early interventions are the key, while also providing personal resilience training for our students.
We want to prepare them for what life will throw at them while at University and beyond.
We are also investing in skills advisors who know our curriculum and can support practical skills development. These are complimentary to the central services the University provides, but we think it critical to the success and happiness of students in the Business School – giving our staff more time to support the academic and professional development of our students.
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