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Oil prices have dropped, plunging Alberta’s energy industry into a slump.TODD KOROL/Reuters

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

The precipitous fall in oil prices, energy company layoffs and stalled capital projects – the jarring new reality for Alberta's economy – will eventually be felt by business schools competing for students and industry training dollars.

But the news may not be all bad, says University of Alberta business school dean Joseph Doucet, a self-described "eternal optimist" whose research interests include energy and regulatory economics and policy.

If past trends hold, a downturn actually could spur demand for graduate business education as prospective students look to add to their marketability.

His school typically takes in about 80 MBA students a year and has made no plans to add to the cohort currently being recruited for September. Instead, says Dr. Doucet, "I expect we will have greater competition [for existing spots]."

While nine of 10 undergraduates and more than eight of 10 MBA graduates from the Edmonton-based school find employment within three months of earning their degrees, according to the most recent employment reports, Dr. Doucet concedes that current oil industry woes will likely slow demand for new graduates.

"There won't be as many jobs," he says. "But there always is hiring and there are always new needs, even when there is downsizing, rationalizing of investment portfolios and job cuts."

In managing the current upheaval, he anticipates energy companies to become even more strategy-conscious than in rosier economic times, adding, "There will be a premium on people who can fit the right positions."

However, executive training is likely to be a casualty of corporate cutbacks. "The market will be more difficult there, without a doubt," says Dr. Doucet.

But, ever the optimist, he adds: "That puts the ball back in our court to be purposeful and proactive in how we address the evolving needs of firms."

Students chip in to business school building renovation

Like the business leaders they aspire to become, undergraduate commerce students at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management challenged themselves to make a strategic decision to invest – or not – in the renovation and expansion of their business school.

Students voted this month by a narrow margin to impose a special levy on current and future classmates of $40 a semester for the next three years – the equivalent of $500,000 – to improve the quality of their learning environment.

With the downtown Montreal business faculty poised for a major expansion, taking over McGill's bookstore for the MBA program, the pending renovation "kick-started a whole new conversation on what our [undergraduate] student space is, what we like about it and what we think could be improved," says fourth-year Desautels student Sean Finnell, president of the Management Undergraduate Society.

The business school occupies 115,200 square feet in a downtown building and will add an additional 26,600 square feet when it takes over the university bookstore next door in 2017. Some of the liberated space in the current business school building will be set aside for undergraduate students, including study rooms and other improvements to facilitate group work.

"This is really an investment in our future," says Mr. Finnell, adding: "The value of my degree will only increase as the facilities are enhanced."

In the referendum, students voted 51 per cent in favour of the levy, which will be go to the Bachelor of Commerce Student Space Improvement Fund that will be managed jointly by the student association and the university.

Even with rising tuition and other costs, students have a history of making financial contributions when they see benefits for themselves and future students. When the new Sauder School of Business opened in 2012 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, students contributed $21-million of $52-million raised privately from alumni and donors for the new building.

Students eye global prize for next big social innovation

Nine teams from eight Canadian universities have made the regional final of the global Hult Prize, which awards $1-million (U.S.) in seed funding for students from business (sometimes in collaboration with arts) who devise a sustainable startup enterprise to solve a pressing global problem.

Those who make it past the regional final in March go on to the final in New York in September. This year, students were asked to develop a plan to bring early childhood education to youngsters in underdeveloped countries.

The Canadian teams are: HEC Montréal; McGill University (which won the top prize in 2013); Queen's School of Business; University of Toronto; York University (two teams including the Schulich School of Business); University of Waterloo; University of Western Ontario; and OCAD University.

Case competition winners offer winning eco-friendly advice to car maker

MBA teams from Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management swept the podium at the annual Rotman Corporate Social Responsibility Case Competition this month. For the competition, teams from six universities were given six days to put together a marketing plan for GM Chevrolet to recast itself as an car maker with an environmental conscience.

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