Skip to main content
year in review

To close out the old year and ring in a new one on the business education front, we approached seven business school deans to ask them a couple of simple questions: What was the biggest challenge your MBA or business program faced in 2014 and, accordingly, how will you change what your school does in 2015?

One thing that came through loud and clear, at small and large business schools alike, is that experiential education is taking hold in Canadian business schools. Learning by doing, often buttressed by guests from the business world, is replacing static textbook exercises. The other commonality: The push to attract more premium-paying foreign students continues.

Patricia Bradshaw, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax

Since becoming dean at Sobey in June of 2012, Dr. Bradshaw realized that developing partnerships with the outside business community was crucial in a global business environment. More recently, the former Schulich School of Business professor has been working on a mission statement for the school.

And like other business schools, active, experiential learning was on the menu.

“The challenge is to understand the new model,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “How do you disrupt a program like an MBA? How do we break down tradition? We’re all looking for immediate ways to prepare for the uncertainties of the world ahead. We don’t even know what careers we’re preparing students for.”

Dr. Bradshaw and her 75 full-time faculty have focused on producing entrepreneurial “citizens of the world,” by teaching their students, almost 50 per cent of them international, to be adaptable and open.

In 2015, to address challenges, the Sobey school will consult with alumni and the business community and build support within the faculty. Redesign of the MBA program will continue. Students want shorter programs, but they also want depth. Alternatively, a 12-month program might be better if it was 16 months. And through it all, active learning has to be in the forefront, Dr. Bradshaw says.

Francine Turmel, Williams School of Business, Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke

When Dr. Turmel started her new job at Williams in September of 2014, it was within an environment of hiring freezes at educational institutions, courtesy of Quebec’s provincial budget the previous June. With just 20 full-time professors, part-time lecturers are widely used to teach the 800 full-time Williams’ students, says Dr. Turmel, previously dean at the University of Sherbrooke’s administration faculty.

“Our biggest challenge is the financial challenge,” says Dr. Turmel. “The cuts were very sudden, very brutal. We didn’t have a lot of time to adjust, to be strategic.”

Beyond staff limits, a related challenge is to protect what the university fundamentally is and what it does well, Dr. Turmel says. With insecure staffing, long-term planning is difficult to do.

Despite that, in 2015, Dr. Turmel wants to develop a continuing education program for business. After speaking with local employers, they indicated they needed marketing and business education that’s applicable to an increasingly complex and international world where, for example, small retailers compete with online giants. While Dr. Turmel would love to have the part-time/online program ready in a few months, it will take one to two years to develop.

She also wants to increase Williams’ international student population from about 20 per cent (primarily France and the United States) to about 30 per cent. With half of the full-time faculty hailing from outside Canada, Dr. Turmel intends to use their international links to attract students.

Dezso Horvath, Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto

For 27 years, Dr. Horvath has been dean at Schulich and, right from the start, he played the long game, looking three to five years ahead to determine which programs would be needed. The challenge then, as it is now, is to ensure there’s enough revenue to run new and established programs. Yet, diversification is crucial to keep cash flowing. “If one program doesn’t work, do another,” he says. Early on, the introduction of programs related to globalization and innovation led to Schulich building its reputation as a trailblazer.

After the 2008 financial meltdown, MBA programs lost their lustre, with the decline taking a couple years longer in Canada. The challenge at Schulich has been to develop MBA programs that both attract students and guarantee a job upon graduation. “The role of the school is to figure out what’s happening and create a diversified market profile,” Dr. Horvath says. Because it takes a couple years to develop new programs, certainty of success is crucial. “We can’t wait for surprises,” he says.

In 2015, Schulich will launch its MBA in global retail management. And another new Master’s program will also make its debut in 2015.

Schulich, which has several international campuses and offices, alumni in 70 countries and 3,000 degree students worldwide, will also emphasize recruiting in 2015, with a focus on Latin America. While India and China account for a bulk of international students, Dr. Horvath says it’s important to keep a balance and not have too many students from one country, which would “distort the dynamics in the classroom.”

David Belford, faculty of business, Fanshawe College, London, Ont.

While Fanshawe’s business school has 2,400 full-time students, about 520 of them international, Prof. Belford says the biggest 2014 challenge has been finding ways to increase the business student population. High-school graduates remain the largest source of incoming students, but their numbers have been dropping, Prof. Belford says. So, Fanshawe has had to craft programs for a mixed demographic bag: older learners, international students and those seeking retraining for a new career. “We also have to develop programs to meet the needs of employers,” says Prof. Belford, business school dean since 2007. In addition to labour market research and meetings with employers, experience-based learning has taken hold at Fanshawe. “We have to keep embedding experiential learning opportunities,” Prof. Belford says.

He’s excited about 2015, when the new bachelor of commerce degree program will make its debut. Taking almost seven years to develop, due to Ontario’s rigorous approval process, the program was created to meet the demand. “It’s going to be a big change in opportunity for us,” he says.

The school will also continue to offer and examine new ways to deliver programs. Over time, the school has moved to more online courses but Prof. Belford foresees a demand for a blended delivery model where, for example, students do one hour of online study and three hours of classroom learning.

Michael Benarroch, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg

Embracing hands-on learning, in September of 2014 the Asper school introduced a new MBA program. “The new curriculum is much more experiential. It gives students a chance to practise what they learn in the classroom,” says Dr. Benarroch, who came from the University of Winnipeg’s faculty of business and economics. Industry or consultancy projects are common. Sustainability, international marketing and innovation/entrepreneurship are highlighted. “We’ve had to revise the curriculum to address these and look at where each one fits,” he says. The goal is to have the three pillars flow throughout MBA instruction.

Asper’s MBA program welcomed 52 new students in 2014, with roughly 40 per cent of them international students, primarily from China and India. To ease the culture, language and even weather shock, the school does one-on-one matches between international and domestic students and provides a “detailed orientation.”

In 2015, Asper expects to offer short-term internships for MBA students, starting with Winnipeg businesses and eventually reaching beyond the provincial capital. A new employee was hired to work on the internship program. Also planned for 2015 are alternate ways of teaching, spurred by a high number of part-time students. “We’re working on online options,” Dr. Benarroch notes.

Daphne Taras, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

Dr. Taras called 2014 a “very turbulent year for us.” But following a period of thorough examination and vigilant financial planning, Edwards is doing well. In 2014, the University of Saskatchewan was concerned about a possible future deficit. While present finances were fine, there was public alarm and a perception that the institution wasn’t “stable,” says Dr. Taras. To head off any chance of a deficit, faculties, including the Edwards school, laid off staff and axed some programs. “It was a lot of work. We had to justify every aspect of our existence,” says Dr. Taras, who came to Edwards in 2010 from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

All four Edwards business degree programs survived and 2015 carries an air of robust promise.

At Edwards’ accounting school, one of the oldest in Canada, it’s expected more staff will be hired to meet demand.

Experiential learning will continue to dominate. One popular program grooms business students to be effective board members, thus addressing business’s retirement and succession concerns.

A decade ago, 40 to 50 per cent of Edwards’ graduates went to Alberta for jobs. Today, about 90 per cent of the grads remain in Saskatchewan and 2015 shouldn’t be any different, Dr. Taras says. She’ll probably continue to field calls from Alberta employers, looking for very capable Edwards’ graduates who’ve chosen to stay in Rider Nation.

Blaize Horner Reich, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.

With three campuses and eight graduate programs, Dr. Reich admits she’s had to keep her eye on the ball in 2014. “With so many MBA programs, we have to make sure all courses have multiple lines of business input,” says Dr. Reich, dean since September of 2014.

At Beedie, the goal is to give students a deeper classroom experience. “We know each cohort is different. So we want to look at every cohort and see what works for them,” says Dr. Reich. Some students want to work for banks, others for eco-trusts, others for industry.

While it’s proven a challenge, the school has been forging relationships with partners outside the university. “We’re asking for their time. We have to build extraordinary relations,” says Dr. Reich.

Now, business professionals from companies such as Lululemon or Plenty of Fish come into Beedie’s classrooms and discuss how they operate and overcome challenges. Students appreciate the real world situations in place of textbook academics, Dr. Reich says..

In 2015, Beedie will expand its management of technology MBA, with the intent to make it a signature MBA program. Created in 2014, the part-time 24-month program will include visits to Silicon Valley so that students have fabulous experiences while being taken out of their comfort zones.

Calling an MBA a luxury good, where students invest in themselves, Dr. Reich says Beedie has to “keep pushing the envelope” to be ensured of good news.