When Colin Mayer took over the helm as dean of Saïd Business School at Oxford University in the UK last year, one of his stated objectives was to see the school contribute to the role of business in society and business performance.
The school was looking – in a broad context – at how business, in a variety of different forms, can contribute to solving social problems, he said.
In line with this theme, Saïd’s 215 MBA students soon will be embarking on the school’s new initiative, a capstone course designed to be the culminating experience for participants on its MBA programme. An integral element of the course will be a two-day conference, which will debate a set of policy questions. The inaugural conference will be devoted to two topical issues, energy security and climate change, which Oxford’s James Martin Institute – which looks at the impact of scientific and technological change on society – has identified as relevant for today’s business.
The capstone course, Prof Mayer says, will bring together the various elements of the programme in a way that addresses the big issues the school’s MBA students will be facing at some stage in their careers.
Today’s MBA students, the future business leaders, will have to tackle issues that go beyond the normal MBA curriculum, Prof Mayer says.
“We want to put our money where our mouth is in terms of providing input into our courses that reflects that objective,” he says. The course, he says, is in tune with Saïd’s aim to make a difference to the way business is conducted.
The James Martin Institute will play a vital role. The conference will encourage participants to think about emerging risks.
“The idea is not just to think more precisely about these problems [of climate change and energy security] but the wider set of objectives . . . and the availability of response actions,” says Angela Wilkinson, director of scenarios and futures research at the institute.
An understanding of scenarios and the options that are available will help organisations to develop strategic insights and better navigate the future, she says.
The course aims to end the students’ MBA year with a bang, rather than a whimper, according to Stephan Chambers, MBA director at Saïd. Participants will have an individual formal assessment and must also take part in a group presentation of practical work. Capstone students must pass the course to get their MBA.
One of the criticisms frequently levelled at MBA students is that they think they know all the answers, Mr Chambers says. “This [capstone] recognises they don’t,” he says. “It is our job to teach them the rules of the games being played today and get them to see there are rules that are being written now.”
The course will run from the beginning of September. Confirmed speakers at the course conference will include Douglas Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, and Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at Risk Management Solutions.