Adapting to the new normal

Professor Fiona Devine, CBE Dean — Alliance Manchester Business School, the University of Manchester, talks about evolving new methods of learning



Now that we have experienced both blended and hybrid learning models, in retrospect, how important is face-to-face lesson delivery in your opinion?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has increased interest in blended and online learning, offering flexibility and convenience for students and employers. Our students tell us that they also want face-to-face delivery too. However, that is where our international presence across five international centres is key. Learning is a social activity and working professionals want to meet and network with faculty and fellow students, including in the Middle East.

How much emphasis would you place on the importance of learning and developing soft skills?

The pandemic has undoubtedly highlighted the value of soft skills in the workplace and especially for business leaders, with clear and open communications at a premium. Staff value empathy and organisations that place a high value on well-being and skills development (or not) will long be remembered after the pandemic recedes.

Having gone through the disruption caused by the pandemic, what do you see as the future of work and the workplace?

It is too early to define a new paradigm as we continue to assess the medium to long-term effects of remote working and learning. There has been a strong shift to digital platforms, tools and apps although there also remains a strong demand for face-to-face connection. At the University of Manchester, we are operating a hybrid model of office-and home-based working as well as both face-to-face and blended teaching and learning. The combinations are key.

How has the global recruitment of students led to the internationalisation of business schools and how do you see this trend improving the quality of education?

At AMBS we have had a strong focus on creating internationally diverse cohorts, 70 per cent of our student body is international with strategies for broadening the amount of nationalities studying across our programmes. Business schools have a huge opportunity to engage with new and emerging markets and this diversity leads to a richer learning experience. We learn to understand differences but, most importantly, our commonalities as well.

In today’s day and age of brand and social awareness, how important is it for the University to delegate more focus to its social responsibility and what are some of the initiatives that the institution has undertaken that are aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals. As we educate the business leaders of the future, it is important that we integrate ESG topics in core courses, as well as fostering diversity among faculty and students, and help tackle some of the grand societal challenges via our research, such as climate change. For our work in these areas, I am proud that the University of Manchester was named number one globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for action taken towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.


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