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Live Updates: Coronavirus Impact On Business Schools

What is the impact of coronavirus on business schools? We bring you the latest updates including campus closures, changes to MBA admission requirements, and more

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MBA Lands AirAsia.com Chief Of Staff Job During COVID-19 Uncertainty

Yizhen Fung is three months into her role as a chief of staff at AirAsia.com, the travel and lifestyle app for the airline giant, reporting directly to the CEO.

Even before COVID-19, aviation was rapidly changing and transforming, and in the past few months has seen serious disruption. But Yizhen is no stranger to adverse circumstances, having spent months job hunting in one of the most uncertain job markets for decades. 

Resilience and adaptability have proven to be key to her skill set, both of which she grasped and harnessed during her MBA at Asia School of Business (ASB) in Malaysia, and which will stay with her in a post-COVID world. 


Transitioning into the private sector via an MBA

Fresh out of high school in Malaysia, Yizhen went to study law at the University of Oxford. Graduating from the prestigious program had set her up for a successful career in legal practise: the only problem being, she didn’t want to become a lawyer. 

She returned home to Malaysia, where she started working at the Securities Commission, a regulator for Malaysia’s capital markets, working as an advisor and speech writer for the chairman. 

“I had a reflection that, while the regulator plays an important role in facilitating innovation, the true driver of innovation really lies in the private sector. I wanted to be a part of that,” Yizhen remembers. 

She wasn’t clear exactly which industry or role she was destined for, but knew that, to get noticed by any employer in Asia, she had to get some experience under her belt. 

She spoke to a close friend who had graduated in the inaugural class at Asia School of Business’ MBA, who raved about the Action Learning experience he had got from the program. “I was so impressed with the pan-Asian exposure he got, and how the experience transformed him from a self made entrepreneur to a well rounded corporate leader.” 

It was clear that the ASB MBA could give her a wide-spanning experience across sectors that could set her up for the commercial career she desired. 


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Gaining experience through action learning

ASB’s MBA is designed around an iterative, experience-based curriculum which gives candidates exposure to different industries and companies across Asia. Central to this are the five Action Learning projects which each participant takes over the course of the MBA. 

Yizhen describes these as the “jewel in the crown” of her time at ASB, encapsulating what makes the ASB program so unique for professionals like herself looking to launch a career in Asia. 

First, she was able to harness and strengthen her leadership skills. Action Learning projects give students the responsibility of working on real life consulting projects with major companies looking to address certain challenges. 

It pushed her to take initiative and adopt a leadership role which she may not have had experience doing previously. In many cases, working at the client site involved advising clients who were 10 years her senior. 

It taught her to be collaborative, particularly with groups from multiple backgrounds. “Given the diversity of the program, it’s often about learning how to work in a team with any number of personalities that you can get matched up with.”


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It also prepared Yizhen to be, as she describes, “ASEAN ready”. 

Given cultural diversity across the Asian continent, Yizhen notes how important it was to get on-the-ground experience working in different countries as part of her Action Learning. This included working at the world’s largest glove manufacturer in Malaysia, a major family owned bank in Thailand, a Thai-owned beverage company based in Hanoi, and a beauty manufacturing company in Hong Kong. 

While the companies and industries were diverse, they all shared a common goal—”All the companies were relatively established businesses, but were all trying to explore new ways of growth.”

At the beverage company, for instance, she was involved in devising a market penetration plan for the beer industry in Hanoi. “We were able to deeply dive into the consumer mindset and map out the customer journey and what would be the best strategy to penetrate.”

As well as helping to give her a good understanding of how business was done across Asia, it also helped her narrow down her career pathways to areas that she knew she was more interested in. 


Job hunting during COVID-19 and finding a role at AirAsia

Yizhen graduated in April 2020, just at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Job hunting became a full-time job in itself. Many employers had frozen hiring amidst the economic uncertainty: she even had a job offer which was deferred indefinitely.   

She was lucky to be able to draw upon several valuable takeaways from her MBA. An entrepreneurial mindset, instilled in her from her first day at ASB, taught her to treat every day like it was the first day. This gave her the discipline to formulate a daily job hunting routine. 

Secondly, a healthy dose of optimism. “It was about how to see a silver lining in every cloud, even with a very bleak outlook.”

She quickly saw the value of having an MBA under her belt. Employers were impressed with her ability to apply specific examples—many from the Action Learning projects—for certain skills or leadership traits. So when AirAsia called, regarding a chief of staff role, she swiftly landed the job.

Given that AirAsia is one of ASB’s corporate partners, and continues to hire ASB MBA graduates, she acknowledges her alma mater played an important part in getting the role. 

AirAsia, as a global leader in aviation, is at the forefront of addressing the challenges that the tourism industry is facing at present. But her MBA has prepared her perfectly for the fast changing culture at AirAsia. “If you dissect the skills I needed to thrive in a volatile environment, it's the ability to learn and unlearn quickly, to adapt to what a new environment needs.”


READ MORE: From Malaysia To MIT Sloan: My Experience On An MBA Sponsored By AirAsia


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COVID-19: Why You Need To Be More Resilient At Work

On his first day in his new role with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Matthew Colphon greeted his team virtually, from home on his computer. He’s been working remotely ever since.

Matthew is the senior product manager for unsecured credit lines at RBC, a role he took on in June after spending just over three years in the bank’s strategy team. 

He says the COVID-19 pandemic is like a global case study on how to adapt to scenarios we don’t know or haven’t experienced before. Onboarding new staff virtually has become the norm. It takes resilience and grit, he says, to continue to add value to an organization during this time.

Even before the pandemic employers were looking for adaptability and flexibility in their MBA hires. Since coronavirus has completely shifted the way we work, professionals increasingly need to show resilience.


Why resilience at work is important

Resilience, explains Ivan Yuen, associate director of MBA careers at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business (pictured below), is something employers use to measure a person’s long-term leadership potential. When we speak of resilience, we’re speaking of a person’s ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis, or to quickly return to a pre-crisis state.

Employers’ recognition of resilience as a crucial trait among employees has increased during the pandemic, Ivan says. It’s been stressful moving from the office to working from home and seeing your family and working lives come closer together. Adapting and thriving in this environment shows an employer that you can deliver value during challenging times.


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Matthew, who completed his MBA at UBC Sauder in 2015 and worked as a consultant at Bain & Company before joining RBC, says the MBA equipped him to creatively solve problems he hadn’t seen before. This served him well when taking on a new role at RBC this year.

“I think resilience is important for an individual to be able to deliver, but it’s also important to teams as a whole, so you can deal with any large challenges that come up, adjust your plans, push your egos aside, and make sure you’re delivering something of value.”


Developing resilience on the UBC MBA

On the UBC MBA, students learn quickly how to work in a group environment, how different cultures interact, and how different personality styles respond to different styles of leadership.

The school uses the Emotional Capital Report (ECR), a leadership development tool created by emotional intelligence training company, RocheMartin, with clinical psychologist Martyn Newman. 

MBA students benefit from UBC Sauder’s approach to strengthening core EQ competencies such as resilience for long-term career success, and learn how to measure their own emotional intelligence.

“[The MBA] focused on developing your awareness and teaching you how to talk to people, how to understand people’s motivations, and work not just in a project group but with other stakeholders as well,” Matthew (pictured below) explains.


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Building resilience through unfamiliarity

UBC MBA students build their resilience further through global immersions, where they travel to new countries to solve local challenges. In these unfamiliar environments, MBA students learn to be humble and rely on other people for information. 

“That’s almost the perfect definition of resilience right there; being able to eat your own ego sometimes,” Matthew says. 


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“The MBA reawakened my ability to grind things out, work a lot harder, and accept the fact that things are going to be challenging and the only way to get through it is to push and be dedicated to what you want to do.”

Resilience is something employers are looking for not just from full-time hires but MBA interns as well. 

After the coronavirus outbreak, many of UBC Sauder’s MBA students started internships virtually in a work environment alien to the one in which they worked before. That has tested their resolve and their resilience.

“We’re hearing a lot from employers asking MBA students what they are doing during this crisis. They are putting the onus on students to demonstrate and show what kind of ability they had to rebound and respond to changes they can’t control,” Ivan explains.

“The resilient students demonstrate an ability to adapt to the changing economic and political environment every day. They’ll continue to grow regardless of how things change.”

COVID-19 To Black Lives Matter: Why MBA Students Are Learning About Social Impact

Both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have pushed social issues to the fore in 2020, and businesses are responding. 

US companies donated more than $450 million to social and racial justice groups in the wake of the 2020 BLM protests, with giants like Sony Music pledging $100 million.

In the UK, Coca Cola, BP, PwC, and countless more signed the C-19 Business Pledge, vowing to leverage their power however they can to help the pandemic, and protect both employees and customers.

As companies becomes increasingly conscious of their effect on society, the onus is on business schools to incorporate added social impact into their teaching.

At the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, MBA’s are using the social innovation track, an extra thing, to apply hands-on learning experiences with non-profits, service learning projects, and B Corp initiatives.

Such initiatives are key to ensuring the focus on social impact will lead to genuine change. 


The shift to social impact

Consumer demand drives the long-term shift towards social impact in business, Sundar Bharadwaj (pictured right), a professor of marketing at Terry College, explains. 

“Customers increasingly expect brands to have a social purpose, not just a great product” says Sundar, who focuses his research on how businesses leverage their power for social good, and how it reflects in their branding.    c0c8ccfd8e4133e7eec59fe58147103d60337f2e.png

Research from the UK backs this up, where B Corp certified companies—businesses commited to ethical business practices and goals— experienced an average year-on-year growth rate of 14%.

Zack Godfrey is a recent Georgia Terry MBA graduate, with a background in driving social impact initiatives through big corporations such as Hewlett Packard (HP). He believes the trend is partially generational, with millennials tending to have more interest and knowledge about where their products are coming from. 

“Because of these changes, social impact is now being used by brands to guide communications, inform product innovation, and steer investments towards social causes,” adds Sundar.  

This has sparked a transformation in marketing, which traditionally promoted products based on their functional and emotional attributes. 

Now, there is an added societal attribute, leaving companies scrambling to become, or at least appear to become, more social impact-oriented.





Studying social impact at business school

As a result of this wider shift in business, MBAs see social impact as a vital part of their business school curriculum. 

Business ethics courses are in high demand, and The Financial Times MBA rankings added corporate social responsibility (CSR) to its methodology for the first time in 2019. efb6c8d4db43ffdf0cc08305c26300dbda6195e7.jpeg

When researching his MBA, Zack (pictured right) was attracted to the strong links the Terry College shared with local businesses dedicated to social impact.

During his studies, he became a board member for Athens Made, a non-profit guiding such businesses in achieving their impact-driven goals. 

These contacts give the Terry College an edge in terms of offering real world experience. Of the 2020 MBA cohort, 100% of gained internships, many of them with a social impact focus.

“With experiential learning opportunities, you learn a lot more than just looking at a textbook, and you get to apply your knowledge right away” says Zack. 

“The variety of work experience on offer at Terry College also prepares you particularly well for consulting roles, where you’ll work on a huge range of projects throughout your career” he adds.

A quarter of Terry College MBA graduates go into consulting. Zack joined a consulting project to maximise internal operations efficiency during the continued fight against COVID-19.  

Consultancy provides MBAs with chance to direct multiple companies towards social impact across various initiatives, meaning a broader potential for change. 


READ: how can an MBA help you launch a career in social impact?

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How can firms do better?

By bringing their knowledge and values from business school into the corporate world, MBAs are well placed to help firms develop their social impact work. 

One key teaching in Sundar's classroom is the need for firms to commit to measurable goals over a sustained period. It is the only way to ensure that social impact becomes a real movement, not just a marketing trend.

“With the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses made one-off donations, but failed to make any significant long term goals around the cause,” explains Sundar. “It’s very episodic right now— we need systematic change.”

Zack agrees the answer lies in long-term goals, and businesses need to demonstrate goals beyond hitting their quarterly numbers, a lesson he learned directly from his work with B Corps during his MBA.

The frameworks B Corp provided, explains Zack, were particularly useful in equipping him to help local businesses scale up whilst sustaining a commitment to social impact. 

The real challenge is how larger corporations can make this shift into becoming more sustainable and ethical, when they already have complex supply chains and a pre-established brand identity. 

Though these companies face more of a challenge than smaller businesses that have been impact driven from the start, Sundar says the big corporations have the real power to enact meaningful change. 

In which case, MBAs must be educated in social impact, since it's the MBA candidates of today who will run big business tomorrow. 

“We need to start doing things differently in business,” Zack concludes. “As MBA programs continue to evolve to meet the challenges of the future, Terry College of Business is poised to become a leader in that space.”

The COVID-19 Track And Trace Systems Keeping Business Schools Open

Michelle Schröder’s life on the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management campus is a little different this semester. She wears a face covering in all public spaces, disinfects her hands as she enters campus, and social distancing restrictions limit her to being within two meters of her peers.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on business schools, the Master in Auditing student has been welcomed back to campus for the fall semester alongside a wave of other business school students in Europe. Business schools in Europe have been preparing their campuses for the return of students in line with national government regulations that require strict social distancing and hygiene protocols.

These measures are in place for prevention, but when cases inevitably surface it will be the COVID track and trace systems that keep business schools open and ensure education can continue.


Frankfurt School of Finance and Management’s CoronaTracer


Frankfurt School of Finance and Management has partnered with software company INFORM to bring the firm’s CoronaTracer to campus. The tracers are small, battery-powered devices students carry on their person.

Each tracer is powered by Bluetooth technology and is equipped with a unique id number. The tracers scan for other tracers every 10 seconds and if they come into contact with another tracer at a distance under two meters the id numbers are logged. There is a QR code on each tracer that when scanned shows the list of devices that could be at risk should a student be tested positive for coronavirus.

Karolina Kristic, the CFO and chancellor of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, explains that using INFORM’s technology means the school can act more efficiently than if they used the government’s contact tracing app. There were also issues when that app first launched.

The Corona Warn App—the German government’s app designed by the Robert Koch Institute, the leading health advisor to the German government—was difficult to download without a German SIM card and only available in German when it was first rolled out, Karolina explains.

There was a need for a quick and efficient way of tracking students who came into close contact with one another so that Frankfurt School could welcome students, staff, and faculty back to campus.

Once INFORM’s technology had been found, Frankfurt School managed to negotiate with the local Works Council to write into faculty and staff contracts that wearing the tracer on campus was obligatory. For students it’s optional but those who choose not to wear the tracer have to take their curriculum fully online. Karolina says that the acceptance rate for the tracer among students has been very high and all students coming back to campus agreed to wear it.

“I am absolutely shocked that not so many institutions have picked it up yet,” she says. “I think it works brilliantly; the only thing people want to know is have I been close to anyone.”


What happens when there's a positive case at Frankfurt School?

- The school are informed by the student/staff member who tested positive. 

- Somebody from Frankfurt School's team goes to pick up their tracer.

- QR code on the tracer is scanned and the people who have been in close contact with the tracer are informed.

- They then go into a period of quarantine until they've been tested and confirmed negative.


There is a testing center at Frankfurt airport that can turn around results in 12 hours; there’s also a test that returns results in four. Having this tracing system in place at Frankfurt School makes it safer to attend university and much easier to react when there is a positive case, explains Michelle (pictured below).

“I wasn’t worried at all to go back to campus because of how transparent the school had been with communication. The other preventative measures are already quite good, but the tracing system allows us to make sure you don’t have bigger breakouts of coronavirus at university without knowing it.” 


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National government COVID track and trace apps


Other schools have opted to use their national government’s application to track and trace coronavirus cases on campus. HEC Paris welcomed students back to campus for the fall semester and have a tracing system in place that falls into the school’s wider public health policy.

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The school’s policy consists of prevention, awareness, and how to act when there’s a positive case, explains Marcelle Laliberté, assistant dean of students at HEC Paris. Marcelle is also studying for a PhD in education and trained with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University over the summer on prevention measures for coronavirus.

On campus, students are encouraged to download the national government’s application, stopCOVID, which is available in both English and French. Rather than developing their own application, Marcelle (pictured right) believes that working together is the best way to tackle the virus on campus.

“I’m a strong believer of working with local public health authorities, different experts, and other business schools,” she explains. “We try to have this holistic approach to COVID and to focus on tracking and tracing through the COVID app.

“You can never force anyone to download the app, so we highly encourage it. It’s individual actions that are making it better for someone you may not know.”


What happens when there's a positive case at HEC Paris?

- The student/staff member quarantines or self isolates in one of the reserved spaces on HEC Paris's campus for COVID-19 cases. 

- There's an interview to find out who the student/staff member have been in contact in the past 48 hours. 

- If they have downloaded the tracing app the app will alert all other users who've been in close contact.

- The original case and those they've been in close contact with quarantine and get a test.

- If it's negative they return to campus.


HEC Paris won’t know if someone has been informed on the app that they’ve come into close contact with someone who has been tested positive for coronavirus—that information is covered by GDPR. The health authorities will inform the school if there’s a concern, but Marcelle explains that so far it has been the students on campus who have been self-reporting.

Marcelle explains that HEC Paris agreed with the local health authorities to train their nurses to be able to conduct testing on campus. There have been no cases on campus yet.


Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is following the same protocol as HEC Paris. The school is set to welcome its MBA students back to campus in October. Classes have begun for the rest of the school.

Ian Rogan (pictured below), the executive director of Copenhagen’s MBA and Part-Time programs, explains that there have been isolated cases on the Copenhagen Business School campus, but that they were tracked, traced, and contained.

Under the broader context of prevention and maintaining social distancing, the school took the decision to begin the fall semester in a hybrid model—the full-time MBA students will take classes in person due to the small class size—mixing online and in person classes.


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For those students returning to campus the school encourages them to download the Smittestop app—the government’s coronavirus app—to help track any outbreaks of the virus.

The app stores data for 30 days and collects the id number of any Smittestop user students come into contact with. If someone using the app develops coronavirus then you will receive an alert—the contact information is private and you won’t know with whom you’ve been in close contact.


What happens when there's a positive case at Copenhagen Business School?

- If a student/staff member has symptoms they stay at home and get a test.

- They call a CBS hotline, and the case is passed onto a senior team at CBS who consult with the local health authorities.

- CBS are advised whether they need to send students home or temporarily shift to fully online courses.

- When the original case's test comes back positive there's an interview process to track and trace people that person has been in contact with. Classes aren't sent home if there's a single COVID-19 case.

- All email and text communication is pre-prepared and if the student is using Smittestop an alert will be sent to other users they've been in close contact with.

- Students that might have been in close contact with the case, less than a meter for more than 15 minutes, have to self-isolate and get a test. 

- They can return when the test is negative.


As business schools get further into the fall semester more cases will inevitably break out. Alongside preventative measures that include social distancing, strict hygiene protocols, and hybrid teaching models, successful track and trace systems are the real key to remaining open for the longer term.


Next read:

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