Getting to know you, getting to know all about tomorrow’s students.
Students responding to the See the Future study already knew the future would be different, that they would work longer than their parents and that they would need to reskill to stay in employment; they understood that a degree is no longer for life, that their future will not be like our past.
To understand the future, business schools need to understand tomorrow’s student – 41% still expect to be working in their 70s, half expect to change career completely at least once in their lifetime and 56% expect to start a business or work for themselves at some point, something that 60% of men anticipate, but only just over half of women. Students with these views will need to learn throughout their lifetime, updating skills and adding new skills as their careers demand.
It’s not surprising that the research found that 84% recognise the need to learn new skills to advance their career in the future nor that 69% want business schools to offer a wide range of courses to enable lifelong learning, and 61% want schools to offer more flexible approaches to taking a degree, rising to 64% among women. Linear approaches to education are increasingly likely to be a thing of the past with students seeking on-demand learning in small chunks that are affordable and relevant to their career and personal circumstances.
In the See the Future study, when students do take courses, they indicate that they will want to learn about decision-making in uncertain and complex times, data analytics and data-driven decision-making and innovation. Three out of ten women also highlight sustainability as a topic, making it the second most important in their choice of topics to study.
Relevance can also be seen as a feature in the qualifications that students will want to take in the future. The top choice of study is an industry-certified programme leading to a career-focused qualification followed by an online degree, although micromasters and digital badges are chosen as options by 21% and 26% of men respectively.
In the LinkedIn study, ‘A new era for higher education’ between 74% and 78% of four different generations, from Gen Z to the Baby Boomers, express an interest in stackable degrees, saying they would consider a short programme leading to a certificate, with the option of credit for further study leading to a degree. This approach also works for employers, who get a quicker return on the learning they pay for – and who have less risk of their investment walking out the door after an expensive course is completed.
Understanding tomorrow’s student also means understanding how they think about themselves. In the See the Future study, students are most likely to say they have a desire to explore their potential, to achieve positive change and to become an effective and inspiring leader. Exploring potential and being an inspiring leader may not be new, but achieving positive change is very much new to the agenda, and recognises some of the wider societal changes that have taken place in recent years.
With much discussion of a return to a ‘new normal’ after the pandemic, defining that positive change is key for students, while for business schools being part of making the change will be key to their future success.
Examining the data in further detail, it emerges that women are more likely than men to describe themselves as eager to explore their potential and ambitious to achieve positive change. Men are more likely to describe themselves as highly analytical and are twice as likely as women to say they like to take risks.
While there is much that brings business school students together around the world, there are also differences. In Australasia, students are most likely to describe themselves as ambitious to achieve positive change. Among all groups, South Asians are most likely to say they like to take risks and North Americans are most likely to say they are creative.
The nature of business schools, their offer and the outcomes they deliver for students and wider society will be important in attracting future students and building alumni relationships. In the See the Future study, women are notably more likely than men to want to study at a school that offers flexible ways of teaching and learning, including face-to face and online provision, and that promotes diverse career development paths for its students, including private and public sector.
Postgraduates are more likely than undergraduates to want to study at a school that challenges world views by combining innovative and critical thinking and allows them to question the status quo and think differently. Again, it appears that there is strong interest in achieving positive change which is also particularly apparently in Central and South America where respondents believe that content in their studies that supports tackling projects on society’s grand challenges would add most to their student experience, while they also want to study at a school that challenges world views by combining innovative and critical thinking.
One approach that a number of schools have taken in recent years to providing a wider societal context to their business programmes is integrating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into their work. Across all student respondents, 51% indicate that ‘I’ve heard of the SDGs but don’t know much about them’, or that, ‘I’m not aware of the SDGs’.
However, across the world, North Americans are most likely to say that it’s important for business schools to consider the Sustainable Development Goals in developing their programmes for students and employers. South Asians are most likely to agree that the Sustainable Development Goals should be at the heart of every school’s plans for the future; twice as many as those from Europe, the Middle East and Africa or East and South East Asia.
For business schools, the LinkedIn survey had some positive findings. Large numbers consider business schools offer great opportunities to build their personal networks, chosen by 62% of Generation Z, 60% of Generation Y, 57% of Generation X and 60% of Baby Boomers. Business schools can also draw on their alumni connections to attract students back to learn with them; among Generation Z 49% indicate that having studied at a business school previously, this would be their first choice for future study, while 46% of Generation Y have the same view as do 41% of Generation X.
The benefits of studying with a business school are important for a school in attracting students. The business education market is already highly competitive across traditional providers, but with the market increasingly full of new providers, often led by technology, business schools need to use every opportunity they have to retain a competitive advantage.
In the See the Future study, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men say they have already used LinkedIn Learning, while one in eight women and 22% of men have used Coursera.
Beyond their academic studies, women are more likely than men to see the value of an international study trip and mental health support for students as part of the wider student experience. Men see more benefit than women from an entrepreneurship bootcamp, an accelerator programme and an investment pitching competition.