By Henley Business School Africa dean Jon Foster-Pedley

The recent EFMD Dean’s Conference in Ljubljana covered a number of exciting and emerging aspects in education including the need of educate students on sustainability and newly-designed intelligent learning and work spaces.

The conference also introduced the phenomenon of the precariat, a new social class being formed by people who have an existence without predictability or security.

Nearly 350 deans from 53 countries gathered at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Ljubljana for the annual EFMD Conference for Deans & Directors General. During the intense two days, attendees discussed how to lead in a world of uncertainty.

During the series of plenary lectures, the delegates deliberated over the role of business education in an ever-changing world. Marianne Lewis, dean of Cass Business School and conference chair, outlined the sources of paradox and uncertainty and the power of humble confidences as opposed to certainty in approaching complex problems.

In their passionate talks, Patrick Dixon, chairman of Global Change and Guy Standing, co-president of Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) who coined the term precariat, drew a rather worrisome picture of the global socio-economical changes. Recent political events proved that we live in the in the age of post-truth, and as Dixon said: “The future is about emotion: this is what drew Trump to power and this is what caused Brexit.”
In his lecture, Mr Standing stressed that since the neo-liberal agenda moved to the rentier and platform capitalism, the precariat has emerged as the new dangerous class, a result of the “gig economy” and unequally distributed security, wages and quality space.

Johan Roos, chief academic officer at Hult International Business School, led a discussion panel with chief learning officers from Mazars, Minerva & McKinsey to cover some inspiring ideas that disrupt the traditional business models of business schools. They tackled the right balance between hard and soft skills, the shift towards the impact agenda, the need for more cooperation between business schools and corporate learning, and alternative educational models.

The deans then discussed the role of social responsibility in educational institutions. Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, delved into the market globalisation, political practices as well as digitalisation. Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the United Nations, and Geoffrey Lipman, co-founder of Strong Universal Network, talked about the challenges and goals of sustainable development for business schools.

Geoffrey Lipman said that the SDGs provide a massive opportunity for the academic world, but they need to be approached with a reality check. “Above all Climate Resilience must be the overarching top focus, because it is existential. Existential means that if we don’t fix it future generations won’t survive,” Mr Lipman said.

The conference also covered the clash of Eastern and Western values, innovation in learning methods and spaces, the future of MBA, rankings, social mobility and gender balance, research beyond journals, and the impact agenda.