How business schools are adapting to the digital world

Schools around the world are forced to adapt to the ‘new world’. For business schools, effectively engaging with students and prospects is essential – even more so in the current climate. 

Yesterday, Unibuddy and the Association of MBAs (AMBA) ran a joint panel session on just this topic. We were joined by Eva Peeters, Student Recruitment Manager at Antwerp Management School, Tariro Masukume, Membership Manager at AMBA, and Jack Craig, University Partnerships Manager at Unibuddy.

So, how are business schools reacting to the current changes? What challenges are they facing at the moment? 

Communication, digitisation and flexibility

Tariro Masukume, Membership Manager at the Association of MBAs, shared the quote: “necessity is the mother of invention”, or adaptation in this case. 

As the institutions that develop the next generation of business leaders, schools are very well placed to deal with this crisis. 

Tariro described what best practice in the current climate looked like: “Communication, digitisation and flexibility.” 

Those institutions that are focused on being available, accessible and up to date and communicating the most effectively with their prospective students. They also need to provide reassurance and empathy. 

And, with the world moving online, digitisation is more important than ever. Those institutions that have done best are the ones that understand and know what works best in normal circumstances, and can take the best components into these extraordinary situations. 

Technology is not a quick fix, Tariro said, and it is vital to know how and when to deploy technology gives schools an edge. 

Adapting to a digital approach.

Eva Peeters, Student Recruitment Manager at Antwerp Management School, described how the Belgium school has adapted to a digital approach. She said: “email and direct messaging have always been our most-used channels. However, the biggest change for us has been taking our events online.” 

Antwerp Management School moved all of their recruitment events online. And, naturally, it raises the question of whether online events can really be as good as in-person events. But Eva found that those events have a lot of upsides: “we have a higher show-up rate because it’s less effort, we were able to extend our reach – we have students from countries we’ve never travelled to before.” 

And, most importantly, students are responding positively. “We should not forget they are digital natives, they grew up with these channels and for them it is not unusual to have a video call with a professor,” Eva said.  

Jack Craig, University Partnerships Manager at Unibuddy, said he was impressed by just how quick the business school sector was able to shift online. Now, they are adapting to the situation: “Our partners are now moving beyond crisis communications and are now developing more interactive, 2-way engagements online – that goes beyond the webinar format.” 

“It’s clear that we’re not going to return to normal for a while. Now, the question is about how we can foster that sense of community when people aren’t going to be on campus.”

Authentic messaging is key. 

For authenticity to be impactful, it’s about ensuring that your message really resonates with your audience. 

Eva pointed out that this involves effective segmentation, and ensuring information is deeply personalised. 

And if you can connect a prospective student with someone who has shared their experience, that will be the most effective, says Jack: “putting authentic stories at the heart of your messaging will be incredibly impactful.”

And that peer to peer is effective outside of this crisis. It should be “at the heart of your marketing and recruitment activities,” even beyond the crisis. 

Virtual events

The aim of virtual events is to connect with your students and create a sense of belonging – providing them reassurance and guidance on their journey to business school.

Virtual events are also replacing the key conversion events in the calendar. When done well, they still deliver that experience – and offer even more that isn’t available offline: more depth and breadth of information, a truly personalised experience and a record of those important conversations.

Antwerp School of Management had an offline Master’s event scheduled for April – forced to move the event online, they used different platforms to produce a holistic event. “We usually have a fair with different booths,” explained Eva, “so we used Unibuddy Live to create different channels that acted like virtual booths. We also used our own online learning system to host online classes, so they are already getting used to that system we use.” 

And, of course, Antwerp Management School recognised the importance of featuring their current students prominently in these events – just as they would at any other. 

“Prospective students are facing a lot of uncertainty – they’re worried. It’s good that they can hear from current students that are going through that scenario right now, and how the solutions are working. It might not be their dream answer, but at least they have an honest and reliable source of information.”

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