On Thursday, May 21st, Guanghua School of Management Dean LIU Qiao joined a panel event hosted by the ESADE School of Business to discuss strategies adopted by Chinese business schools during throughout the COVID period.

Event moderator and ESADE Dean Josef Franch expressed his appreciation for the support shown by his colleagues in China before pivoting to a question on how Chinese business school responded during the early stages of the virus breakout.

Panel members emphasized that Chinese universities were, in some ways, fortunate because the severity of the COVID outbreak began to increase just as students were headed home for the Chinese New Year holiday. This gave universities more time to devise a response strategy.

Guanghua Dean LIU shared that, even with the buffer provided by Chinese New Year, both Peking University and Guanghua officials had to act quickly to prevent the spread of the virus. New policies were needed covering teaching and learning, students affairs, and campus operations that would enable educational continuity for students. In late January, Peking University announced that the Chinese New Year holiday would be extended, encouraged students to stay home, moved staff to a work-from-home schedule, and began instituting infection control measures on campus. Guanghua used mobile chat platforms to maintain contact with students and required them to submit an e-screening form daily to ensure their continued health and safety.

When asked about the decision-making process for moving courses online, LIU indicated that different strategies were applied across Guanghua’s wide array of programs. In a survey, students in most degree program indicated a willingness to accept online courses as a stopgap measure. They knew all other potential solutions might delay their graduation. With this feedback, Guanghua moved quickly to transfer undergraduate and full-time MBA programs online to limit the impact on student degree progress. Students enrolled in executive programs, including EMBA and non-degree Executive Education, were much sensitive about the impact of online courses on their educational experience. Courses for these students were delayed

LIU revealed that the online courses received positive feedback, a sentiment echoed by other panel participants. Acknowledging that the shut down has continued for four months, LIU said that, if the decision were to be made again, all courses would be moved online. Though it is necessary to take students preferences into account, long term considerations should also be a factor in direction setting.

According to LIU, universities have done many things well despite the challenges posed by COVID. First, Guanghua spent substantial time on student outreach to keep them informed of the semester’s academic arrangements. Second, the move toward online education allowed Guanghua to offer a series of eight public lectures covering topics from the economic impact of the virus to managing the work place. Since people were unable to leave their homes, education become a strongly-desired commodity, which allowed Guanghua to connect in new ways with students, alumni, and the public at large. One lecture attracted more than 7 million viewers.

Looking toward the future, Chinese business schools—and business schools more generally—still have a lot to overcome. Panelists pointed to increased financial pressure from reductions to executive programs, the impact on important international partnerships as conference cancellations became commonplace, and the very pressing need of preparing students to live in the VUCA era. LIU specifically addressed potential changes that may be coming to the model of education. As people discover that online education is in some ways more efficient, hybrid models of education appear increasingly viable. Guanghua recently established a Digital Education Center to help determine what a hybrid model might look like. The content of education will also change as business schools seek to produce leaders capable of confronting the lack of mutual trust currently becoming entrenched across the globe

Even as education must adapt and evolve, panelists agreed that the online experience cannot fully replicate the in-person student experience. More and more students are asking when they can return to campus. Challenges remain for international mobility, but LIU is optimistic that in-person courses can resume for Chinese students in the Fall. “That is my best hope,” he said.

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