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Universities and enterprises need a dialogue

Tiit Elenurm taking part of an a round table where the results of the survey were discussed.
The results of a representative international survey show that the prerequisite for providing modern management education is a functioning dialogue between universities and enterprises, writes Tiit Elenurm, an entrepreneurship professor at the Estonian Business School.

During the two-year study Lead4Skills by the international CEEMAN Association, which unites universities of  economics and business organizations, the researchers conducted a survey among CEOs and HR managers of nearly 150 companies from 11 countries (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Republic of South Africa and Ukraine) in order to determine what are new challenges faced by business and management and how management education could enhance flexibility to support these sectors.  


When challenges in most of the states in question are discussed, two major issues tend to prevail. The first of them is related to business education and management training, namely, how conscious is the companies’ use of the knowledge obtained during the studies and training as a tool of their strategic decisions and changes.


The other issue is how and whether business and management schools can promptly change their curricula and training programs to meet the needs of enterprises, taking into account more and more rapidly changing life and business environments as well as digitalization. 


Important role of the HR manager

The survey exposed another fact; during the times of change, it is essential that CEOs review which exactly major role their HR manager is playing: a member of the company’s top management who participates in the decision-making process or merely a human resources specialist who mediates the decisions of the top management and acts on them.  The reason (identified by the survey, too) is that training courses in the companies which regard the HR manager as a member of top management are based on practical necessity as well as the company’s long-term strategy and are clearly one of the instruments of change. 


In other cases, the selection, objective and implementation of training courses is more chaotic and, consequently, their efficiency is much lower. Training is then rather something to break the daily work routine, help reduce stress or broaden employees’ horizon. 


International groups whose headquarters and competence centers are located somewhere else are in a class of their own. As the survey shows, branch offices of such companies tend to swing in the wind because they have limited or no opportunity to participate in the development of the group’s strategy. 


Another challenge involves digitalization: the survey shows that problems in this sphere primarily concern understanding the principles of and need for digital transformation. This is why the study displays that the expectations of enterprises for the universities that launch new curricula or training programs can vary because there are enormous differences in the existing levels of skills and knowledge. 


These two major challenges are putting leaders under greater and greater pressure; they need to be increasingly smarter and more flexible in their choices and decisions in the turbulent business environment. What is playing a more and more significant role in reducing this pressure is more flexible management and business education that can promptly adapt to the company’s demands. 


Information must flow

The dialogue between universities and enterprises needs to become close and more personal. Companies, on their part, have speak more boldly and specify which specialists they need so that universities could cooperate, providing the required curricula tailored for training particular specialists, be it only one group. 


Human relations managers play an important role in making the dialogue between universities and enterprises more constructive because, in the end, adapted curricula are of no use if they are not relevant for the company’s HR strategy. 


Even the brightest talents, discovered and recruited while still in their student years, will eventually need to fit in pre-existing teams. At the same time, if a university develops a 3+2 curriculum which meets the expectations of entrepreneurs, someone out there must know what the employees and managers sent to complete the curriculum will be doing in five years’ time and whether the company will still be operating at all.


Lead4Skills is an Eramus+ funded project connecting 8 partner institutions from 7 different European countries, with aim to provide higher education institutions (HEI) with a comprehensive set of insights, guidelines and materials that would help develop more relevant and innovative management education offerings and study processes, based on the real needs of businesses and economies and as a result stimulate reduction of management skills mismatch across EU and provide enterprises with better skilled employees, decreasing their investments in new employee trainings and increasing their competitiveness on local, regional and international levels.


EBS international co-operation projects