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As the economy continues to show signs of renewed strength, business schools say they are seeing an upswing in hiring rates while enrolments continue to hold steady or increase slightly. Curriculums are also undergoing changes in the wake of the financial crisis. As well, business schools are aiming to make their programs more flexible to better meet the needs of students, while a continued growth in business programs has led to a new crop of buildings on campus.

Now Hiring

The University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business saw the placement rate for its graduate students dip slightly during the recession, said Eric Morse, associate dean. The rate has since rebounded to above 90 per cent while the number of job postings has increased and more students are receiving multiple job offers. Financial institutions and consulting firms, which curtailed hiring during the recession, are now hiring at pre-crash levels, he said.

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"There's clearly an uptick," added Leonard Waverman, dean of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. "The banks are now in hiring mode and a number of the Calgary energy companies are very aggressively hiring," he said.

Back to school

Business schools saw applications and enrolments spike in recent years as a result of the weak economy, particularly at the graduate level. "Our largest ever Executive MBA class came in in 2008," the same year as the financial crisis, Dr. Waverman said. But as the recession took hold, applications slipped before bouncing back to more traditional levels last year. He's expecting little change next year.

Ivey also saw an increase in applications during the recession. Dr. Morse said application and enrolment levels have remained strong, even as the economy has started to rebound. Graduate and undergraduate applications were up between 4 per cent and 6 per cent this year and he's expecting a similar increase next year.

At Dalhousie University's Faculty of Management, enrolment was up 7 per cent last year. "The poor economy works in our favour sometimes," particularly at the MBA level, said Peggy Cunningham, dean. The uncertain economy has also spurred tough competition from foreign business schools, she said. Many of the leading U.S. schools, such as Wharton, Kellog and Harvard and even some European schools are advertising and recruiting aggressively in Canada putting pressure on Canadian schools, she said.

Focus on ethics

The financial crisis has also led some schools to reassess their curriculums. "We got partially blamed for the financial meltdown," says Haskayne's Dr. Waverman. "People were saying we were turning out managers and leaders that are not ethical." As a result, Haskayne has put a strong emphasis on ethics in its programs. "That doesn't mean that some of the people who come out won't be robber barons," he said. "We're not going to change people's DNA but we will give them the basic tools and understanding about how you make ethically-based decisions."

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In the aftermath of the crisis, Ivey surveyed more than 300 business and public-sector leaders worldwide for their thoughts on what could have been done to prevent it. Among other things, respondents said business schools should put a stronger emphasis on values and ethics in decision making. "A lot of those lessons have made their way back into our curriculum," said Dr. Morse. For example, Ivey recently introduced a new elective for MBA students called Transcendent Leadership that focuses on character development and the meaning of leadership.

Ethics and values have always played a central role at Dalhousie but now there's an added focus on how business can work with governments and other sectors to help solve societal problems, said Dr. Cunningham. "There's been a lot of new thinking, at least here, on how do we educate managers to have a different attitude, to have an appreciation of the broader responsibilities of business today that the public seems to be demanding," she said. Dalhousie recently introduced a compulsory course for graduate students called Management Without Borders that addresses some of these issues.

Hands-on experience

Business schools are also responding to students' desire for more applied, experiential learning. At the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business, the curriculum now includes more hands-on tasks, such as business team competitions, investing, producing corporate annual reports and co-op placements, according to Daphne Taras, dean. "From what I'm seeing, the essay seems to be dying," she said. "It's being replaced by more desire by the students to work with actual businesses, to work with real projects." Students are also showing a preference for programs that will give them recognized credentials, such as accounting or certified financial planning, to help them land their first job, she added.

Specialized degrees

Ginny Dybenko, dean of Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business and Economics, said students are showing more interest in specialized business degrees. Laurier recently introduced in partnership with Research in Motion a new Executive Masters in technology management, which focuses on how to manage innovation in technology firms. The university is also considering introducing a professional Masters in science management and another in arts management. These types of degrees are popular in the U.S. and the trend is spilling over into Canada. "My gut feeling is that we'll see many more of these kinds of degrees," she said.

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Dr. Taras, of the Edwards School of Business, said the school is moving towards year-long programming by offering summer courses. Nowadays, many students work part-time, she noted. "We have an obligation to help make it easier for them to have more course selection available," she said. The school is also introducing more online courses and working to make lectures available electronically.

Haskayne offers students the option of completing an MBA degree in 16 months instead of the usual two years also by offering summer courses. Most students still prefer to use the summer months for co-op placements and internships, said Dr. Waverman. But, he said, the school wants to make the program more flexible so that students can proceed at their own pace in the day or evening. "We're giving people the choices to do what works for them," he said.

Business school curriculums for the most part involve a large amount of group work which requires students to be present on campus. But some schools are working to incorporate online components into existing courses. At Wilfrid Laurier's School of Business, students are in the second year of a trial involving BlackBerrys. Students use the device as clickers in the classroom and the school is experimenting with ways of using it to introduce more mobile learning into the curriculum.

Construction zone

The growth in popularity of business programs and stiff competition among schools has led to a slew of new buildings and expansion projects, said Ivey's Dr. Morse. The University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, York University's Schulich School of Business and McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business, among others, have all recently unveiled new buildings, while Ivey is about halfway toward completing a new building of its own. It will bring graduate and undergraduate students together under one roof and feature new technology, as well as more space for students to interact with one another and with faculty.

Going global

Business schools are also working to internationalize their programs and recruit more foreign students. Wilfrid Laurier is incorporating case studies that reflect a more international perspective, said Ms. Dybenko. Students are also encouraged to take a semester abroad and both the undergraduate and MBA programs include two-week study tours overseas. Last year the class went to China and the year earlier to India. "We try to introduce students to how to do business in that country and get to know the cultural norms," she said. Students also visit companies to get a feel of what it's like to work there.

Women wanted

While women now outnumber men in many university disciplines, business schools tend to remain male dominated at the graduate level. "As a woman I find it discouraging that we still see a lower proportion of women in the more advanced degrees," said Dalhousie's Dr. Cunningham. She says she sees the trend carrying over into the business world where a very low proportion of women sit on corporate boards. "We are really trying to get a better handle on why we are not attracting more women into our programs," she said, adding that the introduction of more online and flexible study options may help.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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