Merging Two Approaches to Responsible Management Education- University of Wollongong

WollongongMany academic institutions take a merger as a unique opportunity to further build responsible leadership and sustainability into the curriculum. This is what happened at the University of Wollongong when the Faculty of Commerce and Sydney Business School merged in 2013. I recently spoke with Belinda Gibbons from the new University of Wollongong Faculty of Business (UOW) in Australia about the merger and how it reignited their commitment to responsible management education, in particular through an extensive curriculum review.

Introduce the new Faculty of Business and your approach to Sustainability/Responsible Leadership.

Prior to the merger the Faculty of Commerce was signatory to the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). Changing the PRME signatory status to the new Faculty of Business was a priority for the new executive and reflected the commitment to ensure the Six Principles of PRME remained engrained in the new structure. Both faculties prior to the merger were committed to ensuring students become future generators of sustainable value, but each approached responsible management education (RME) slightly differently: the Faculty of Commerce embedded PRME in two fundamental core subjects, COMM101 Principles of Responsible Commerce in first year, and COMM331/333 a mountaintop capstone in the final year; while the Sydney Business School endeavoured to integrated RME throughout all coursework programmes.

A new executive and school structure saw the endorsement of a new Faculty of Business Vision, Mission and Values statement. The mission clearly recognises the importance of sustainable and responsible leadership and education: “to advance business-related knowledge internationally through innovative research, quality teaching and the promotion of responsible leadership and sustainable business practices. In so doing, our aim is to contribute to a better society and stronger economy.”

Who has led this process?

In 2014, the executive nominated a PRME Faculty Coordinator with a PRME working group established to raise awareness of PRME and evaluate PRME inclusion in all curricula programmes. The aim is to gain a greater understanding of our student’s RME journey, and look for opportunities, success stories and practices to share. To begin raising awareness, each month the PRME Faculty Coordinator sends a PRME update to all faculty staff with a link to the PRME monthly newsletter, information updates on the Australia/New Zealand PRME working group and other PRME initiatives occurring in the faculty. The PRME Faculty Coordinator was also made a member of the Faculty Education Committee, ensuring that any subject/major updates are updated on the PRME curriculum map.

How did you integrate the two approaches to responsible leadership into one?

One of the first priorities in embedding the new Vision, Mission and Values statement into the fabric of the Faculty in a real and meaningful manner was a curriculum review evaluating all coursework programmes. Undergraduate programmes were reviewed in 2014. Executive level support was essential in ensuring PRME received high-level attention during the curriculum review. The executive ensured PRME was on the checklist for each subject and major during the review with the key driver to integrate the two schools approaches to PRME—keep the core fundamental PRME subjects, but also further embed RME throughout the students learning journey irrespective of degree/major.

To get a feel for how PRME was embedded, each subject/major representative was interviewed. The interviews used open-ended questions in a conversation style that ensured a relaxed non-threatening atmosphere. Discussions addressed the academics understanding of PRME and if the subject/major covered the PRME principles in the learning outcomes, content and/or assessments.

What were some of the lessons learnt through the curriculum review and what impact did these have?

The outcome of the interviews presented many realities of RME teaching and learning. Most prominent was the fact that RME comprises so many areas and each subject/major naturally had different opinions and thoughts that reflected in their teaching and learning style and content material. Another outcome was observing just how passionate and committed the academics are to responsible management education.

Presenting this information proved challenging. A PRME curriculum map was designed and developed which visually represents a student’s PRME learning journey throughout their degree/s in the Faculty of Business. Each major and subject was colour coded to reflect levels of responsible management education (blue=high focus on RME assured via learning outcomes, pink=assessments focused on RME, yellow=RME content throughout, grey=low level of RME focus). Based on the PRME curriculum map, recommendations are currently being approved for improvements to subjects and majors in regards to RME.

During discussions it also became apparent that the students’ responsible management learning journey at UOW is larger than just Faculty of Business experiences. Many academics discussed other initiatives in the university that they embed in their teaching and learning such as discussions around Earth Hour and the UOW Global Corporate Challenge. A PRME “rubric cube” was designed to provide a holistic visual representation of students’ RME interactions at UOW.

What have been some of the challenges and successes? 

The time required to engage in discussion with each subject/major representative is consuming, but very worthwhile. Querying teaching and learning content at times appeared intimidating, especially when a number of changes were occurring in the work environment. It was important to have a process in place that was transparent and open, and an atmosphere that was conversational rather than a formal interview style.

In terms of successes, these discussions have enabled a greater relationship between each subject/major area and the Faculty PRME coordinator. The PRME curriculum map and PRME rubric cube are now important tools that can be used to visually represent a student’s responsible management learning journey. These tools are being used to raise awareness of PRME internally and externally. The awareness of RME is rising in the Faculty with academics already emailing stories, projects, content and assessments in preparation for the 2015 Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) report.

What advice would you have for other schools?

Executive support is essential to ensuring priority is given to those involved in the process of reviewing RME throughout a business school. Having the PRME Faculty Coordinator on prominent teaching and learning committees raises awareness and ensures the areas of responsible management education remain a focus after the evaluation is completed.

What’s next?

In 2015, the postgraduate programmes will be reviewed and a PRME curriculum map developed to ensure RME is integrated throughout all postgraduate coursework programmes. To date the Faculty has mainly focused on the purpose, values and the method principles of PRME. We plan to move our attention to understanding what is occurring in research, partnerships and dialogue in the near future.

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