Providing a Snapshot of Support for PRME and Sustainability – University of New South Wales

UNSWThe University of New South Wales (UNSW) Business School, in Australia, is one of the largest business schools in the southern hemisphere with over 13,000 business school students and 54,000 university students. Following their decision to join the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) in 2010, the school began a multi year project called “Capturing the Champions,” aimed at providing a snapshot of where they currently stood, in terms of both curriculum and faculty engagement, in implementing sustainability and responsible management, and outlining how they may further strengthen and embed their commitment to PRME over the upcoming years. I recently spoke with Shanil Samarakoon from the University of New South Wales about the “Capturing the Champions” project and the lessons they learnt.

Introduce the “Capturing the Champions” project and how it came to be.

A three-stage project was conceived by Dr.Tracy Wilcox and Dr.Mehreen Faruqi with support from the senior management team at UNSW Business School shortly after we signed on to PRME in 2010. The purpose of the “Capturing the Champions” project was to present a snapshot of how UNSW Business School was engaging with PRME. This snapshot drew on an exploratory study of current teaching and learning activities within the Business School. The study centred on findings from a staff survey, the results of a desk audit of core courses and the identification of PRME Champion courses—courses across both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that demonstrated the breadth and depth of pedagogy related to PRME within the UNSW Business School.

What criteria did you use in your audits?

A key step in simplifying the process of scanning the landscape was the development of 8 criteria that together encompassed what responsible management education might look like for us. These included:

  1. Economic sustainability – promotion of the concept of sustainable, long-term value as distinct from short-term value
  2. Social and ethical sustainability – includes business ethics, professional ethics, business impacts on communities and societies, stakeholder models, corporate social responsibility, governance, indigenous enterprise, sustainable development, workplace safety, human rights, and supply chain ethics
  3. Environmental sustainability – covers business impacts on the natural environment
  4. Alternative models of business, finance and reporting – encompasses a range of alternative approaches including social enterprise, cooperatives, mutual organisation and the social economy
  5. International principles and frameworks – captures students’ exposure to global and regional principles and frameworks related to responsible management and business practices
  6. Responsible leadership – ethical and authentic forms of leadership that acknowledge business leaders duties and responsibilities
  7. Integration of the pillars of sustainability – environmental, social, economic, cultural and their interrelationships and interdependencies
  8. Multistakeholder engagement – encompasses processes and frameworks for engaging with the spectrum of business stakeholders

What have been some of the interesting findings from the project and why?

What we found was that across the business school, there was broad support for PRME and many core courses were already embedding PRME principles. Twenty-four per cent of respondents identified themselves as being involved in PRME-related research. Of these, 64 per cent engaged with business, 69 per cent with NGOs and 33 per cent with government institutions.

The results of our pilot audit were presented to senior management as well as at the Australasian Business Ethics Network Conference where feedback was sought and our approach was revised based on some of the suggestions we received.

We also found a suite of electives that specifically addressed elements of PRME—what we called “champion courses.” Some of these champion courses are listed below.

  • Creating Social Change: From Innovation to Impact (COMM 2000)
  • Reporting for Climate Change and Sustainability (ACCT 5961)
  • Teams, Ethics and Competitive Advantage (MGMT 5050)
  • Managing for Organisational Sustainability (GBAT 9119)
  • Non-Profit and Social Marketing (MARK 5819)

What are the different ways you are already or are planning to engage faculty, and how are they going so far?

The report was launched to faculty in November 2014 along with the UNSW Business School Community of Practice initiative, which will allow us to design and introduce innovative new courses and programmes and offer a range of integrated learning experiences pertaining to, for example, ethics, sustainability, and social and environmental responsibility. We have an objective to include a new core elective in the Bachelor of Commerce and the online MBA that allow specialisation in social impact. We also now offer a Social Entrepreneurship Practicum and have created placement opportunities for students to work with indigenous communities.

Through the Community of Practice we have already begun to meet as a group and share ideas and classroom approaches. This includes a regular brown-bag seminar series, which all business school faculty are invited to attend. We also hope to reach out more broadly across the university.

Another way in which we are acknowledging and engaging our faculty is through our new PRME Teaching Award. This award recognises and celebrates the teaching contributions of “champion” faculty. Dr. Maria Balatbat was our first recipient of the award for her pioneering work in teaching sustainability reporting within the School of Accounting, her extensive engagement with industry, and her role as the Joint Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

A key challenge for our small research team of three, has been juggling time and resources within already busy schedules. We were fortunate to have financial support from our Deputy Dean (Education) to help conduct the research project.

In terms of successes, having a clear sense of the current landscape in terms of engagement with PRME and the identification of champions across all schools has been important for us. Faculty engagement with PRME exceeded our expectations and we now have a vibrant community of practice!

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

We would really recommend that other schools embark on a process like this as it has provided a valuable means for identifying and celebrating the work that is being done in responsible management education that may be going unrecognised. It also functions as a useful “gap analysis” for future strategies.

It is important to gain support of senior management within the business school, both for resourcing and importantly, legitimating the research process. For example, our staff survey response rate was over 40%. We would not have been able to achieve this backing without the support of senior management.

What is next for the Capture the Champions Project?

The next stage for us involves growing our community of practice and helping further embed PRME into our courses.

The faculty survey is now being rolled out across Australia and New Zealand as part of a wider multi-institution project, enabling a regional snapshot of engagement with PRME.

For more on the “Capturing the Champions” project, or any of the elements, please feel free to contact Dr. Tracy Wilcox (t.wilcox(at)unsw.edu.au).

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