The operational merger between Ashridge Business School and Hult International Business School gave the PRME teams at both schools an opportunity to come together and review their approach to PRME and sustainability, in particular, in light of the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Part of this process was exploring a new approach to report their progress, taking the SDGs into consideration. The result is a unique approach that will surely provide a benchmark for other schools moving forward.
What role do you think business schools play in the achievement of the SDGs?
We had a good look at the 17 SDGs and all the specific targets underneath them. We think the number one role for business schools to play is to contribute to Goal#4 Target#7 on education for sustainable development. There are also numerous other goals and targets that relate to subjects that should get more priority in business school curricula.
In addition, we believe business schools have four other necessary roles in the process to achieve the SDGs. One role is recruitment: who we recruit into our student body. There are several specific targets in Goal#4 on education that schools can focus on, such as eliminating gender disparities in access to education, ensuring equal access for those with disabilities and those from minority backgrounds and under-privileged backgrounds, and boosting access to education for those from Least Developed States, Small Island Developing States and African countries, as well across developing countries generally. Business schools can also contribute to advancing all the SDGs through their research programmes and research funding.
Through the way schools manage their campuses and operations, they can also make important contributions to goals on health, gender, climate, energy, water, biodiversity and issues like corruption and human rights. Lastly, business schools also have a valuable role they can in convening dialogue among business leaders and other organizations to advance the goals and foster partnerships.
The SDGs have given added impetus to our work on curriculum, research and campuses, and also greater guidance on best metrics to use to measure progress. Probably the area where the SDGs have had the most specific impact is encouraging us to think more systematically about the cohort mix, and how we ensure fair access to multiple groups.
How did you put your SIP together?
First, the team reviewed best practices and the latest guidance, requirements and expectations from accreditors and others, including the SIP Toolkit. On the SDGs, we found the Global Compact’s SDG Compass particularly helpful. Then, we created a template for the kind of information we were looking for and how we wanted to put it together. After, we reached out to different colleagues across the school to ask for help gathering all the different bits of data. The final part was analysing and assembling the data, pulling together the text and design, and getting feedback from colleagues on various drafts.
What parts of the report are you particularly proud of and why?
We’re particularly proud of the analysis of the Learning Objectives for each course on each of the different programmes. We all know that integration into the curriculum is a core objective, but hard to measure. The UK higher education regulator, QAA, published guidance in 2014 that encourages UK Higher Education Institutions to consider good practices to be explicit references to education for sustainable development across all courses in all programmes. Therefore, we did a review of all of our courses, looking for these explicit references, and have been able to publish a baseline from which to measure progress in further integration.
What were some of the challenges in putting the information together? Successes?
Many of the things we were trying to do had never been done in the schools before. Many of the questions had never been asked, and it wasn’t clear who was best placed to get their hands on different bits of data that we knew existed. Thus, tracking down data was a key challenge!
The report has provoked some really useful conversations. A draft of the report was taken to the academic board for discussion, and it has also been discussed as part of the agenda for the annual faculty summits held on each of our campuses. The data on learning objectives, cohort diversity, faculty publications and campuses has prompted productive conversations about doing things differently that weren’t happening previously.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of doing something similar with their SIP?
Make sure you look at all the targets, not just the broader 17 goals, and work out which goals and targets are most sensible to focus on for your institution. You should integrate them into your work focusing on the Six Principles of PRME as well.
What’s next for Hult and the SDGs?
As one of our targets for the 2016-2018 report, we agreed to look more systematically at cohort diversity and the SDGs. We also agreed to establish new work on the SDGs and campus management across all our campuses. We have several research projects underway focused on business and the SDGs, as well as several classroom initiatives on the SDGs. We are in the process of creating a PRME section on our faculty websites where we will give examples of how faculty can integrate the Six Principles of PRME and the SDG into course objectives and content, a way of encouraging faculty ‘development’ on these subjects.