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Redefining business education through STEM integration

Melita Mehjabeen | December 10, 2023 00:00:00

In an era of rapid technological advancements and global connectivity, the need for a workforce equipped with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills has become paramount. The conventional Master of Business Administration (MBA) curriculum, once the hallmark of business education, is now at a crossroads, requiring a transformative shift to align it with the evolving demand in the global job market. At the same time, STEM education fosters a skilled workforce equipped with technological expertise, and integrating technical ability with business acumen is essential for Bangladesh as it transitions to a middle-income country. This workforce is vital for driving innovation, developing new industries, and increasing productivity across various sectors such as manufacturing, information technology, agriculture, healthcare, and more.

In developed countries, the top business schools worldwide have realised the importance of STEM MBAs. They have already introduced a specialised MBA that merges business management skills with technical expertise, analytical thinking, and innovation-driven approaches necessary for leadership roles in technology-driven industries. The Harvard Business School has integrated Management Science into a full-time MBA. Wharton offers full-time MBA majors in Actuarial Science; Business Analytics; Business Economics & Public Policy; Business, Energy, Environment & Sustainability; Operations, Information and Decisions; and Statistics. Our neighbour, India, has also initiated STEM-designated MBA degrees to equip students with a comprehensive skill set that combines business acumen with technological proficiency, preparing them for managerial roles in industries heavily influenced by technology and innovation, such as IT, healthcare, finance, biotechnology, engineering, and more.

To ensure the inclusion of STEM in MBA programmes in Bangladesh, both in public and private universities, a fundamental reevaluation of the curriculum is imperative. This recalibration equips future business leaders with a holistic skill set and positions them as adaptable problem-solvers in an increasingly tech-driven world. Different types of skills are crucial in achieving this integration. Firstly, data literacy is indispensable. MBA graduates should be adept at interpreting and leveraging data to make informed business decisions. Incorporating data analytics courses into the curriculum makes sure students gain hands-on experience with tools and methodologies central to contemporary business practices. The curriculum should design focused tracks within the MBA programme that concentrate on STEM-related fields such as technology management, data analytics, innovation, or entrepreneurship. These specialised tracks can offer in-depth coursework and experiential learning opportunities in STEM areas.

Secondly, programming and coding skills are foundational in a technology-driven landscape. Understanding coding languages and their applications empowers MBA graduates to navigate and implement technological solutions efficiently. Integrating coding boot camps or workshops can demystify technology and equip students with the essential skills to communicate with and lead tech teams. The business schools can introduce elective courses or certificate programmes in specialized STEM subjects relevant to business, such as programming, data analysis, machine learning, or cyber security. These courses can be optional or part of a concentration.

Moreover, fostering creativity and innovation is paramount. STEM integration in MBA programmes should emphasize problem-solving and encourage entrepreneurial thinking. Courses exploring design thinking, innovation management, and technology entrepreneurship cultivate a mindset beyond routine problem-solving, preparing graduates to envision and implement groundbreaking solutions.

Collaboration and interdisciplinary communication skills are equally vital. As business leaders increasingly work alongside experts from diverse fields, cultivating effective communication across disciplines becomes imperative. Integrated courses that bring together students from business and STEM backgrounds facilitate a collaborative learning environment, mimicking the interdisciplinary nature of real-world challenges. This integration not only enriches the learning experience, but also cultivates a mindset of innovation and adaptability. For instance, the business schools, both private and public, should foster partnerships with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics departments of the universities. This collaboration will break the existing silos and can lead to joint programmes, shared courses, or interdisciplinary projects that blend business education with technical expertise.

One example could be innovating virtual trial rooms using Augmented Reality by the students at the Institute of Information Technology (IIT) of the Dhaka University. However, they do face challenges in terms of creating a feasible business model. Again, in another instance, it was published in the media that the IIT faculty members and students together invented a prototype of software which can convert braille to Bangla text.

Likewise, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, they are trying to produce carotenoids from bacterial sources which can be used in feed and other industries. These carotenoids are coloured compounds with numerous health benefits that can be incorporated into our food chain through egg yolk. If successful, this will be a cost-effective natural colorant. Integrating STEM into the MBA curriculum will enable partnering with the science departments and business schools and take joint initiatives involving researchers, scientists, and MBA students working together to explore commercialisation prospects for biological inventions. Interdisciplinary joint initiatives can provide access to business incubators or accelerators within or associated with the university. These platforms can offer support, guidance, and resources for developing business models around technological or biological inventions.

A comprehensive framework led by UGC Bangladesh can play a pivotal role in ensuring the seamless integration of STEM into the MBA curriculum. The industry-academia partnership may help develop and enhance STEM-integrated MBA programmes. One big adjacent challenge to this initiative might be faculty members' lack of training and development. Most of the business schools' faculty members are equipped to teach conventional MBAs. They would require extensive training in technology-centered pedagogy with interdisciplinary methodologies.

The shift towards STEM integration demands a collaborative effort among higher educational institutions, industries, and University Grants Commission Bangladesh. Establishing partnerships with technology-driven companies can facilitate real-world exposure, internships, and collaborative projects, providing students with practical experiences that complement theoretical knowledge. Funding research projects that focus on innovative solutions, technological advancements, or the impact of STEM on business can foster a culture of innovation within MBA programmes. These industry collaborations are vital for students to bridge the gap between classroom learning and the dynamic demands of the professional landscape.

In conclusion, redefining the MBA curriculum in Bangladesh to be more inclusive of STEM is not merely an academic adjustment but a strategic imperative. The fusion of business acumen with STEM competencies creates a workforce that is globally competitive and capable of driving innovation and sustainable economic growth. It is time for Bangladesh to embark on this transformative journey, making sure its business leaders are equipped with the skills demanded by the 21st-century global economy.

Melita Mehjabeen is a Professor at IBA, University of Dhaka. [email protected]

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