Developing a future-proof MSc curriculum for SBE

Gaby Odekerken-Schröder, SBE’s Associate Professor in Marketing and Director of MSc Programmes

A colloquium was held on October 22nd to discuss ‘How to develop a research-based future-proof MSc curriculum’. Gaby Odekerken-Schröder, SBE’s Associate Professor in Marketing and Director of MSc Programmes, tells Talkin’ Business about the reasons behind the colloquium, what was discussed, and what the next steps will be.

One of the key objectives of SBE is to ensure that it provides students with an outstanding education through programmes that prepare them optimally for the leading roles they will play in diverse sectors.

What does this mean in concrete terms, given today’s rapid changes in society and the workplace? How should SBE best respond to these, and all the many developments in research areas, the knowledge economy and the employment market?

These were some of the key questions that October’s colloquium was designed to address.

‘Inside-out’ and ‘outside-in’ perspectives

In her role as Director of MSc Programmes, Gaby Odekerken-Schröder is responsible for everything that has to do with the Master of Science courses at SBE.

This involves activities ranging from the educational programme through the renewal of and change to existing programmes, the accreditations provided by the NVAO and providing support and guidance to graduates, to the marketing of programmes.

“We wanted to involve all stakeholders in the discussion at the colloquium,” she tells us. “This would ensure that, as well as our own ‘inside-out’ view, we would also obtain an ‘outside-in’ perspective. Attending the colloquium were employers, alumni – who are able to wear both ‘inside and outside hats’, and can reflect and comment on their education and how appropriate it has been – students and staff. So we were able to create an interesting combination of the expertise of the academics, the experiences of alumni and the needs of their employers, and the wishes of the students and the business world.”

There were a number of key reasons for holding the colloquium at this time.

It is ten years since European countries agreed on the Bologna process, requiring that higher education becomes more comparable, student mobility is encouraged and that qualifications are recognized between them.

In 2003, the bachelor-master structure was implemented in the Netherlands.

There are also developments in society, business and the economy that indicate that changes must be made to the higher education offering.

SBE must also offer courses appropriate to functions and roles that did not exist only a few years ago.

The Dutch government is encouraging a wide-ranging review and the implementation of change. Normally, if universities wish to make significant changes in courses, they must be put through the whole accreditation process once more.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is now giving universities a one-time possibility to evaluate and restructure their MSc offering.

This means that they have the opportunity now to adjust and adapt programmes without all the usual bureaucratic red tape. In order to benefit from this opportunity, universities must indicate what they wish to change before February 1st, 2010.

For this reason, SBE and most other universities in the Netherlands are reviewing their programmes and developing proposals.

‘World Café’ concept

The Bonbonnière in Maastricht was chosen as the venue for October’s colloquium. “An external location was chosen, as we thought it would help to bring staff out of their own usual context,” explains Dr. Odekerken-Schröder. “It would also facilitate their adoption of an open position. This was further encouraged by organizing it according to the ‘World Café’ concept, in which people can move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the issues under discussion.”

One of the important areas on which the colloquium focused was which model would be best for a portfolio of master’s programmes. “SBE uses one so-called umbrella model,” she says, “whereby under a self-standing master’s course, such as International Business, several tracks are included, such as IB/Accounting, IB/Finance and IB/Entrepreneurship. In the alternative model there are no tracks, but a portfolio of separate programmes. Universities are asking themselves which model will be the smartest to use. The disadvantage of the umbrella model is that all tracks must comply with the same final attainment levels, while the disadvantage of the other model is that each and every programme must be separately assessed and accredited.”

‘Problem-based reflection’

It soon became apparent at the colloquium that no instant, ready-made, off-the-peg solution existed. A number of focus points and themes were therefore formulated. One concerns a new idea, called ‘problem-based reflection’, or PBR.

“The education we now provide is set up according to the problem-based learning, or PBL concept,” explains Dr. Odekerken-Schröder. “A key point made by the representatives of the business world at the colloquium was that graduates must also be able to reflect and be self-critical. They must be able to evaluate how they function themselves, and which role they should choose for themselves in specific situations.”

Another theme was introducing innovative new degrees and degree modules. “A master’s programme should not have to be a standard one-year programme with six subjects and a dissertation/thesis. Both students and businesses argued at the colloquium that the university should build in more flexibility, and offer customized, tailor-made programmes. There should be the possibility of a foreign exchange, more double degrees should be made available, and ‘blended learning’ concepts should be introduced.”

“So the colloquium made it clear that we must be able to move away from the established, traditional lines,” she continues. “The content of a programme must be made partly dependent on the wishes and ambitions of students and the opportunities provided by the labour market. Corporate relationships must be strengthened, and programmes made more integrated, which is a point that had already included in the SBE strategy memorandum, and has now been affirmed and endorsed once more.”

Task forces

It was decided to form task forces to address these and other themes. Three were formed to address PBR, innovative degrees and innovative degree modules. Three more would each address ways of revising the programme structure and look at the comparative benefits of ‘umbrella’ courses and separate courses without tracks.

The first of these would focus on smaller programmes, like International Economic Studies, another would focus on larger tracks, such as Marketing and Finance, while the third would look at information-related programmes, such as Business Intelligence, Information Management and Infonomics.

“We received a very positive response from people keen to join these task forces, both during and after the colloquium,” says Dr. Odekerken-Schröder. “They are now hard at work on developing the ideas further and translating them into recommendations. They’ll deliver the outline of their ideas to me and my team by December 10th.”

On January 7th, a follow-up colloquium will be held, and the outcomes from that will be brought together into a proposal to be approved by the Executive Board of Maastricht University and submitted by February 1st to the VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands.

The VSNU will bundle the proposals from all the universities and send this to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

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