A Message to the Deans and Heads of UNICON Member Schools

A Message to the Deans and Heads of UNICON Member Schools

A Message to the Deans and Heads of UNICON Member Schools

From outgoing UNICON Board Chair

Dr Peter Hirst, MBE

Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education,
MIT Sloan School of Management

Dear Deans and Heads of School,

UNICON – Making a Difference with Distinction

Thank you for your continued support and engagement with UNICON, the International Consortium for University-Based Executive Education! As my year as Board Chair of UNICON draws to a close and I hand the UNICON reins over to Marco Serrato, Associate Provost at the University of Chicago, it is timely to reflect on the state of the executive education industry and the important role that UNICON plays.

Founded nearly 50 years ago as an association of executive education program directors, UNICON has grown into a global consortium of around 115 business school-based executive education providers, whose members are truly a global reference in the field. Everyone with an interest in executive education and development looks to UNICON as a vital resource, because our community of members comprises the most relevant, successful, and sought-after learning partners for leaders and organizations who want to improve performance, develop new capabilities and invest in the future of their businesses and their economic and social purposes. UNICON’s primary activities include conferences, research, benchmarking, sharing of best practices, staff development, recruitment, job postings, information-sharing and extensive networking, all of which serve to keep UNICON and its members at the forefront of the executive education industry.

We all believe passionately that university-based executive education has an important and special role to play both in the world of business and for our institutions. Even as there is ever-growing competition from commercial learning providers, new entrants from adjacent markets such as management consulting, EdTech startups and others, among this growing array of providers only university-based executive education continues to create and sustain a virtuous circle. We uniquely connect the rigorous discovery and creation of business and management knowledge and insights to their systematic dissemination and application, and we alone recycle and reinvest revenue and resources back into core research and teaching in our respective institutions. Just like all of you, our member schools, UNICON is all about making, increasing and sustaining impact.

UNICON is a member-driven organization, run by executive education professionals for executive education professionals and their schools. We have a small professional staff and therefore rely on the expertise and efforts of our volunteer board of directors and committees to plan, oversee and implement our activities. Through active participation in UNICON, the leaders, managers, and staff of our member schools gain new knowledge, inspiration, perspectives, capabilities for enhancing the effectiveness of their operations, and a global network of colleagues. It is my privilege to share with you some highlights from these activities over the past year.

UNICON Conferences and Leadership Academy

Every year UNICON sponsors three exclusive conferences, each hosted by a member school that takes the lead in designing the conference content and managing the delivery and logistics. In the past year, we have been hosted by MIT (Annual Workshop), the University of Maryland (Team Development Conference) and Moscow School of Management, Skolkovo (Directors’ Conference.) Looking forward, we will be hosted by Rutgers University in New Jersey (this week), Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley in the Fall, and Tsinghua University PBC School of Finance next Spring (planned.)

A list of previous recent UNICON conference hosts is also shown in Table 1. We are extremely grateful for the enthusiasm, commitment and expertise of the staff and faculty of our member schools and the UNICON Conferences Committee and Co-chairs for taking on this challenge. Organizing an executive education event for executive education professionals takes a certain amount of courage as well as skills and resources. All of these conferences have continued and built on the UNICON tradition of providing a fantastic platform for learning and sharing and helping all our members and our industry to keep driving forward.

We are also particularly pleased that the UNICON Leadership Academy, which was launched at the Team Development Conference at UCLA Anderson School in 2017, has grown into a valuable tool to help develop the next generation of leaders for our industry. The Leadership Academy Class of 2019 comprises 18 current and future leaders of executive education programs and organizations from 18 schools internationally. Recruitment for the 2020 Leadership Academy will begin soon, and I encourage you to make use of this resource for your own school’s executive education leadership pipeline.

UNICON Benchmarking Survey

For many years, UNICON has published a detailed Annual Benchmarking Survey about the state of our industry. Over 90% of our members schools participate in the survey (which is required in order to receive a copy of the full report and optional peer-school comparisons.) The UNICON benchmarking survey captures a wide range of data about our industry and enables both general and specific peer-group comparisons of scale, geography, organization, staffing, pedagogical innovation and methods of evaluating and demonstrating impact, segmented by market and program size. We work with an independent contractor to collect, validate and analyze this data from member schools while preserving commercial confidentiality and being mindful of anti-trust considerations.

One obvious observation about the 2019 UNICON benchmarking survey is how global and diverse our membership has become (Table 2). It is also worth noting, given this geographic diversity, that many of the apparently “smaller” schools in terms of executive education revenue may nevertheless still be of significant scale relative to their own local market or currency. Open enrollment and custom programs remain evenly balanced despite reported trends towards custom business in recent years (Figures 1 and 2.)

Also, in the same Figure, we see that online delivery including blended programs is growing and becoming significant in terms of revenue generation (up to 16% from 14% the previous year.) This is fueling and enabling new hybrid (open/custom) forms of engagement for meeting customer needs. The emergence of such new models for delivering, organizing and evaluating executive education has been the subject of several recent UNICON Research Reports (see below.)

Another interesting feature highlighted in recent UNICON Benchmarking Surveys and a frequent topic for our conference workshops is the evolution of the learning methodologies we employ. Not only is there the emergence of digital and online learning noted above—a reported 84% increase in usage over the past three years (Figure 3), we are also seeing significant increases in the use of experiential learning, simulations and projects; and hidden in the “Other” category, a growing use of personalized, high touch methods such as team and individual coaching, often being delivered by professionals and consultants versus tenure-line faculty.

Turning to market structure, the UNICON Benchmarking Survey suggests some complex trends that may be encouraging to some schools and a source of concern for others. On the one hand, growth in executive education revenue appears to be broadly correlated with macroeconomic conditions (Figure 4) as would be expected.

On the other hand, there are some indications of consolidation in the market, with larger executive education programs growing faster and extending their global reach (Figure 5 and Figure 6.) We should note, however, that in some countries exchange rate fluctuations may be complicating these comparisons. Apparent declines in Latin America, for example, may be exaggerated as a result of such considerations. Nevertheless, these data portray a complex and evolving picture of the state of the executive education industry, presenting both opportunities and challenges for us all.

UNICON Research

While the UNICON benchmarking survey is mostly inwardly focused on our members’ activities and performance, UNICON’s third major line of activity is more outwardly focused on our customers and clients and how our members go to market to meet their needs. Historically, UNICON has published one or two somewhat substantial “Research Reports” a year, in which we explore topics of interest to our members and aim to provide insights and recommendations that are actionable either strategically or functionally.

Over the past 2-3 years the UNICON Research Committee has stepped up production and this year will have launched 4 new research studies, as well as another in a series of collaborative research reports with AACSB and EMBAC. Current and recently released research report topics include: ROI on Executive Education, Make or Buy to Scale, Pedagogical Innovation in Business Schools and Social Media and its Effects on Leadership; and (with AACSB/EMBAC) the Implications and Applications of AI for Management Education. UNICON Research Reports are freely available on the UNICON website and are also actively disseminated through our social media channels and in our regular webinar series.

One set of findings from UNICON’s recent ROI study are particularly interesting and relevant to the theme of the 2019 UNICON Annual Workshop at Rutgers. While the ROI on learning is notoriously difficult to evaluate rigorously, our customers are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate ROI, and as can be seen in Table 3, they are predicting significant shifts to post-program evaluation methods and assessments of measurable business value and outcomes. This is symptomatic of increasing sophistication and demanding customer requirements and business processes that our members are reporting across the board. This is a call to action for individual schools and for us collectively as an industry, in an environment of growing and diversifying competition.

Looking forward with optimism and gratitude

UNICON itself has never been stronger as an organization or more needed in our industry. Through the terrific work of our board, committees, member volunteers and professional staff, UNICON has maintained impressive productivity, annually delivering 3 major conferences and workshops, 4-5 research reports, a major benchmarking survey, 6-8 webinars, dozens of contributed articles, an active, modern website, frequent newsletters and engaging social media.

We have a stable and engaged membership, which we are further strengthening in growing and emerging markets such as Asia and Latin America. We will continue to encourage and share collaboration and innovation among our members and with other market participants to ensure that our members are able to remain relevant and able to demonstrate value creation, capture and delivery for their stakeholders.

We will continue to invest in our website, social media channels, webinars and innovations such as “Coffee Breaks” (small group facilitated conference calls on topics of mutual interest) and regional forums (an inaugural UNICON Asia Regional Forum is currently being planned for later this year.) And while advocacy is not a primary organizational purpose of UNICON, we will continue to foster and facilitate dialog where there is a clear collective interest and need, as we did with the FT earlier this year while they grappled with changes to their 2019 ranking survey process, and as we are doing in exploring opportunities for strategic alliances for UNICON e.g. with AACSB.

As I noted above, none of this would be possible or meaningful without the engagement, enthusiasm and support of our member schools, especially our “Prime Reps” and “Secondary Contacts” (every member school has one!), UNICON Committees and the UNICON Board.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to all who have served in these roles so diligently, collaboratively and effectively over the past year and continue to do so. If you see colleagues from your own institution’s names listed in the credits (Table 4) then please be sure to thank and congratulate them for their engagement with UNICON. And if you don’t see your school represented yet or as much as you would like, then please do encourage your executive education leaders and teams to step up and help UNICON to continue its important work, help our industry, and help your own programs, customers and institutions succeed in meeting their (and your) goals.

Respectfully and gratefully yours,

Peter Hirst, MBE


UNICON Board Chair 2018-19
Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education, MIT Sloan School of Management


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