New Associate Dean for Corporate Relations: We must collaborate to stay competitive

On 1 July 2017, Professor René Rohrbeck from the Department of Management took up the position as Aarhus BSS’ very first Associate Dean for Corporate Relations. We met him in his office at Fuglesangs Allé to talk about his plans and about why contemporary business schools must nurture their corporate relations to stay competitive.

Photo: Julia Rolsted Stacey

Why did you accept the position as Associate Dean for Corporate Relations?

I’m from Germany where universities and business schools have a strong tradition of collaborating closely with industry. When I came to Denmark, I was surprised that the academic and corporate worlds were rather disconnected in terms of research. To me, this has to change if we want to secure the future success of Danish companies, the future employability of our graduates and alumni as well as the future competitiveness of Aarhus BSS.

We need to make the latest research available to companies and organisations and also enable them to guide our research. To do so, we must engage in more direct collaboration and become more agile and faster at delivering high-quality and tailor-made solutions. I Iook forward to contributing to this process with the team at External Relations, who are already doing a great job in bridging the two worlds.

What do you see as your overall tasks?

As associate dean, I’ll be a catalyst facilitating the dialogue and direct collaboration between researchers and industry. I have a background in and have worked with large companies from different industries, and I understand the concerns and reservations that both faculty and industry might have.

From a faculty point of view, we need to make the collaboration process a lot easier and rewarding for the individual researcher. At the moment, only a limited number of our researchers are engaging in external activities, so there’s a lot of unused potential at the school. I’d like to see this number increase in the next three years.

From an industry point of view, we must make sure that the knowledge we provide in, say, our short and customised courses is applicable in practice and takes point of departure in the reality of the companies. In order to stay competitive in the long term, we must also be able to anticipate the future knowledge needs of our stakeholders. Again, this requires close dialogue, not just with the HR department, which typically focuses on recruitment, but also with other corporate functions that might have other more practical challenges and demands. At the moment, we only have a share of the market for continuing education in Denmark of below 1%, and I’d like this number to increase significantly in the next three years.

Why this increased focus on corporate relations?

For me, there are two overall reasons. First of all, the world is growing ever-more competitive, and companies and organisations require the latest research-based knowledge to stay ahead. As a business school, we have a duty to provide this knowledge at all times – preferably through customised courses, continuing education programmes, learning networks and events that meet the companies’ specific needs. This requires close and direct dialogue with our corporate and public stakeholders.

Second of all, all educational institutions are under increasing pressure to safeguard the continuous employability of their graduates – both new graduates and alumni. We can do this by delivering knowledge continuously, but also by enabling our students to establish meaningful connections with future employers as early on as possible. With more than 65,000 graduates and over 17,000 registered alumni, we have a particular responsibility here.

At Aarhus BSS, we currently organise more than 100 student/company networking events each year, with more than 6,000 participants. We also have 46 partner companies, who engage with us on different levels, and we would like to expand these activities both in scope and the intensity of engagement. We will also increasingly be tracking how our events and activities perform and contribute to the overall strategic goals of Aarhus BSS.

What do Aarhus BSS and the individual researchers gain from external collaborations?

It’s important to remember that when academia and industry collaborate, it benefits both parties a great deal. When we fulfil industry’s need for the latest research-based knowledge, we in turn get access to invaluable empirical data and industry insight, which form the basis of our research. We also increase our role as experts and strengthen not only our own personal brand as a researcher, but also that of Aarhus BSS.

There are many ways in which you can engage in external activities as a researcher – you can deliver teaching through our executive education offers, you can participate or speak at events, or present your research to companies etc. Although many researchers at Aarhus BSS are already engaging in research projects with external stakeholders, the vast majority are not currently engaged in external activities – for various reasons.

What do you see as the most important reason that researchers are not engaging in external activities?

As a researcher, you’re already under a lot of pressure to publish your research and deliver good teaching. You might simply not have time to develop a customised course for a company – even if the content is related to your own research. In consequence, we need to make it a lot easier for the researcher to access the benefits of external engagements.

We’ll do so for example by employing a number of course managers, who are experienced in running executive education in international markets. They’ll form an effective interface between the researcher and the company and be responsible for designing courses, co-creating the content and developing the pedagogical format. In short, they’ll ensure that the courses strike the all-important balance of delivering latest research insights in the right format to ensure that it can also be applied in practice.

Let’s say you have a good idea for a course or an event, what should you do?

To me it’s important that external collaboration projects are developed from the bottom-up leveraging on existing expertise and networks of our researchers. I won’t be asking everyone to come up with ideas for an external activity. However, I’d love to hear from faculty who are already in the process of developing collaborations projects or who already have a good idea for an event, a learning network or a course, etc.

Get in contact with me or External Relations, and we’ll talk about your concept and how we might develop it further. I’d also like to hear about your obstacles and where we can help. This is important to further enhance our processes, formats and the impact of our external activities.

Find out more about René Rohrbeck

Find out more about External Relations