An evaluation of the impact of the business in society programme on business students at the University of Stellenbosch Business School

Paulsen, Zenley Olivia (2014-12)

Thesis (MBA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.


The global business environment has undergone a systemic transformation that has influenced the way we see and do business. Central to this transformation is the rising importance of environmental sustainability, social responsibility and sound corporate governance. Given these changes, leaders require training and education about building a values-based, ethical business platform in order to operate effectively. Therefore, it is imperative that business people are appropriately educated in the art of handling matters of this nature. The primary aim of this research study is to evaluate the impact of environmental, social and governance (ESG) education on future business leaders by comparing the expected outcomes of a specific educational curriculum with its actual real-world outcomes. The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) introduced a module called Business in Society in 2011. This duration of the module is one full semester. At the time, the course outline stated that the aim of the programme was to improve the decision-making ability of students about ESG issues in the business context. Participants who were busy studying or had graduated from the programme were expected, in reasonable measure, to be able to formulate appropriate responses to the challenges and opportunities inherent in matters of the environment, sustainability and governance. The primary aim of this study was therefore to review and assess both current student’s and graduates’ envisioned and practical application of theory, their environmental and social awareness levels and any significant changes in ethical outlook and values, or lack thereof. The secondary aim of the study was to assess the quality of the educational intervention itself. In order to review the impact of the programme on participants, the study focused on the subjective experience of the students, their perceptions of the programme and their subsequent behaviour in the workplace as an outcome. The research involved a two-tier approach. The first tier entailed the deployment of surveys to the randomly selected graduates of the programme. The second tier involved interviews with randomly selected respondents in the first round of surveys. These research participants were current and former students of the programme. The expectation was to find that these future business leaders were properly equipped and educated to make the right decisions concerning sustainability issues and ethical dilemmas. Based on the results of the survey, it was evident that the majority of students had come away with a positive experience of the Business in Society Programme, and that the course had had a positive impact on their lives both professionally and personally. The results of the interview analysis offered a holistic review of the experience of students in relation to their learning, the essential learnings and practical application, and the extent of the impact on their personal and professional lives. Recurrent themes which came to light in the analysis were the increase in awareness and the absence of practical engagement. There was a general discontent with the delivery of the course, in particular its lack of practical emphasis, and fragmentation in delivery. Recommendations to improve the course are supplied and may be utilised and implemented at the discretion of the Business School.

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