Do business students now think differently than students 20 years ago? Pedro Marquez, dean of the faculty of management at Royal Roads University thinks they do. He has been teaching for the past 20 years and says it is his non-scientific, personal perception that expectations, roles, plans, and opinions have changed.
Most years, to trigger a discussion on the subject, he gives his classes an article from the 1970s written by academic researcher and economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago.
“[Friedman] represented the idea that there was no need for businesses to develop any form of corporate social responsibility,” says Marquez. “He argues very eloquently in this article that the role and only responsibility of business was to make money, while, of course, respecting the law and being ethical and doing things well, but that, by making money, it was actually playing its role appropriately for society and making its own contribution to society. Why? Because it would be satisfying the needs of consumers, it would be adding value to the economy and producing employment, and it would be paying taxes.”
Marquez says his students now immediately disagree with Friedman, whereas “probably 20 years ago my students would have half agreed with Milton Friedman.” Moreover, Marquez says the new students believe Friedman’s perspective is so obtuse that it is partly the reason for the [current] financial and economic recession.
The new students “quickly and very smartly” build an argument for what some of them refer to as “triple bottom line,” saying business need to be profitable, but must also take care of the environment and protect society.
“They do acknowledge that this is very difficult and they do acknowledge that there is no easy way of accomplishing that,” says Marquez. ”But they frequently identify themselves as the generation who will have the responsibility of finding that triple bottom line.”
How New Generations, Different Perspectives
Marquez says other ways new generations of students are different include:
- Their role in society: “I used to see my students being very eager about completing their studies right away and finding a good, well-paid salary. Now, they are interested in getting a better education so they can find their paths into happiness. They are more concerned about the triple bottom line and they are also more concerned about and worried about the role that they should play in the future.”
- Handling Information: “Before, my students were particularly concerned about acquiring technical skills and memorizing definitions, for example. The new students are not as concerned about memorizing formulas and memorizing definitions because they know that in just a couple of seconds, they can reach out to their smart phone. They are more interested in how to get access to the information that they need, and the tools that technology provides to them than actually being mentally able to do the analysis and calculation.”
- Life Decisions: “I see a very clear changing trend in that my new students are waiting longer and longer to make those traditional four key decisions: leaving the homes of their parents, graduation from college, getting married, and starting a family.”
- Pessimism: “My older students, 20 years ago, were more optimistic and idealistic about a better future for themselves and they wanted to get on with it right away. My new students are not that optimistic. They are more concerned. They have experienced 20 years of what is now referred to as a changing climate, economic recession, lack of development in some significant sections of the world, and now they are exposed to way more through the news [via the Internet] than my students were 20 years ago.”
- Independent Business: “Many more of them are interested in starting their own business, rather than immediately looking for a well-paying job. They are entrepreneurs and they want to do new things and, on many occasions, they want to do it through technology, the Internet, and in a way that provides some immediate benefit to society even at the cost of them not being financially successful immediately.”
- Value Alignment: “Some of the initial questions that they ask are not ‘What is the position and how much are you going to pay me?’ It is ‘What is your organization trying to accomplish?’ so that they can find out whether that is in line with their own projects. I am not sure if they have reached — when you ask them that at 24 or 25 — what is their own value set, whether they can clearly describe it and define it and fight for it. But they know what they don’t want.”
- World View: “Twenty years ago, I would perceive my students to be more ethno-centric, in terms in of interacting with people from different cultures. Ethno-centrism means that ‘my culture is the right one and you need to adjust to may value set and my perspectives.’ Geo-centrism, which is the one that I see more commonly across my students [now] is that they don’t have the perception that their own value set or own cultural setting is the right one; it is one amongst others, many others.”