Q&A: Simon Tankard, CEO of extended learning at UKZN
The world is changing and business education must follow, says Simon Tankard, CEO of extended learning at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
FM: How has Covid-19 affected demand for executive education?
Tankard: There have been many reports of budgets for training and education being reduced or cancelled for the year. However, those organisations looking to capitalise on their assets and gain a competitive advantage are investing in specific education requirements, assessed for their potential return on investment. Development of competencies aligned to the use of technology and digital expertise within organisations is a priority, as is project and supply chain management in the “new normal”.
FM: Do clients have their own assumptions about how their post-Covid education needs must adapt, or do they rely on you for guidance?
Tankard: Many clients expect a high level of awareness and advice from providers of executive education about the latest trends and thought leadership in specific areas of interest. This is particularly evident with the customisation of client programmes to address unique learning and development requirements.
FM: How has Covid-19 affected your programme delivery? Will there be a reversal once the crisis is over?
Tankard: The shift to online and blended learning is real. The ground has been laid since the turn of the century by the development of programmes known as massive open online courses, or Moocs, based on new education technologies. The world is changing and the uncertainty and complexity reflected in the changing paradigm of work will ensure that traditional programme delivery methods become redundant.
Long lag times for learning are no longer acceptable. Employees expect to be able to access content and acquire new knowledge at any time, as required.
FM: In preparing clients for the post-Covid environment, are you assuming SA business will conduct itself as before, or that there will be changes?
Tankard: The pandemic has forced profound changes upon SA business and the country as a whole. A “new normal” is being created out of this social and economic crisis which will change the way business is conducted, similar to the introduction of the internet and the cellphone in the early 1990s.
Continuing education will move swiftly further along towards online and digital teaching and learning methodologies, and away from traditional, physical methods. This will encourage lifelong learning across the population. The entire business model and premise upon which learning has been based in the country will undergo change as a result of the lockdown. New ways of working remotely will remain with us.
FM: There is a view that business schools and executive education providers are so steeped in traditional business thinking that they will struggle to provide clients with the out-of-the-box thinking required to make a new start. Do you think the criticism is fair in SA?
Tankard: No. Executive and continuing education providers in SA are globally networked with other leading institutions and markets, and are driving thought leadership across business in the public and private sectors, particularly on the unique challenges that business is facing in Africa and SA.
For example, the SA context for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the post-Covid working environment is very different to that in European countries, where data provision and connectivity are advanced. Technology will enable a rapid progression in upskilling and reskilling in SA, and the opportunities for becoming more productive as an economy are immense.
The timeline, however, is critical because the country faces increasing global competition. It needs to provide goods and services of value in order to recover, and then to grow the economy. Human capital will be the most sought-after asset by countries and organisations in the next decade. Executive education is closely aligned to this value concept.
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