Business Schools are Building Ever More Luxurious Facilities

The growing demands of MBA students require new campuses that emphasize sustainability, collaboration and digitalization

The global competition to raise funds and construct ever more luxurious facilities at business school has reached new heights in recent years.

In September 2021, IE Business School in Madrid opened the IE Tower, its new vertical, technological and sustainable headquarters in the north of Madrid. At 180 meters high, with 35 floors covering 50,000 square meters, and 7,000 square meters of green space, IE Tower has the capacity for 6,000 students.

The same month, Columbia Business School received $75m to support the school’s new facilities in Manhattan, which were scheduled to open to students in early January 2022. The two new buildings will double the school’s current square footage.

Business schools are building different types of facilities, with light-filled spaces designed to foster learning and collaboration. “There has been lots of interesting research which shows that the organization of the space in which managers work is critical for generating new ideas and being creative,” says Rhoda Davidson, director MBA programs at Emlyon Business School in France.

Born 150 years ago in the city of Lyon, and after 50 years on the outskirts of its center, Emlyon Business School is planning its return to the city in 2024 with a new campus, covering close to 30,000 square meters, including 7,000 square meters of collaborative and experiential areas.

The new campus will be closer physically to many large companies, building a stronger recruitment pipeline for MBAs. “Being physically closer will mean more opportunities to engage in strategic consulting projects for our MBAs, and greater visibility with senior management,” says Davidson.

Not everything is online

Does it make sense to invest in brick-and-mortar space when online education is growing so rapidly? The COVID-19 pandemic has generated an acceleration in digital innovation, to be sure.

“However, after this period of isolation and distance, it has become very clear that a physical dimension, human contact, and in-person meetings are essential components to higher education and research,” says Davidson. “We still need a campus to learn, discuss, share and collaborate.”

Business schools are opening plush new campuses despite the prolonged shutdowns and tighter operating budgets caused by coronavirus. Schools say the economic costs of the pandemic have been limited by the growth in popularity of MBA degrees, bringing a rush of tuition fee income.

Many have also raised substantial funds from wealthy donors, such as the Tepper School of Business’s $201m new campus building. It took the school’s fundraising team nearly a decade to convince 1,250 alumni and the billionaire businessman David Tepper to donate the cash for the building.

The level of technological capability expected by MBA students often requires new buildings. IE Tower classrooms will be equipped with the technology to simultaneously deliver face-to-face and online sessions.  

“IE Tower will promote a new way of relating within and outside our institution, and will enrich the experience of our students,” says Santiago Iñiguez, president of IE University.

The school’s programs integrate classroom learning on campus, hybrid sessions with some students in class and others connected online, and asynchronous sessions to encourage individual work.

New campuses are fostering interdisciplinary approaches

Increasingly, business schools are designing teaching facilities that empathize cross-disciplinary collaboration. Columbia is using its new campus to strengthen partnerships with the university’s other schools, and the New York tech community.

“Modern business is predicated on the expanded adoption of technology, data and advanced analytics alongside the fundamentals of traditional business education,” says Costis Maglaras, dean of Columbia Business School.

The new home of the Tepper School of Business aims to intersect with the other six Carnegie Mellon colleges and schools. “Today’s business leaders must address challenges with creative and interdisciplinary approaches,” once said former Tepper dean Robert Dammon, who was instrumental in the development of the new facilities.

The pressure to build something that is environmentally sustainable is also growing as business schools come under pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities. Emlyon’s new campus will include a 9,000 square mater landscape park to restore nature and biodiversity on a site which was, up until now, brownfield land.

And the bioclimatic design of the facilities will optimize the energy consumption of the buildings. But ultimately, schools are hoping that beautiful, state of the art buildings will help them scoop up additional students — and their fees.

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