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Executive Education Under Pressure to Prove ROI


Most business schools are failing to evaluate the impact of their programmes beyond the level of the individual participant, according to a new study.

But despite half the respondents being happy with their current evaluation approaches, the majority of human resources professionals (85%) believed that evaluation of executive education programmes would become more important in the next three years.

The research, Executive Education: Evaluating the Return on Investment - Bringing the Client Voice into the Debate carried out by Ashridge Business School, on behalf of UNICON (International University Consortium for Executive Education), surveyed HR professionals and programme sponsors (CEOs, managing directors).

It found that only 11% of business schools evaluate the impact at the organisational level and only 3% regularly assess the financial return on investment (ROI) of executive programmes.

There is an increasing expectation that the value of activities needs to be demonstrated, with 88% of HRD respondents and 69% of sponsors agreeing that "HR professionals will have to get better at proving the worth of executive education in the future." Two thirds of both groups concur that: "Other functions have proved that 'intangible' benefits can be measured, so that same should be true of executive education."

However, there is some disagreement over the role and nature of evaluation, particularly between the HRD profession and sponsors. More sponsors (44%) than HR professionals (32%) agreed with the statement: "If there is clear evidence that individuals have benefited from a programme, that is enough to prove a positive return on investment."

According to the survey there seems to be more pressure in the public than the private sector to try for the 'holy grail' of financial ROI.

The survey also asked clients about research they would like to see from business schools in evaluation, including the development of methods to calculate financial ROI. While only 8% of sponsors chose this option, 27% of HRD respondents did so. The clear majority of sponsors (61%) said they would like business schools to focus research on: "Understanding the factors in the organisational climate that influence how well participants can apply and transfer learning from executive programmes."

Bob Stilliard, Director of Executive Education at Ashridge said: "Previous research on evaluation has been very academic and so we wanted to know what business school clients really think. The research provides a picture of a complex marketplace, with a wide range of views and needs.

"Business schools should be encouraged to respond to the significant interest in this topic and work closely with organisations to develop a greater understanding of how the potential value of executive education can be maximised."


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