Research Roundup: November 2021
Demand Accelerates for Lifelong Learning
Employees and employers alike are seeking more short-term educational opportunities, according to a report released earlier this year by CarringtonCrisp, a higher education consultancy based in London. The report, “The Future of Lifelong and Executive Education,” was created in partnership with the European Foundation for Management Development, the Graduate Management Admission Council, LinkedIn, and the Executive MBA Council.
The organizations surveyed 2,505 employees and 508 employers from 22 countries to gauge their attitudes toward nontraditional learning options. Among employers, 74 percent indicated that their organizations weight credentials earned online equally with those earned via traditional face-to-face programs. Similarly, 78 percent agreed that “microcredentials are valuable in meeting their development needs.”
In addition, 48 percent said their organizations plan to increase their budgets for learning and development over the next two years, while 87 percent plan to build out their “learning ecosystems” to make it easier for employees to acquire new skills.
Among learners, 68 percent “definitely agreed” or “mostly agreed” that they plan to upskill and reskill in the future. Their motivations for pursuing lifelong learning included increased salaries (32 percent), improved employability (27 percent), and improved job security (23 percent).
Among learners, diplomas/certificates garnered the most attention (23 percent), followed by master’s degrees (21 percent), digital badges (19 percent), MBA or executive MBA degrees (14 percent), stackable degrees (13 percent), and microcredentials (10 percent).
As learners of all ages continue to seek out nondegree qualifications over their lifetimes, business schools will be increasingly competing with alternative providers such as Coursera and 2U. If they want to retain their market share, the report emphasizes, business schools will need to strengthen their relationships with alumni, offer low-cost short-form training in digital formats, and ensure their offerings lead to true impact for employers.
More Women Embrace Entrepreneurship
Worldwide, women founders were around 20 percent more likely than men to report closing their businesses due to the effects of the pandemic, according to the latest report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), a global consortium of institutions led by Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The GEM 2020/21 Women's Entrepreneurship Report also found that, surprisingly, this trend was reversed in Central and East Asia where men (37.7 percent) were more likely to report business closures than women (34 percent).
But many entrepreneurs fared better during the pandemic. In fact, a larger percentage of women entrepreneurs than ever said that their businesses grew over the last year. Nearly a third—30.2 percent—said they plan to hire six or more employees over the next five years. That’s compared to 18.7 percent in 2019. Nearly half of male founders—48 percent—have seen similar growth for their businesses.
In developing countries, 52 percent of women surveyed either are or aspire to be entrepreneurs, compared to only 25 percent of women in developed countries.
The report also finds that 17 percent of women in developing countries are entrepreneurs, while 35 percent aspire to be—a total of 52 percent. In developing countries, only 25 percent of the women surveyed are pursuing or planning to pursue entrepreneurship.
“Tens of millions of women around the world are making a significant impact,” says Amanda Elam, a research fellow at Babson College’s Diana International Research Institute and the report’s lead author. “It is now time to work on the key promoting factors—like providing strong champions and role models, inclusion in influential business networks, and access to financial capital—that ensure women entrepreneurs and business owners … can thrive.”
Admissions Lotteries Decrease Diversity
Institutions ranging from the University of Michigan to Harvard University have come under fire in recent years for giving special consideration to students’ racial backgrounds in their admissions decisions. These cases have sparked discussions about policies that schools could adopt that would be perceived as equitable to all applicants while helping schools admit diverse student cohorts.
One proposed solution is an “admission lottery,” in which students who meet the minimum requirements are selected via a random-draw method. This approach, proponents argue, would ensure that students from disadvantaged and privileged backgrounds would have equal chances of admission.
A recent study published in Educational Researcher examines potential outcomes of random-draw admissions. Its authors include Dominique J. Baker, an assistant professor of education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Michael N. Bastedo, a professor of education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Baker and Bastedo based their study on two data sets from the U.S. Department of Education. They compared the demographics of students currently enrolled at selective institutions (such as Harvard) and moderately selective institutions (such as many U.S. state universities) with the demographics of students who would be enrolled via a hypothetical lottery.
The co-authors determined that lotteries would cause a substantial decrease in the enrollment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This would remain true even if schools lowered their minimum GPA and test score requirements.
Furthermore, the researchers predict that schools using lotteries would see the demographics of incoming student cohorts vary widely from year to year, making it difficult to plan for housing needs, financial aid, and student programs. The only way to achieve diversity through lotteries, the authors note, would be to conduct separate drawings in each racial and ethnic group—a method that would run afoul of U.S. laws prohibiting racial quotas.
“There are several practical realities that admissions professionals would need to engage with before an admissions lottery was implemented,” Baker and Bastedo conclude. “We do not seek to dismiss lotteries out of hand, only to provide evidence on the types of parameters and considerations that must be taken into consideration when seriously considering their implementation.”
Offsetting the Carbon Impact of Bitcoin
As the use of cryptocurrency becomes more mainstream, many environmentalists are turning their attention to the massive amounts of energy required to run cryptocurrency networks. This energy expenditure results in substantial carbon emissions being released into the Earth’s atmosphere.
A new study quantifies the carbon footprint of the most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. The study is a collaboration of authors from the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center and INTAS.tech, a blockchain consultancy. Both are based at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Germany.
Between September 1, 2020, and August 31, 2021, the world used 90.86 terrawatt-hours of energy to maintain the Bitcoin network.
The co-authors studied the electrical consumption of the global Bitcoin network from September 1, 2020, to August 31, 2021. They found that the network consumed 90.86 terrawatt-hours (TWh) of energy—an amount equal to consuming 90.86 trillion watts for one hour—during that period. Each Bitcoin transaction required an average 670 bytes of computing memory and generates an estimated 369.49 kilograms of CO2 equivalents. In total, the study notes, Bitcoin accounted for .08 percent of the world’s collective carbon emissions.
The best way to counteract these effects, the authors argue, is for companies to calculate their activity on the Bitcoin network, using methods appropriate for their business models. For some, this might mean counting their transactions; for others, it might mean tracking how many bitcoins they have held and for how long. Companies then could purchase the equivalent number of carbon offsets. According to the study, holding 1 bitcoin for one year would require a carbon offset purchase of around 102.20 USD.
The researchers note that “evaluating the carbon footprint of Bitcoin transactions needs to be done in a very cautious way” since transactions vary so widely, from 1 USD to hundreds of millions USD. Furthermore, the network’s emissions will change over time. For example, in the future, more bitcoin transactions likely will rely on renewable energy, eliminating the need for offsets in those cases. For that reason, companies should have their calculations “verified and audited by specialized service providers.”
The researchers emphasize that their study’s computations should be updated on a quarterly or biannual basis. They also call for close collaboration with mining farm operators (individuals and organizations that complete complex calculations to add transactions to the Bitcoin public ledger). Through these collaborations, researchers could create a more precise computational model based on the actual hardware and energy sources these operators are using.
Can Innovative Businesses Save the Oceans?
The oft-repeated statistic is sobering—by 2050, the Earth’s oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that only 9 percent of the world’s plastic waste is recycled. The rest is either landfilled or worse, ends up in oceans, where it endangers marine life and enters the food chain. But could innovative new business models reverse this trend?
Four researchers offer a hopeful answer to this question in a working paper. They include Sean Zhou, professor and chair in the department of decision sciences and managerial economics at Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School; Zhang Zhuoluo, a doctoral student at CUHK Business School; Opher Baron, distinguished professor of operations management at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management; and Gonzalo Romero, assistant professor of operations management and statistics at the Rotman School.
The researchers examine business models employed by companies dedicated to reducing plastic ocean pollution. These companies include Litre of Light, headquartered in Switzerland, which makes lights from soda bottles; and RePurpose Global, based in New York City, which allows people and companies to purchase plastic offsets.
In particular, the paper highlights Plastic Bank, based in Vancouver. Plastic Bank invites people in developing countries to turn in the plastic trash they collect in exchange for money, food, or other resources. The company sells not only plastic offsets, but also ocean-waste plastic for companies to use as raw material. It also has developed a mobile app that uses blockchain technology to help companies track plastics through supply chains.
Companies like Plastic Bank that come at the problem two ways—by selling offsets and collecting plastic for recycling—have the greatest chance at achieving financial success and significant environmental impact, the researchers note. They add that this combination can result in a 35 percent increase in the amount of plastic these companies recycle and a 130 percent increase in profits for the companies in a local recycled plastic supply chain.
Companies that pursue this dual objective experience only a slight decrease in profitability over those that seek only to maximize profits, says Zhou in a CUHK article.
“This new breed of social enterprises helps to connect the dots and fulfill their triple mission: increase the recycled amount of ocean-bound plastic, reduce poverty in developing countries, and become self-reliant financially,” he says. “Our results give support to the fact that social enterprises can also be financially successful while serving a public good.”