‘Tutors to the world’, Schumpeter column, Economist 11th June

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Once again the Schumpeter column covers a management theme that is both relevant and topical – the internationalisation of business schools. It starts with an interesting assertion that intuitively I would have rejected; that academics in business schools lead the way in internationalisation compared to academics in other disciplines and, during the last 10 years, compared to business itself.

I have no knowledge of globalisation in other academic disciplines and have no reason to doubt the assertion, but I am much more sceptical about the comparison to business. Maybe there has been some catching up recently but my experience – and that of our clients – is that the globalisation of business schools has been well behind business generally. It’s true that there are some high profile shining lights such as INSEAD who have opened up in other countries and established relationships with overseas schools, but there are still many in the USA and elsewhere that are highly insular and parochial.

The American schools quoted in the article – Wharton of Philadelphia and Booth of Chicago – may have established campus’s abroad but have they changed the backgrounds of the professors and the way they teach management topics? I have no first hand background to challenge the claims to recent progress but I recall from a past tour of the American schools and from examining their material, that an ‘international case study’ was often a US company looking to move into new markets.

However there are some interesting statistics to back up Schumpeter’s argument. It is no surprise that a large number of participants in American MBA programmes are from other countries – 34% according to the article – as this has long been a rite of passage for bright overseas students wishing to make a career in business. More surprising is the fact that the faculty from outside America are now as high as 26%, though lagging behind European Schools with 46%. These proportions are much higher than I would have expected and perhaps confirm how much needed progress has been made recently. Blog followers may recall my past review of the book by Philip Delves Broughton about his time at Harvard, which quoted the dissatisfaction of many international students with the parochialism and US centric attitudes of the faculty.

The article also makes the excellent point that a mix of nationalities does not necessarily achieve a truly international perspective if the students are cosmopolitans who have grown up working for multi-national businesses. And a visiting American professor running a generic case study will not necessarily focus on local issues, unless there is strong pressure to do so.

The extent to which new business schools are growing worldwide is mind boggling. There are 13,000 in total of which 2,700 are in India and China; Spain’s leading school, IESE, has set up schools in 15 countries. The good news about this is that it will increase competition and hopefully bring down what the article describes as ‘exorbitant costs; the potentially bad news is that quality will suffer as the resources – in particular high calibre faculty – are stretched increasingly thinly. There will also be what the article describes as ‘snake oil salesmen’ falsely claiming global status; an interesting example is the Moscow School of Management offering an MBA with an emphasis on corruption!!

The article should perhaps have mentioned the increasing trend for business schools to run programmes tailored to company needs, where the need to globalise depends on client preference. In this case the globalisation has to be real and practical, something which the more academic business schools find hard to deliver. I cannot pretend to be objective here but my perception is that business schools are increasingly the providers of business education for those who are from smaller businesses and/or want to further their career ambition outside their current situation. Global companies will find more tailored solutions and this may cause a high proportion of those 13,000 schools to have difficulty filling their capacity.

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