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How Global Are B-Schools? Not Very.

Darden Dean Bob Bruner chaired the globalization task force.

How global are the world’s best business schools? Not very, according to a new and weighty report issued today (Feb. 10th) by a task force of educators assembled by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools (AACSB), the primary accreditation group for business schools.

When it comes to globalization, the panel discovered, it’s not that the world’s business schools aren’t talking the talk. The problem is more that they’re not walking the talk. By and large, the task force concluded, efforts to “globalize” the study of business have been cosmetic and superficial.

The landmark 300-plus-page report is the most thorough examination of the globalization of management education ever (see the report’s table of contents here). Three years ago, the AACSB appointed a task force headed by Robert Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School, to study how business schools have responded to the globalization of business. The high-powered group included the former dean of Chicago’s Booth School, Ted Snyder, who will soon become the new leader of Yale University’s School of Management, as well as the deans of the business schools at Michigan State, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Sydney, along with the presidents of ESSEC Business School in Paris and Singapore Management University as well as the dean emeritus of the Indian School of Business.

In an interview with Poets&Quants, Bruner said that the good news is that a lot of experimentation is going on. “Think of management education as an early stage industry,” he said. “The players in the field are trying a lot of different things. So we see schools embarking on a lot of joint ventures and partnerships across borders and a fair amount of curriculum experimentation. And there has been an enormous number of startups. So there is this large wave of experimentation and prototyping going on. That’s the very good news. The added fact is there is no single formula that will deliver what is right. So it’s as if we are in the early stage of a high growth industry with a lot going on but no clarity yet on the ideal strategic path. The bar is very high and should be because of the incredible growth in global business itself.”

On some level, the report is quite critical of how the education industry has responded to globalization. “School responses have been incomplete and sometimes misdirected and misaligned,” the group found. “Our analysis of a sample of business schools suggests that, with some exceptions, schools place a greater emphasis on the incorporation of global experiential learning opportunities than on the development and integration of global content within the curriculum. Business school websites are more likely to contain references to international partnerships than to reference efforts to globalize curricular content.”

No less surprising, the task force found that many non-U.S. schools that claim to be differentiated on the basis of their embrace of a global economy are no more global than some of their insular U.S. counterparts. “At a 2007 colloquium at IESE Business School (in Spain), deans and faculty ranked ‘utilizing courses and methods to successfully deliver key material on international business/management’as last among 13 globalization-related dimensions of school performance,” the report noted.

The task force generally found that most B-school efforts to “globalize” involve projects that create the perception of globalization rather than deep and profound change in the way business is taught. “Unfortunately, present efforts by business schools to globalize typically include a series of independent and fragmented activities,” the group concluded. “These activities are mostly focused on student and/or faculty diversity and the establishment of cross-border partnerships for student exchange. The Task Force is concerned that business schools are not responding to globalization in a coherent way, i.e., they tend to focus on collecting an array of activities (e.g., exchange programs) with insufficient emphasis on learning experiences and intended outcomes.


“Our analysis has led us to believe that when a school’s underlying objective is to be perceived as ‘‘global,’’ the school is more likely to engage in a fragmented and disjointed set of activities or costly operations that bring little to no real added value to the stakeholders being served. In fact, a claim of being ‘‘global’’ is relatively easy for a school to make. A school that simply rents space on several continents, recruits a handful of students from different countries, or inserts modules into its curriculum that cover the cultures of different nations can likely state, accurately, that its educational delivery, student profile, or pedagogy is ‘‘global.’’ But is this really the goal that business schools are trying to achieve? For some of the world’s business schools, it seems so.

The takeaway for business school leaders? Bruner said “the very first implication of the report is you can’t hide from the forces of globalization and their impact on management education. Second, how those forces will affect any school will depend on the mission of the school and the position in its field. Schools with a national or international focus in strategy will feel the impact of these forces and have felt them for quite some time. Schools with a regional or local orientation may have had the luxury of relaxation for some time but it’s clear to the task force that even these schools will need to adapt to the demands of globalization.

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