The Yawning B-School Gap on Being Global

Darden Dean Bob Bruner chaired the globalization task force.

We face a yawning gap between aspiration and achievement of business schools when it comes to globalization.  The bane of most B-school deans is the kind of conversation one has with a CEO who wags his finger and tells you that B-schools just aren’t delivering the kind of talent business needs.

Lately, it seems that the CEOs have been telling a story, such as this: “A recent grad we hired got up to give a presentation to our senior management and had simply no appreciation for the challenges of globalization: no feel for the country or region; no anticipation of corruption or socialism in-country; no grasp of the supply chain difficulties; no appreciation for the differences in rule of law and property rights; and the proposed brand name translated into an unmentionable body part.  The pitch was an embarrassment.”

This kind of story gains relevance because of a new report issued by the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business, the leading accreditor of B-schools in the world.  This report was prepared by a task force of deans that I chaired.  Its results are sobering: it reveals a sizable gap between what the world needs and what management educators do.

First, we find that the field of supply is vast: about 12,600 institutions in the world award undergraduate and/or graduate degrees of some kind in business.  On one hand, this is good news in that there is a theoretically wide supply of instruction in business.  Good for capitalism, cross-border trade, and economic growth.  Yet only about 10% of these are accredited as meeting widely-accepted expectations of quality.  Many of the unaccredited institutions are locally-focused, perhaps trade schools.  Most of the accredited schools are concentrated in the developed economies.  In a field this large and diverse, measures of quality matter hugely.

Second, schools are partnering across borders at an increasing rate to provide joint degree programs, exchange programs, international immersion experiences, and so on.  But a large percentage of accredited schools have no such partnerships, perhaps for reasons of resource constraint, or mission.  Even so, the vast majority of schools aspire to form such partnerships.  We foresee a wave of partnering to come.

Third, our in-depth study of nine schools reveals a wide range of approaches toward globalization.  One size does not fit all.  Like early-stage moments in the development of industries such as technology, media and entertainment, health care, b-schools are in the early stage of a wave of innovation, experimentation, prototyping, and just trying stuff.  Contrary to the perception of slow-moving academics, we see an effervescent moment at hand.  But as we know from other industries, such moments end with successes and failures, winners and losers.  Academicians and their constituents need to prepare for a range of possible outcomes.

Finally, we reveal a gap in the curricula of b-schools, between the aspiration for global content and the reality.  Most schools-even leading schools-aren’t bringing globalization into the classroom in ways that do justice to the subject or the needs of business.

We should do better.

What’s standing in the way?  The need for capital to transform the schools, the talented faculty to implement the transformation.   Nationalist or localist cultures.  Regulatory barriers to the mobility of institutions, faculty, and students across borders.  Restrictions on the freedom of speech and association.  Even a lack of sheer imagination.

Given such barriers, one can easily envision a widening variance among schools.  Some schools are surmounting the barriers one way or another.  The vast majority will not.  Much like the widening gap in income between the “haves” and “have nots” in many countries, it is easy to envision a widening competence gap in regard to globalization.

We should worry about this because it should be the mission of business schools to spread the light of global best practices and competencies.  The widening gap is antithetical to creating the kind of world in which we enjoy gains from trade, rising standards of living, and even the diplomatic benefits that accrue from strong trading relationships.  Even if you don’t believe in the internationalist view of joint benefits, then education about globalization matters because of the competitive standing of one’s country.  The recent finger-wagging of my CEO friend probably knows no borders.

Schools should help one another.  First, we should hold the bar of excellence high, and perhaps raise it a few notches in regard to globalization.   There is no more powerful force in academia than peer pressure.  Second, schools should share their best practices and capabilities.  Darden is one of the prominent case method business schools-we teach other schools how to write and teach with case studies.  Finally, we should offer a robust voice to our constituencies-and especially governments-to gain the resources needed to produce globally competent and confident graduates.

Robert Bruner is the Dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia and co-author of the report, “Globalization of Management Education,” AACSB International, 2011. Read his blog posts on education and other topics.

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