Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reforming business schools a must ?

World’s leading business schools are changing their course syllabus and re-making their business school image ensuring they catch up with time and the reputation upheld with high rating. This year Harvard Business School (HBS) announced the appointment of a new dean, Nitin Nohria, a first-class choice. The Kellogg School at Northwestern University has also recently selected a new head, and the Judge School at the University of Cambridge, the Ross School at the University of Michigan and the Booth School at the University of Chicago are all in the process of doing the same. Our local uni business faculties (NUS,NTU,SMU) are also trying to boost up it's image and maintaining the international standard every year and they too have excel in the top lists of preferred MBA courses in many of surveys done.

Elite business schools are plagued by self-doubt and the financial crisis has dealt them a double blow. It has damaged their pristine images, because so many financial analyse and bankers are MBAs. It has also dented their market: Wall Street laid off 240,000 people in the 18 months from the middle of 2007.

The business-school boom depended largely on the idea that MBAs were entry tickets to the world’s two most lucrative professions: investment banking and consultancy. These trades not only consumed more than half the graduates of the leading schools. They also underwrote the schools’ finances: students were willing to pay US$100,000 in fees and living expenses (and forgo even more in income) because they were all but guaranteed jobs in these high-paying industries.

Criticism of MBAs extends beyond consultancies and banks. People in many industries worry that business-school professors are more concerned with pure theory than with practical management (promotion is usually earned by publishing articles in academic journals rather than by teaching, advising businesses or gaining managerial experience). The professors themselves complain that their students are spending ever more time looking for jobs and ever less time studying. These problems are already taking their toll on the two-year courses that once constituted the ideal of business education. Students are gravitating to one-year MBAs, which are offered by 70% of European business schools, and more specialised courses. Lower-ranked business schools are already finding it harder to fill their places. The elite worry that the trend will eventually catch up with them too.

Yet business schools have an important asset: they are remarkably flexible compared with the rest of academia. Even before the financial crisis they had begun to implement far-reaching changes. Both Stanford Business School and the Yale School of Management have changed their curricula radically in the past few years. Business schools are also moving to globalisation. INSEAD led the pack by opening a second campus in Singapore: all its students have a chance to study in Asia as well as Europe. Almost everybody has leapt on the bandwagon. Of course business schools must not lose sight of their primary function. We must remain faithful to academic rigour and excellent teaching. Yet at the same time we have to regain the entrepreneurial fervour of the past; the world expects more than good functional graduates. Recent times have underlined the need for managers capable of taking a fresh look at opportunities unafraid to forge new alliances and practices outside of the norm. Schools have also struggled to make their courses less theoretical. Yale has replaced conventional subject-based courses (marketing and so forth) with “integrated” courses based on “constituencies” (such as investors, customers and employees). The University of Michigan’s Ross Business School gives students a chance to work with, say, hospitals in India and energy companies in Mozambique. Most schools are trying to employ more people with practical experience.

The new generation of deans will undoubtedly preside over dramatic changes. We must play the role of an entrepreneur in its purest meaning. It is no longer enough that we concentrate on functional training. We must constantly scan for projects to which we can add value. Once found, we must take a more developmental, consulting role, helping the project’s different stakeholders—companies, public bodies, research centres and universities—to create and manage the organisation.

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