Daily Archives: 06/15/2011

Business Schools are going Global!

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Some business schools have built campuses on the other side of the world. INSEAD, a French school, has led the way. In 2000 it opened a lavish campus in Singapore with its own full-time faculty. Students can start their MBAs either in Singapore or in France and switch between the two countries. About 35-40% of students are “switchers” (who start their degrees in one campus and finish in another). Roughly as many are “swingers” (who spend at least some time abroad). Other big schools such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the University of Chicago’s Booth School have established campuses abroad for their executive-MBA programmes.

Schools that lack the cash or inclination to set up a campus abroad have other options. Many are hooking up with foreign partners with the randy enthusiasm of students on spring break. The China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, for example, co-operates with Harvard Business School and Wharton to teach executive MBAs. Schools are also introducing “global experience requirements”. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business requires all first-year MBA students to spend seven weeks working abroad.

The world’s best schools are globalising their intake, too. In 2008 some 34% of the students on America’s leading 55 MBA programmes (as ranked by the Financial Times) were foreign, as were 85% of those on the top 55 courses in European countries (the figures for foreign faculty members were 26% for America and 46% for Europe). Lesser institutions are also internationalising. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics calculates that in 2007 almost a quarter of students who studied abroad studied business—far more than any other subject.

At the same time, emerging economies are building business schools at a furious pace. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business counts over 13,000 schools that offer business degrees in the world. China and India have 2,700 between them, almost all of them founded since 1990. In 1997 universities set up only 74 new business courses; in 2007 they set up 641. The best emerging-market schools are determined to go global (or at least regional) in their own right: CEIBS has increased the proportion of its students who are foreign from 10% in 2002 to 40% in 2009 and is hoping to create an Ivy League for the East.

The sudden globalisation of business education has drawbacks. The most obvious is quality control: the market is infested with snake-oil salesmen, and they are harder to spot from half a world away. Globalisation is also pushing up the already exorbitant cost of business education. It is expensive to send students abroad, conduct international research and compete for the best academics in a borderless labour market. Worst of all, globalisation means that management jargon, from “360-degree thinking” to “strategic staircases”, spreads across borders like bird flu.

Business schools boast that mixing with people from different countries forces their students to broaden their horizons and question their assumptions. They exaggerate. Diversity of accent and skin colour do not necessarily mean diversity of worldview. Wherever they come from, global MBA students tend to be polyglot cosmopolitans. Mingling with other cosmopolitans on multiple continents may fool them into thinking that the world consists largely of people like themselves. It does not.

Will this ultimately lead to reduced quality in exchange for more business for the Major Business School and their drive towards globalization!

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