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Who Makes the Big Decisions at Business Schools?

November 2014

By Jessica Brown
Senior Manager, Knowledge Services
AACSB International

On the inaugural 2013–14 Business School Questionnaire (BSQ) Finances Module, AACSB asked participating schools for information on how their school was structured and what level of autonomy the b-school had in making decisions on different topics. The questionnaire offered three primary relationship types between the parent institution (if any) and the business school.

(A) Standard Academic Unit of Parent Institution: My business school is one academic unit among several others, all of which are part of a larger parent university (or other academic institution) from which we derive our degree-granting authority.

(B) Semi-/Mostly Autonomous Unit of Parent Institution: My business school is a semi- or mostly autonomous academic unit, but still derives degree-granting authority from a larger parent university (or other academic institution).

(C) Independent Institution: My business school is an independent academic institution with its own degree-granting authority, not attached to or dependent on any other academic institution.

In examining the questions for autonomy, only schools answering type (A) Academic Unit or (B) Semi-/Mostly Autonomous Unit are included, as any school answering (C) Independent would be expected to have fully autonomous decision-making..

The survey looked at autonomy on financial management, teaching loads, fundraising, development, and overhead with response options for decisions being made centrally from the parent institution, jointly with the parent institution, and independent of the parent institution. The highlighted lines in the table below show the most commonly reported autonomy level for that topic. In this case, the responses by schools that reported type A or B also commonly chose the same autonomy levels by topic, so you can see that the highest percentage for each item is the same. However, this is likely an artifact of the lower number of schools that reported as (B) Semi-/Mostly Autonomous and may change based on additional participation in the future. As would be expected, the semi-/mostly autonomous schools were far less likely to report decisions made centrally, but most topics have a good mix of joint and independent responses, showing that there is no one best way to design decision-making for all schools.




For four of the five categories, the highest percentage of schools of each type reported that decisions are made jointly, but, interestingly, teaching loads is the one area in which schools reported more often as independent. For this particular topic, there is a close race with the type (A) Standard Academic Unit schools, with only 1.3 percent difference between schools that reported determining teaching loads independently as compared to jointly.

Many factors go into determining the most effective decision-making process for a business school. For some schools, a cooperative joint effort with a parent institution helps them create the best learning environment for their students. For other schools, a more independent route with more authority to decide separately from an institution is a better for their mission and students’ needs. The decisions made at the b-school resonate throughout their administration, faculty, students, and stakeholders with important consequences on all sides. The topic of b-school structure, autonomy, and decision-making will likely remain of strong interest, especially in the current fast-paced and constantly evolving learning environment.

Notes

(C) Independent Institutions are not included in autonomy topic breakdown, as all items are independent and autonomous.
Schools that answered with “other” for autonomy level are excluded from this table.
Comparison group: 2013-14 BSQ Finances Module Participants, 346 schools
Data set: AACSB BSQ Finances Module, 2013-14