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Creating Community: Academic and Professional Engagement Well Underway in Asia

June, 2013

By Eileen Peacock, Senior Vice President and Chief Officer, Asia AACSB International

On April 8, 2013 the AACSB Accreditation Council set forth a new set of Eligibility Criteria and Standards developed on the basis of three important themes: innovation, impact, and engagement. During my four years in Asia, I have discovered that the schools in this region take great care in expecting their students and faculty to be engaged with the business community by way of internships, final-year theses at both the undergraduate and graduate level, active engagement in social responsibility work, and consultant projects with corporations,” to name a few.

It comes as no surprise to me that the 2013 standards were unanimously passed by the AASCB membership, as great work has already been (and continues to be done) to support the innovation, impact, and engagement of business schools. Schools in Asia will find the theme of engagement in the 2013 standards to already be conducive to their modus operandi, and in an effort to explore this, we have contacted a number of schools across the region to listen to how they already have plenty "to write home about" in this context.

We followed the framework in the preamble to the standards by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality as it relates to the interaction of academic study and professional engagement within a business school, and how they can interact. Areas of activity that further help schools connect theory and practice include: (a) the teaching and learning activities fostered by degree program curricula that highlight the importance of student engagement and experiential learning; (b) executive education activities; and (c) the initial preparation, development, and ongoing engagement activities of faculty.

Push from the Business Community
Despite the fact that Asia has the largest number of business schools of any other geographical region in the world, the number of AACSB-accredited schools still has a long way to go. This may be why some schools, having achieved accreditation and its external validation of high quality, experience a higher degree of expectation for engagement from their local community than other, non-AACSB accredited schools.

At Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) the Ministry of Higher Education wanted to gauge the performance and relevancy of business schools in the country, and UPM was one of two schools selected to lead the way for other schools in the country. "The need to provide full autonomy to the schools was identified as a key strategy toward this end for which UPM has taken the lead role by providing Putra Business School full autonomy," says Arfah Salleh, professor of human governance, president and CEO, Putra Business School, Universiti Putra Malaysia. "More than two years ago our school's focus was too much into the academic side." By becoming autonomous, Putra Business School could then engage speakers and hire faculty and staff from industry, and make changes to its curricula that include locally-developed cases most relevant to its students.

Mission Centric
At Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, TA Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), and UPM Putra Business School, the community's push for engagement, and the school's commitment to provide such engagement, demonstrates a fundamental part of the school's activities. As such, it has a prominent place in their mission statements. For example, at Sasin the engagement focus is already deeply embedded in the school's mission (emphasis added):

"To provide graduate management study and opportunities for lifelong learning of the highest order of excellence, emphasizing knowledge creation and the practice of management, with an Asian perspective."

Expanding Experiential Learning
According to Dr. Ian Fenwick, advisor and marketing professor at Sasin, "Developing student engagement and expanding experiential learning have always been key to our activities in the classroom. Elective courses tend to include hands-on team projects, which require students to actively engage with the business community and applied management issues." Students are required to take at least one experiential learning course as part of their curriculum requirement, and last year Sasin introduced a required course in sustainability to the core curriculum. The course, which spans four modules (all other required courses at Sasin are delivered in single, five-week modules) was developed with a major focus on experiential learning. "Half of the course is spent with students in direct engagement with our private and social sector partners; either providing sustainability focused solutions to meet partners' needs, or conducting field research to create case studies and analyses suitable for discussion in class," says Fenwick.

At TAPMI in India, the curriculum is also highly experiential. "Almost 75 percent of the curriculum is experiential," says the school's director, RC Natarajan. Examples include an eight-week internship after the first year for PGDM students, as well as an opportunity to write a research paper in collaboration with a faculty member at the end of their second term. TAMPI also uses simulation games and case discussions in most of its courses.

In addition, Hanyang University Business School (HUBS) emphasizes the importance of experiential learning and has developed various programs to support this focus. Examples include a "capstone" course where students learn from faculty members' joint teaching and supervising, which offers a multi-disciplinary basis for learning. HUBS has also recently developed a "Global Intensive Course" (GIC) program, where students go to a partner university for an intensive short course, as well as visit companies in foreign countries, with the goal of developing global perspectives and providing experiential learning in a foreign, professional setting.

Recognition of Executive Education
For Sasin, executive education is already a top priority. As Fenwick puts it, "Executive education is the stone on which we hone our practical skills, and (mixing metaphors) the weather vane that alerts us to emerging issues and concerns."

For others, TAPMI and UPM, the new standard on executive education will draw out an already burgeoning emphasis at the school. At TAPMI for example, "It will bring in over the next couple of years a clear focus of executive education not so much with an intention of financial bottom line but with an eye on producing materials for knowledge augmentation," says Director Natarajan. UPM also plans to do more executive education because it provides a more integral role in impacting the community.

A Practical Approach to Faculty Research and Development
The schools we spoke with received the new Standard 15, Faculty Qualifications and Engagement, quite favorably. According to Fenwick, "I think the new categories, and the greater flexibility they provide, are long overdue. AACSB faces the challenge of providing sufficient flexibility to encompass the varying demands of a global array of business programs, while simultaneously ensuring their uniform high quality. The effective division of academically qualified (AQ) into scholarly practitioners (SP) and practitioner academics (PA) should deal rather well with the 'faculty life-cycle effect.' Which Fenwick defines further: "Typically, faculty with doctorates start out with a heavy emphasis on scholarly research; often mining their PhD thesis, and issues arising from it, to produce a rich return of peer-reviewed journal articles. Later, faculty tend to become increasingly involved with the business community, perhaps as consultants or executive educators. Their research and writings become more focused on the practice of management and in many cases, less appealing to peer-reviewed journals."

Fenwick also admits that this summary can be applied to his own career. "In the past, we had no choice but to lapse such faculty from AQ to PQ: a somewhat disheartening process for many people. Now, they are able to effectively move from SA to PA, an important aspect in that it encourages practice-oriented faculty to continue to develop, and document the insight gained from their practice of management. A similar argument can be made, I think, for the new SP and IP (Instructional Practitioners) categories."

In the case of TAMPI, as Director Natarajan states, "With AQ/PQ classification, our focus on research for PQ was both limited and confused." Under the new engagement standards the path ahead for faculty research is much more practical and appropriate at TAMPI. Looking ahead, Natarajan points out that scholarly academics can consciously move from the academic research of their doctoral work toward applied research with the goal of eventually developing cases and technical notes built around specific concepts/models to augment teaching efforts. Instructional practitioners can help the case writing efforts in collaboration with students, as well as be encouraged to collaborate with practitioner academics for the generation of teaching materials. Between the SA and PA, differentiating goals for research impact can be implemented. For the SA, improvement of their impact factor through better quality journals with greater citation indexes in the field of management education, will be expected. Conversely, the PA will be encouraged to engage in consultancy, as well as writing cases and technical notes to bring out knowledge from practice.

"The new standards are very consistent with our strategic planning. We have already begun to seek a balance between academics and industry practitioners in our hiring practices," says Dean Salleh of UPM. But, she admits that the process doesn't happen overnight. Speaking for the case of Malaysia, Dean Salleh notes that the new paradigm helps to "break the divide between SA and PA" and "pave the way for scholarly academics to open up and learn from practitioner academics."

For other schools with a scholarly research-orientation, like HUBS, the new definitions for faculty may not have as great an impact. However, "the broadening of faculty definitions can be helpful for teaching-focused and practice-focused business schools," says Renee Kim, HUBS associate vice president of international cooperation. "We welcome such changes because they can provide more flexibility for business schools in faculty composition to differentiate their business educations."

Validation
After earning AACSB Accreditation in 2013, UPM was not worried about the new standards they would have to adhere to in the next visit cycle. "When we saw the new standards, we thought ... Wow! They are endorsing what we are doing!" says Dean Salleh.

Fenwick also agrees that "AACSB's new focus provides a very welcome validation of Sasin's existing focus, and will reinforce our continuation of that focus into the future."

More traditionally aligned schools also see the need for the new changes. "We have spoken to various other Asian business schools at the Asian chapters of AACSB meetings and found that many are already transforming to more engaging academic programs, thus the new AACSB standards may effectively facilitate Asian schools to change their goals and practices to improve their engagement level," says Kim.


Eileen Peacock
Senior Vice President and Chief Officer, Asia
AACSB International