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Debating and Developing Curricula

October 2013

By Patrick Cullen: Associate Vice President and Scholar in Residence, AACSB International

"It is hard to think of any aspect of management education that is more important than the curriculum."1

Most, perhaps all, of us who are involved in management education would agree with this observation. As we might expect with such a broad ranging concept as curriculum, there are many reasons to support arguments for its importance in management education—two of which have attracted intense discussion in recent years. On the one hand, a curriculum represents the body of knowledge, skills, and, increasingly, values a school believes are important for its students to understand and apply. On the other hand, a school's approach to curricular innovation provides an opportunity for differentiation in an intensely competitive market for students. AACSB International pays close attention to debates about curriculum, and, as outlined below, is committed to helping its members though a growing curriculum development seminar program.

Debates about curriculum content and design have been at the center of management education throughout its history. As the earliest university business degrees emerged during the late nineteenth century, disputes often centered on the extent to which economics and statistics should be infused into curricula.2 With business degree programs expanding after World War II, the broad adoption of curricular recommendations provided by the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation reports of 1959 recast management education.3 The curricular focus shifted to produce students with "a high level of analytical ability" as well as "a sophisticated command of analytical and research tools derived from the fundamental disciplines."4 However, during the 1980s concerns grew that the curriculum at many schools had moved too far towards the techniques and practices of economics and mathematics. AACSB's 1988 report on the state of management education expressed concern that business school curricula over-emphasized analytics and problem solving to the neglect of problem finding and integration across functions.5

Since the publication of AACSB's Porter and McKibbin report in 1988, the intensity of debates about curriculum content and design has escalated and the substantive areas of concern have also grown. Recent research shows a level of agreement on the type of curricular changes that would benefit the full range of management education's constituents. In broad terms, this involves a rebalancing of business degree curricula such that greater emphasis is placed on developing the skills and judgment that improve interpersonal relationships, ethical decision making, and the ability to convert knowledge into action, while still building analytical and technical capabilities.6 In more specific terms, the following areas of the curriculum are in need of increased attention. In each case, AACSB offers seminars to help business schools with curriculum content, pedagogy, and design.

• Developing leadership skills, including greater understanding of the responsibilities of leadership, and recognizing the impact of one's actions and behaviors on others.

• The ability to think creatively and innovatively. (CDS: Design Thinking for Creativity and Innovation)

• Understanding organizational realities and the challenges of implementation. (CDS: Experiential Learning)

• Developing a global perspective and understanding the implications of economic, institutional, and cultural differences across countries. (CDS: Global Management Capabilities)

• The ability to thinking critically, decision making, and communicate effectively. (CDS: Critical Thinking and CDS: Communication Skills).


1. Rynes, S. and J. Bartunek, "Curriculum Matters: Toward a More Holistic Graduate Management Education." In Holtom, B. and E. Dierdorff (eds.) Disrupt or Be Disrupted: A blueprint for change in management education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

2. Sass, S., The Pragmatic Imagination: A History of the Wharton School 1881-1981. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

3. Khurana, R. From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

4. Gordon, R. and J. Howell, Higher Education for Business. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. p. 100.

5. Porter, L. and L. McKibbin, Management Education and Development: Drift or Thrust into the 21st Century? New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.

6. Datar, S., D. Garvin, and P. Cullen, Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Mintzberg, H. Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004.