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Distance Matters in Management Education

July 2013

By Dan LeClair, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, AACSB International

My first academic encounter with "distance" happened when I was told to teach two sections of urban economics, a subject for which I had no formal graduate education. Sensing my fear, a senior faculty member told me not to worry, saying that "it's just like regular economics except with space or distance as a slight complication." He was partially right.

I later learned that distance also is conceptualized more broadly as economic, cultural, regulatory, and political differences, among others, that increase the "thickness" of borders between countries. And, according to top scholars attending this year's Annual Meeting of the Academy of International Business in Istanbul, no matter how you look at it, distance still matters very much in business. I was invited to comment on the implications for high-quality management education at this meeting, and these notes reflect some of the basic points from my brief commentary across two sessions.

Curriculum

I dutifully began by discussing curricula, reflecting on the work of the AACSB Globalization of Management Education Task Force which released its report in 2010. The task force argued forcefully that curricula should be (but, more often than not, isn't) the main emphasis for business schools that are trying to globalize. From their 2011 report, "even schools that are currently leading the way still have numerous opportunities to make globalization of their curricula more deliberate, less fragmented, and better aligned with the intended student population and program objectives." To guide content development, Pankaj Ghemawat presented a framework for organizing content that helps students think more generally and systematically about cross-border differences, as well as how to act on those differences. Six broad categories of environmental/contextual differences emerged from the task force study of thought leaders: cultural, legal/regulatory, political, economic, financial, and "other."

The task force report also addressed curriculum strategies. Regarding a stand-alone globalization-related course (often referred to as "insertion"), Ghemawat argues it is a "recipe for isolation." About integrating global content across the curriculum ("infusion"), he writes that it can "potentially result in invisibility." To address these limitations, Ghemawat and the task force propose a third model, interlock, in which a globalization course provides a cross-functional platform for talking about globalization throughout the curriculum.

Research

Turning to knowledge creation, we need more cross-border research that advances our theoretical understanding of the differences that exist across countries. But the practice of management is, and will always be, context specific—again, differences across borders matter, and always will support the need for more applied scholarship that adds to our global knowledge while improving local practice.

Some of my thinking was informed by a recent trip to Tunisia, where I participated in the annual meeting of the Global Business School Network (GBSN), whose mission is to build management education capacity in developing countries. I took three major points from the trip. My first takeaway was that in many developing countries, there is a much stronger desire for business schools to focus not only on producing employable graduates, but also graduates that create jobs. Second, there is an important need for business schools (and their faculties in particular) to engage in helping to create ecosystems that foster more innovation. There was a strong sense that education and research ought to have impact locally.

My final takeaway was that we tend to think the best way to increase and improve management education capacity in the developing world is by transferring knowledge from developed world business schools. Instead, we should be building capacity by creating new knowledge that is locally relevant. This is particularly important because we need to think creatively about developing research capacity in places that are not yet equipped to develop and deliver traditional models of doctoral education and create scholarly research cultures. Indeed, the main reason why I attended the GBSN meeting was to discuss a bold GBSN initiative to take the lead in developing a collaborative doctoral program serving African business schools. Meanwhile, AACSB is exploring ways in which its Bridge Program can help experienced executives transition into roles as business school faculty members, which can be adapted to serve emerging economies.

Tying curriculum management and knowledge creation together, we need more cohesive globalization strategies in business schools that involve stronger coordination across the school's functions. For example, aggressive international student recruitment strategies should be met with matching academic and student life support, as well as pedagogies that leverage diversity more effectively and career services that help mobile students to land jobs.

Mission and Purpose

The 2013 AACSB Accreditation Standards not only reaffirm, but also deepen, the emphasis on a school's mission. Now, the first standard looks beyond the mission "statement" into vision and strategy, and is designed to reveal more about what makes a school distinctive, rather than what makes it like other schools. These distinctions establish a more relevant context which will be carried throughout the remaining 14 standards.

The desire to focus more on mission came up early in the work of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality. Interestingly, it was seen as the only way to take the next step in globalizing accreditation. It was said that the 2003 standards globalized by stripping away U.S. centricity so that they can be applied anywhere, risking becoming less relevant to schools in any country. In 2013, the real objective is for the standards to be applied more readily in context and be of maximum relevance to schools in each country.

That is, distance—in all of its dimensions—matters deeply in AACSB Accreditation. By acknowledging its impacts on a range of activities, business schools are enabled and encouraged to develop a stronger sense of purpose defined and inspired by their location.


Dan LeClair
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, AACSB International

Follow Dan LeClair on Twitter @AACSBdan