By John Fernandes
It's Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. EST, October 14th. Sports fans in the United States are settling in, watching "Football Night in America"—a tradition that celebrates preparation, strategy, and competition. Cheers undoubtedly erupt from stadiums celebrating touchdowns, while I am on the other side of the world in Kuala Lumpur, at a press conference commemorating the first school in Malaysia to earn AACSB Accreditation. Despite the lack of screaming fans, the same celebratory mood, and an enthusiastic sense of accomplishment abounded. A new tradition had begun.
One of the grand pleasures of my job is having the opportunity to welcome a newly accredited school into the AACSB family. It is an even greater honor when it is the first AACSB-accredited school in the country. Through diligent preparation, thoughtful strategy, and with an eye on innovation for a competitive future, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) became the first school in Malaysia and seventh in South Asia to earn AACSB Accreditation. I offer hearty congratulations to UPM and welcome them to the AACSB global network of accredited schools. I look forward to watching as UPM helps other schools in Malaysia in the accreditation process.
UPM had a surprise for the filled-to-capacity press conference where its accreditation was announced, and it was a big one. The Universiti Putra Malaysia Graduate School of Management has been granted authority to go private, and is now known as Putra Business School (PBS) governed by a private foundation. Its dean, Arfah Salleh, is PBS' president and CEO. Dr. Salleh and the PBS board will have complete autonomy from the public university governance structure and be free to compete, set prices, and launch programs and other initiatives as it sees fit.
There have been other successful (and unsuccessful) attempts by business schools to "go private." The University of Virginia's Darden School and University of Michigan Ross School of Business in the U.S. have taken the plunge to private funding, and Minnesota Carlson is evaluating a privatization strategy. Yet, UCLA Anderson's effort to shed public funding and gain more autonomy has stalled.
"Going private" is akin to the old adage, "going it alone." It has its pluses and minuses. In the right situation, privatizing the business school can clarify brand and facilitate quick, market-responsive actions, thereby enabling the school's competitiveness. While not for every school or student, for that matter, it is certainly an alternative that, particularly graduate business schools, may see as a potential infusion to their competitive position and financial stability.
Business schools would be well-advised to consider their position in an increasingly global student and placement market. What makes the school unique or at least distinct? What does it do well within its global peer group? While the answers will vary, it is important that each school tells its own story clearly and convincingly. AACSB's global business school data base includes well over 700 schools enabling benchmarking from Massachusetts to Malaysia. Take advantage of it and mind the mission. It could make a world of difference! Oh, and public business schools should see whether the private funding model makes sense in their environment. It is not for everybody, yet it just might work for some.