Why we should strengthen business schools

One question that has been raised frequently over the past ten years was whether business schools were exaggerating research at the expense of practical classroom experience. Which immediately brings us to another question: Are they usefully preparing graduates for careers in the broad field of knowledge ranging from a conventional MBA to majors in marketing, HR, leadership, etc.?

As early as 2005, Lisa Marks Dolin, who had completed her MBA at Harvard Business School in 1985 and became the dean of Capitol University, referenced a series of recent interviews at the time with dozens of local executives, and these managers also asked themselves many questions about the type of studies that business schools provide. She reported at that time that in these surveys and interviews many of the MBAs that were announced on those days made it clear that they had programs to train graduate students in great analytical skills and a lot of confidence, but that they lacked the insight, adaptability and the humility necessary to manage and lead well.

Why do we cite it as a very specific reference to the issue we are addressing today?

Because from her position, like other schools of that time, they were already asking themselves a number of questions that went to the heart of the matter about the nature that business schools should assume. But if we move to 2021, we continue to address these concerns on many fronts, such as onboarding executives as professors, sending students on consulting projects with local companies, and integrating courses across disciplines so students can better learn to solve problems. complex, multidimensional and situations that arise in real life.

Lisa Marks Dolin said there was another piece of the puzzle: how many business school teachers are trained, claiming that schools are being asked to produce postgraduates who can integrate, adapt, manage global diversity, work as a team and bring out the best in others, but these are not the skills that most PhD candidates must master as part of their training. They obtain their doctorates from research-oriented institutions. While there, they dive into finance, marketing, or operations management, and they learn everything that is known about the disciplines they choose, but it doesn’t necessarily take place in the company that have a market problem to solve and she wants to see to what extent her new graduate from a conventional MBA is in a position to make acceptable decisions and with some speed, because the market demands it.

Lisa Marks Dolin, also refers to the ultimate instance that confronts the candidate with a dissertation committee (the school’s teachers’ tribunal) that looks more like an adversary compared to the creative collaborations necessary for success with colleagues, clients. and providers in practice. And we find her point of view interesting, fully in force today, that business schools are to train future business leaders, so they must continue looking for ways to eliminate the false barriers between academia and the practice to which daily in organizations whereby schools really make sense of serving the community.

At the same time, it may be useful to review the training of business school faculty to ensure that it is consistent with the performance expectations that future postgraduates will face.

The relevance of the business school continues to be a problem judging by the opinions of highly authorized people who had already been warning of the necessary changes that had to be introduced, and this was also taking place well in advance of the 2020 pandemic.

There have been professionals of the stature of Mintzberg who, twenty years ago, questioned the usefulness of business schools if there was not a substantial shift in the type of training that they were supposed to give students.

This already carried this stamp of which today we echo on how to increase the relevance of these very important postgraduate educational institutions.

When Lisa Marks Dolin raised this dichotomy between reality and preparation, many doubts remained as to whether the required changes could be produced in the academic context of that moment.

Sources of concern centered on business school faculty, curricula, and research.

Faculty member Chuck Drobny and consultant at the University of Phoenix and American Intercontinental University stated that “if the institution places research-focused faculty or graduate students in front of students, and students lack the perspective gained from through experience, the result will do little to improve graduates’ management skills. “

Lisa Marks Dolan, on her side, already argued that much of the problem lay in the way in which teachers were trained.

It is evident that when we refer to relevance, this requires that the MBA-level trainer be a true academic-practitioner who has directed or been a key part of a global business and also has an academic qualification commensurate with the training responsibility.

That is why both the vision that fellow professors and business school managers had at that time and currently maintain is that there is an alternative way to achieve this objective in the search for relevance for postgraduate institutions, for which suggests that the development of quaternary training may include a more bidirectional movement of personnel, the construction of communication links and the creation of networks between the postgraduate academic institution and the companies, which are in the market knowing better than anyone what types of studies and specializations are required today, even more so if we are in the post-Covid-19 stage in which there has been an authentic paradigm shift in society in general. Therefore, in companies, educational institutions, consumers and especially families that want to make an economic effort so that their children have that specialized education that will open the doors to personal and professional growth for their children, all these actors require and demand that the change is a reality, in the same way that it is accelerated as is the social transformation to which we are being subjected as a consequence of technological innovation.

There are aspects that we must also consider, such as:

– Regarding study plans and research, it is not trivial to assert that teachers must learn and master the studies that the business community needs.

– This demand must be reflected in the curricular contents of the programs.

– Business schools must have the ability to gather and mobilize resources, specific knowledge of the most important industries and sectors of the country’s economy, but especially of the local economic reality in which these business schools operate, for that reason of being able to contribute adequately to greater capacity and professional training for companies demanding work and consequently, it is possible to enter what is known as the virtuous circle of wealth. Applied knowledge is an inescapable part of generating a region’s GDP.

– All the variables that come into play for an applied knowledge must be taken into account, not only the slogan of profit maximization, an issue that does not work by itself, if it is not in line with corporate social responsibility, contribution that the organization makes to the community, etc.

– Bear in mind that the research problem is not the research itself, but what is being investigated. Therefore, both schools, teachers and students should do less esoteric research on topics that will not make a difference, and focus on those that are leading digital transformation and technological innovation in general.

– To be relevant, schools have to think about how to address in classrooms (face-to-face or online) issues such as how to win real customers, how to deal with competition, then the courses will be closer to the real world.

– There are experts who point out as a very practical solution on the curriculum, a one-year on-the-job exposure for students after the first year of the MBA curriculum, as well as a mandatory association with industry projects.

– Also a solution to concerns about the irrelevance of many research could be to require that academic research go through a professional review process before publication.

Finally, if we see the challenge and offer suggestions, we must ask ourselves what are the barriers to useful change? There are undoubtedly substantial costs for both teachers and institutions in promoting both necessary and basic changes that cannot be delayed any longer. The business school that asks them does not have to have doubts about whether or not it is the right time to do it.

To this end, we must advise school management that delays in the search for this relevance for our sector are working against us and at great speed. We are witnessing substantial changes in society, as well as in curricula at all levels. This is a concern that is at the highest levels of the European Union and of each of the member states.

Antonio Alonso, president of the AEEN (Spanish Business School Association) and general secretary of EUPHE (European Union of Private Higher Education)