“The general direction in which business schools need to move is clear.” You can find that line at the top of page 128 in Gordon and Howell’s Higher Education for Business, the influential Ford Foundation report that put business schools on their current trajectory. That was in 1959.
Now the environment of business and higher education is more uncertain and turbulent, and the direction in which business schools must move is far from clear. Accordingly, AACSB International has prioritized looking forward. A special committee is concluding a comprehensive multi-year effort to envision the future of business schools, which began with the question, “How is the role of management in society changing?” The full results will be released at AACSB’s ICAM 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. But today in Miami, Florida, more than 600 deans from 55 countries received a preview of the five most important roles for business schools in an evolving society.
The opportunities arose through the inputs of AACSB’s membership network and other stakeholders in the management education ecosystem. Throughout the development process, AACSB played the roles of convener, curator, and synthesizer. The conversations have been broad-reaching and deeply engaging, involving thousands of educators, students, and practitioners contributing online and off. The content of the vision, as well as the process through which it was created, reveals much about why it is important for AACSB to take a lead role.
First, the visioning process was designed to illuminate the future and help individual business schools navigate the changing environment. No longer is there a uniform “general direction” for business schools as there was in 1959. The AACSB approach puts the focus on the mission and purpose of each business school, and appreciates the context in which it operates. Not every school is expected to pursue all roles (at all or with the same prioritization). And the concepts are intentionally abstract; enough so as to encourage each school to define and achieve any one role in the way that best fits its own aspirations.
Second, the vision also reflects the most important opportunities for shaping external perceptions about the roles of business schools within society. Through its Visioning Initiative, AACSB has positioned itself to play a critical role in transforming the way the world thinks about business schools. Largely associated with private wealth creation and advancing the careers and salaries of graduates, business schools will become known more for their impact across the public, private, and civil sectors and for enabling global prosperity. Instead of evoking a corporate mindset, business schools will be known for catalyzing innovation and new business creation.
Finally, the visioning initiative was designed to help AACSB learn how it can better serve business schools, business education, and society. To pursue the opportunities, it is clear that business schools will need to be more innovative, so AACSB will build and leverage its global network and services to accelerate innovation. Business schools will need to connect more deeply with practice and with other disciplines, so AACSB will foster more engagement through a variety of channels. Metrics will continue to shift from inputs to outcomes, so AACSB will create platforms to amplify the impacts that business schools have. By leading the way in defining the opportunities, AACSB can better position and organize itself to help schools pursue them.
In short, by envisioning the future of business education, AACSB wants to take a more proactive role in shaping it. The aim is nothing less than to transform business education for global prosperity.
After a bonus session on AACSB's Visioning Initiative at the 2016 Deans Conference, attendees view graphical recordings from the board meeting that took place earlier this year.