Strategic bilateral partnerships are nothing new to business schools. But with the demand for comprehensively global programs on the rise, some believe that bilateral cooperation may no longer be enough to maintain a school’s international reputation. As a result, many business schools are pursuing strength in greater numbers. After all, while one or two business schools may not have the resources to create a global curriculum, an alliance of several schools certainly can. The push for globalized management education has given rise to a new trend: globally distributed “super alliances.”
“No single institution, regardless of history and present position, may be omniscient about best business practices around the world,” says Julie Yu, associate professor of marketing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the People’s Republic of China. Yu is also the school’s program director for OneMBA, an executive degree program that partners CUHK and four other schools. “For this reason, a number of super alliances have blossomed in order to take advantage of different schools’ distinct strengths and knowledge about how business is conducted in their respective parts of the world.”
As members of super alliances, business schools choose to coordinate their services, not just to exchange students and faculty, but to create a single educational experience across their culturally diverse campuses. (The American Council of Education has termed such alliances “curricular joint ventures.”) Students who enroll in an alliance-based curriculum work through the program as part of a globally distributed cohort. They work as part of an international class, on a variety of international topics, in a variety of international settings. In some cases, they even earn a single degree made official by the seals of all participating schools.
Members of super alliances take advantage of all the new technologies that allow virtual classrooms and distance learning. They then add to that technology a determination to break down the cultural, governmental, and academic barriers that have impeded the creation of global degree programs in the past. As a result, they may be creating a new phase of management education that goes beyond the spirit of “co-opetition,” in which competing schools cooperate only so far as it benefits individual reputation. Rather, schools are joining forces to co-brand their programs, overcome cultural barriers, and associate their reputations with the success—or failure—of the group as a whole.
The Strength of Synergy
During the last four years, several super alliances have been launched. They offer programs in which students receive a single degree, multiple degrees, or special certificate upon completion. The primary motivation for schools to join such a collaborative effort is the ability to tap into a network of resources inarguably greater than their own, says David Ravenscraft, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ravenscraft is also the school’s director for the OneMBA program.
“The universities’ faculty are coming together to try and create an educational mechanism that transcends nationality. Our real objective is to create a common community of scholars, in which we have several universities, but one faculty.” —Jon Lane Smith, East Tennessee State University
“The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts,” Ravenscraft says. “It was an attractive prospect for each one of these schools to be part of the OneMBA coalition to create synergies. Like all business schools, we want to have a strong global presence. Not many schools, however, can claim that they are known around the world for business. The OneMBA alliance enhances our global reputation and allows us to co-brand our schools. Developing the alliance was a real challenge. But the world is so complex, we decided that the only way to truly gain global knowledge and reputation was to create a coalition.”
The most important element, says Ravenscraft, is to choose partners who can truly contribute on equal footing. Each school in OneMBA, for example, sought partners who had a bankable reputation in each major global region, so that the program could immediately take advantage of name recognition and reputation in each of the five regions represented. “We were interested in getting leading schools from each global region to become partners. We spoke with each of them about our general principles in designing this partnership, but we wanted the actual design to be a collaborative effort.” The final combination of the five schools, he says, is what allows OneMBA to fulfill one of its main directives: to be “globally relevant, yet regionally sensitive.”
New York University’s Stern School of Business has found that its participation in the TRIUM alliance—an academic program that involves NYU, HEC Paris, and the London School of Economics—has a twofold benefit. Not only can the three schools share costs, but they also can take advantage of their partners’ expertise and regional knowledge of their home countries, says Rosemary Mathewson, Stern’s associate dean of executive programs. Matthewson also oversees Stern’s participation in the TRIUM program.
TRIUM came about as the result of several bilateral partnerships that existed among its three participating schools, says Mathewson. The Stern School already had longstanding, but separate, relationships with LSE and HEC via faculty research projects. It was the need to reach an international market that started the conversation among all three institutions, she explains.
Globally distributed alliance-based programs such as TRIUM most often create culturally diverse teams so that students get the most from their experience. Students participating in this TRIUM team include (clockwise from upper left corner) Jeff Slevin, Tony Farwell, Mike Halpin, Hichem Driss, and Yuko Fukasaku.
“We recognized that we each brought something special to the party that was different from what the others had to offer. LSE, especially, makes the program unique. It’s a school of economics and social science, not a business school. It can frame the classic MBA curriculum with a broader view of global politics, economics, and social sciences, topics not traditionally included in an MBA but that are so critical to doing business in the world today,” says Mathewson. “In addition, we already had a level of comfort with each other.”
Andrew Walter, LSE’s academic director of TRIUM, agrees that LSE’s participation in an MBA program was something completely new for the school. But it was its inexperience with an MBA curriculum that made TRIUM so attractive.
“We’ve made a conscious strategy not to get into the MBA business ourselves, but we strongly believed that there was a significant market out there for an MBA that took social sciences into account,” Walter notes. “TRIUM offered a new kind of MBA to which we could contribute without taking on the whole burden of doing an MBA of our own. We could contribute to it in a way that built on our school’s strength.”
One of the initial challenges in creating a single curriculum as the product of multiple partners is getting faculty to work together. It doesn’t take long, however, for faculty to embrace the process of pulling together a curriculum that avoids repetition and works for all participants.
“Getting professors from five different schools around the world to work together is not easy,” says Ravenscraft of the Kenan-Flagler Business School. “But it’s absolutely critical for them to meet face-to-face. For example, our finance group met in Chicago a few weeks ago and designed a course together in a day and a half. We consider arranging such regularly scheduled meetings as pretty sacred to the success of the program.”
In fact, the collaboration inspired by alliances can go a long way toward inspiring a spirit of compromise, says Jon Lane Smith, associate professor of economics, finance, and urban studies and program director of the TransAtlantic Business School Alliance (TABSA) at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. While the initial goal of schools in an alliance may be to broaden their own global reach, there is a significant beneficial side effect for all involved.
“Businesspeople today need to leverage a larger set of diverse knowledge about different cultures, business contexts, and political environments than they’ve ever had to in the past. It’s difficult for any one or two schools to offer that range of knowledge.” —Andrew Walter, London School of Economics
“The universities’ faculty are coming together to try and create an educational mechanism that transcends nationality,” he says. “Our real objective is to create a common community of scholars, in which we have several universities, but one faculty. One of my German colleagues has coined the phrase ‘integrated diversity.’ That means that we are partners seeking not to imprint another institution with our concepts of postsecondary education, but to integrate the best parts of all the systems into a common learning pool.”
Although organizing the scheduling and travel involved for faculty collaboration is difficult, many who have developed super alliances say that external influences can be even greater obstacles to the project. Before a single course was even planned, they had to overcome seemingly endless governmental regulations and local administrative apprehension about tackling such an overwhelming project.
“Often, university administrators concentrate on the local complexities of these alliances, and so they tend to be the most difficult to convince,” says Smith of ETSU. “In addition, state-mandated curricula in the U.S. are difficult to deal with. For instance, a European student may have been taking English classes for years. But if the state mandates that the student has to have an English course with a writing component, there’s no way we can change that.”
All governments have their idiosyncrasies that faculty and students in alliance-based curricula simply must accommodate, agrees Catherine-Ann Blackburn, coordinator of CaMexUS for the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi in Canada. For instance, she notes that the Mexican government requires students to produce proof of completion for kindergarten through their university years. Tracking down those documents can be an ordeal, especially for students who have lived in different locations in their lifetimes.
In addition, some schools in Mexico require undergraduates to perform as many as 480 community service hours as part of their degree programs. “It is a great deal of work for students to be able to perform those hours around their courses and internships, while they’re still learning the language,” Blackburn says.
TRIUM schools also jumped major hurdles to produce a single-degree program. For example, TRIUM students must abide by the rules and regulations of each host country for the degree to be recognized. “The British government requires external examiners for examinations. The HEC is part of the Chambre Commerce, which has its own regulations. And then there are all the legal difficulties that we Americans add to the mix with our litigious culture—you have the French and English rolling their eyes at that!” says Mathewson.
These schools, however, found it worthwhile to work through faculty differences and governmental demands to make the alliance happen, Mathewson adds. “Each of us had to find a resolution, and everyone was willing to accommodate and compromise. Because we shared the same goals, we just did what we needed to do.”
Shared Vision, Shared Costs
Although the effort and collaboration that go into creating a super alliance are substantial, the costs are often not prohibitive because the schools take advantage of resources already in place. To cover common costs such as those for marketing, most alliances contribute to a joint fund; then, individual schools take responsibility for costs that are unique to their campuses, such as faculty salaries, technology, or alliance-specific events.
“We have a common fund for global costs, while regional costs are paid by the school in the home region,” explains Ravenscraft. “The co-branding, the technology, and global residencies are common costs. Students pay for their own travel to each location.”
The goal for the seven TABSA schools is to allow students to attend any school in the alliance using the tuition they pay to their home schools. This arrangement works well for the four European schools receiving U.S. students, but has posed a problem for the three U.S. schools receiving European students, says Smith of ETSU.
“We are still in the process of building our exchanges,” says Smith. “At this point, the flow of students has been slightly out of balance, with more European students traveling to the United States than vice versa. The primary reason for that is that the language barrier is more pronounced for American students traveling to Europe. At this time, we are having our foreign students pay in-state tuition, but when we have a balance, we’ll eliminate that requirement.”
While students in the TRIUM program pay for their own transportation to the host school, the three participating schools cover the cost of housing, transportation, activities, and course materials once students arrive. Even though currency exchange rates may be different in the U.S., Britain, and France, the schools do not take that into account when paying their regional costs. At the same time, the three schools contribute equally to an alliance-based budget to pay for the costs of marketing and program development.
“It would have been more difficult to arrange TRIUM if the partners had tried to compete with each other,” says Bertrand Moingeon, head of executive programs at HEC-Paris, as well as the school’s academic director for TRIUM. “One rule of the game, for instance, is that we don’t track how students enter the program—we don’t track them to any one business school. After all, with a global program, the participant may read about it in his local newspaper, then call someone at HEC for information, then eventually send the application to Stern. We consider all participants to be TRIUM students. It is a very good way to handle the alliance.”
Sharing the costs of development, implementation, and marketing equally is simply all part of contributing to a single program, agrees Mathewson of NYU’s Stern School. “We have a single budget for TRIUM and all three schools contribute. And, I’m happy to say, all three schools are profiting. We had a larger inaugural class size than we had expected, so we were actually in the black in our first year of operation.”
Finally, sharing costs also can help all participating schools weather an economic downturn. For instance, the Monterrey Tech Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (ITESM) in Mexico takes part in two super alliances: OneMBA and the Global e-Management Alliance (GeM). Monterrey Tech has seen its student enrollment in GeM decline from its first to its second cohort—from 16 students down to eight, due to the decline in the technology sector and the struggling global economy. Even so, the collaboration with the other member schools and the cost of participation in the GeM program is really an investment in the school’s own future, says Sandra Gonzalez, GeM’s program director at ITESM.
“The attractiveness of GeM, for us, is really not the cost of the program but the great opportunities for globalization,” says Gonzalez. “It’s an opportunity to bring a real international experience to the students and establish tight links between the universities. Those links are the seeds for bigger and better things to come.”
The Global Classroom
Although schools that participate in large, globally distributed alliances admit that the effort involved is substantial, most believe that the resulting educational experiences represent a next step for management education. In an era when business schools are expected to offer an international education, super alliances allow students access to several countries and campuses in a single educational experience. It’s an experience that would be hard for an individual school to replicate, says Walter of LSE and TRIUM.
“Businesspeople today need to leverage a larger set of diverse knowledge about different cultures, business contexts, and political environments than they’ve ever had to in the past. It’s difficult for any one or two schools to offer that range of knowledge,” he says.
Mathewson of the Stern School agrees. “It’s a huge cliché now, but the world has become a global community. Executives and academics must take into account political risk assessment and the cultural norms of other countries,” she says. “Several fine business schools have chosen to go it alone with their international programs, putting up facilities in remote locations. I salute them. But we felt strongly that the only way to become truly global was not to be Americans running around the world, but to have local partners who are European, British, Asian, or South American.”
In the end, however, the real benefit is the creation of relationships. When people have more opportunities to interact with individuals from different cultures—whether they are faculty settling their curricular differences or students collaborating on a project—their perspectives change for the better, says Smith of ETSU. “When students emerge from this experience, they are transformed. They see the world differently,” says Smith. “They come away with a vision of the world as a place of connection, of interrelationships. They come away without the vestiges of xenophobia that many of us who were born in the late 1940s grew up with.”
The very nature of super alliances may well be building the foundation for a new form of management education. As culturally diverse schools work to combine their strengths, they will create a climate of globalization that is more seamlessly integrated into their curricula than ever before. In the end, today’s super alliances are out to prove that the cultural, academic, and ideological differences among institutions may become the basis for, not a barrier to, a global business education.