To the Ends of the Earth

AACSB’s new board chair is passionate about expanding quality management education across the globe—to both developed and developing nations.
To the Ends of the Earth

Whether or not you agree with Thomas Friedman that the world is flat, it’s certainly interdependent. It’s also changing, as emerging nations become a bigger part of global commerce. AACSB International has long been focused on promoting quality management education around the world, and I expect this commitment to globalization to be my key priority during my time as the association’s new board chair.

During the following year, AACSB will engage in many activities that build on and intensify its long history of global outreach. For instance, AACSB has recently held or plans to hold conferences, seminars, and other major events in locations around the world, including Barcelona, Paris, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Dubai, and Sydney. In June, the association opened its regional headquarters in Asia with an office in Singapore. But even more efforts at internationalization are on their way, and they will shape the association for years to come.

Outreach and Expansion

AACSB is currently gathering information that will help it expand its membership and knowledge base. The association has launched a European version of the Business School Questionnaire, and the European Affinity Group will help the association add more questions over the years to keep the questionnaire relevant.

While AACSB’s reach extends around the world, there are also significant areas where it is conspicuously absent—Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

In addition, AACSB’s board has just approved a proposal to establish a series of advisory task forces to address regional issues. In the first phase, the board will create a task force that will recommend ways the association can enhance support to schools in Europe. If this is successful, the board plans to create advisory task forces for other regions over the next several years.

Other task forces will be doing work that I consider even more critical. A task force is examining the role of business schools in supporting innovation. Another is charged with studying the globalization of business education and assisting business school leaders with information about best practices in the internationalization of business education.

Meanwhile, the Special Committee on Global Accreditation Strategy has the broad charge of considering accreditation strategy around the world—including in developing nations. I believe that, in the future, AACSB will need to focus heavily on these emerging regions as it continues to promote high-quality management education.

A New World Map

It’s instructive to note the membership trends from the past 20 years. In 1988, less than 10 percent of the association’s members were based outside of the U.S. Today, that number is 40 percent; in four years, it’s probable that half of all AACSB members will be from outside the U.S. In the last year, AACSB added 54 new educational members—85 percent of them from outside the U.S.

While AACSB’s reach extends around the world, there are also significant areas where it is conspicuously absent. So far, nearly all of AACSB’s accredited schools are in wealthy Westernized countries. We need to find ways to increase the association’s reach in underserved areas—Asia, parts of Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa. These countries pose unique challenges, in that they lack educational materials that can make management education relevant to their regions. They also lack the resources and the emphasis on research that will help them produce enough professors to teach management.

The opening of our regional headquarters in Asia was critically important, not just because of the access it will give us to a vital and growing part of the world, but because of its symbolism. AACSB has to be part of this diverse region of the world as a thought leader, a quality assurance mechanism, and a provider of accreditation. Yet we know that the standards we apply to business schools in Western countries may not accurately measure the quality of schools in emerging economies, or adequately address the specific challenges they face. We have to find a way of improving quality in these business schools while leveraging their strengths and cultural differences.

In 2008, GFME produced a report on the “Global Management Education Landscape,” which very much reflects my views about how we must proceed. As that report points out, “Globalization means that business and management must be understood in the context of local history, politics, and culture. Therefore, management education should not be ‘culture free,’ but ‘culture full.’”

Yes, we need to expand high-quality management education into developing parts of the world, but we do not need to impose an American- or European-style MBA on Asia and Africa. We need to assist schools in those countries to create cases, textbooks, and other data with regional relevance—with a goal of educating managers so they are equipped to understand the problems and opportunities they will be dealing with in their own nations. We need to find ways to assure quality of education while still honoring cultural and regional diversity.


Many Models

The fact is, there isn’t—and there shouldn’t be—just one model for business education. There are a series of models, and those will become more evident as AACSB’s membership expands. In fact, all schools can be differentiated on three measures—institutional differences, which come down to national contexts; competitive differences, which are defined by markets; and differences in social capital, which reflect a school’s national and international reputation.

For instance, in many ways European schools are distinctive. In 2007, Don Antunes and I published “The Competitive (Dis)Advantages of European Business Schools,” in which we explore how European business schools tend to stress diversity, celebrate cultural differences, and rely heavily on international and corporate connections. They also favor flexibility and innovation; they were among the first to adopt distance learning technology, as well as one-year degree programs. While the influence of the Bologna Accord and international accreditation standards have created some standardization among them, they still tend to have highly individualized identities. They work to make their programs more relevant to their local business needs and customs.

I believe some of the same reasoning will apply to AACSB’s expansion into developing nations. We will need to keep in mind what kinds of business programs will work best for schools in these specific countries—and help them maintain and solidify their own identities.

We will be assisted by an amazing array of Internet-enabled tools, including e-learning, mobile learning, digital libraries, and others we don’t even know about yet. In developing countries, these tools promise to have tremendous influence on introducing younger generations to management education. In developed countries, these tools can provide continuous education opportunities for working professionals and somewhat alleviate the stresses caused by the doctoral faculty shortage. In short, as new technology is developed and adopted, it will enable AACSB to help all schools achieve their quality improvement goals.

The Impact of Research

Both technological tools and the globalization of management education are having a profound influence on another one of AACSB’s key concerns: the impact of management research. In 2008, AACSB published an in-depth Impact of Research report. Scholars are also taking a closer look at the impact of research, myself included. Alex Wilson and I recently collaborated on the article. “An analysis of the environment and competitive dynamics of management research,” which is forthcoming in The Journal of Management Development.

These types of studies make it clear that the Internet has made it much simpler for scholars around the world to collaborate, leading to globally focused research that is widely distributed through electronic outlets. But even as management research becomes more international, it continues to face a series of related challenges: remaining accessible, collaborative, and useful to business.

I think one answer to all these challenges is for management research to focus more on cross-disciplinary topics of great importance to the world today. These might include sustainability, climate change, healthcare, security and terrorism, entrepreneurship, global accounting, and global risk management. Topics like these lend themselves to focused analytical inquiry that demands rigor—but they also have immediate relevance to the real world.

But it’s not enough for business schools to produce valuable research. They also must find ways to disseminate it more widely and in formats that are more comprehensible to the average person seeking knowledge. When Warwick Business School recently provided its advisory board with key papers from its leading researchers, I was surprised to find that the most common complaint was that the papers were hard to read and filled with too much academic jargon. Our advisory board members also believed the school should reformat the papers and publish abridged information on our Web site and in venues such as the Financial Times and The Economist.

In addition to disseminating research more widely, I believe we must consider new ways to measure its impact. We need to do more than simply count how many times an article has been cited in scholarly journals. We need to understand how it is being utilized in practical, hands-on applications.

Much to Be Done

Even while the association fine-tunes its efforts in globalization and research, we can’t overlook other defining initiatives. AACSB will continue to provide leadership in areas such as ethics, peace through commerce, and assurance of learning. And, of course, we will continue to promote what is and always will be our core mission: accreditation.

As AACSB expands its efforts to support quality management education in every nation, we will bring with us our focus on balanced research, our understanding of assurance of learning techniques, and our commitment to thought leadership. In short, we will bring with us our unswerving dedication to quality management education.

Howard Thomas is dean of the Warwick Business School in the U.K. and the 2009–2010 board chair of AACSB International.