The PhD Effect

When schools in developed nations partner with schools in emerging economies, they can help whole regions grow more prosperous.
The PhD Effect
WHEN BUSINESS SCHOOLS DECIDE to internationalize their programs, they can do more than simply build campuses halfway across the globe—they can increase the potential of an entire region. At Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) in Sweden, that was our goal when we first began designing programs to train PhDs in two African nations.

While many business schools recently have added global dimensions to their programs—through student and faculty exchanges, short- and long-term study abroad initiatives, and international student recruitment—we believe our model is somewhat different. At JIBS, we strive to build deep, long-term relationships between our school, our partner institutions, and all of our stakeholders. We don’t just disseminate our educational expertise; we function as both an advisor and a service provider to our partners. We believe that our model increases the long-term “economic complexity” in the nations where we operate and that we can be a critical factor in creating widespread prosperity. At JIBS we have been calling this the “Into Africa” strategic initiative.


Our first experience with this collaborative model began in 2011 when JIBS received a €1.6 million (about US$1.8 million) five-year grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). We use the money to support our work with one of our partner schools, Addis Ababa University (AAU) in Ethiopia, as we help it develop master and doctoral programs in business administration and economics. AAU is the oldest and largest state university in Ethiopia with some 50,000 students.

Through our partnership, selected Ethiopian doctoral students take courses both at JIBS and at Addis Ababa University. In fact, our collaboration encompasses the country’s first PhD candidates in economics.

When the Ethiopian students visit Sweden, they participate in courses, seminars, and social events with JIBS doctoral candidates. They are not considered foreign students from an external campus; rather, they are integrated fully into the JIBS culture.

Students are assigned supervisors at both JIBS and AAU for their doctoral dissertations, but they receive their degrees from Addis Ababa. Through 2014, we have worked with five Ethiopian doctoral students in the business administration program and 11 in the economics program.

This collaboration has some limitations, however. AAU selects the PhD students, and JIBS does not have a great deal of influence over either selection criteria or the PhD students’ fields of specialization. JIBS remains an arm’s length partner to the local university in Addis Ababa.


JIBS refined its collaboration model in 2013 when Sida awarded it a grant of €2.5 million (about US$2.85 million) to work with the University of Rwanda (UR) in Kigali and its largest academic unit, the Faculty of Economics and Management. (See "Partnering with Sida" below.) JIBS is using the money in two ways: to develop master’s degree programs in business and economics at UR, and to educate UR’s doctoral candidates within the JIBS system. In 2014, this project was extended to cover a period of five years.

We consider the PhD program to be a “sandwich” model, as the schools collaborate closely throughout the process and student learning takes place in the space between the two institutions. JIBS and UR faculty work together to select incoming students; in 2014, we accepted seven doctoral candidates from UR. The PhD candidates perform their dissertation work at both campuses, alternating between Rwanda and Sweden for lengthy periods of time during the four years they spend completing their PhDs. JIBS appoints a main and a secondary supervisor for each PhD student, and UR appoints a third supervisor. But, formally, candidates are considered JIBS students, and they receive their PhDs from us.

Throughout the program, JIBS professors collaborate with UR faculty to help improve the local teaching, research, and doctoral supervisory skills in Rwanda. JIBS faculty teach many of the initial courses and will do so until the teaching capacity gaps at UR are filled. The plan is that, step by step, JIBS teachers will be replaced by UR faculty who have been trained in our joint program, as well as by recent PhD graduates who can be hired as junior faculty at the university in Rwanda.


While we value our programs with both universities, the JIBS/UR collaboration leads to impact at multiple levels.

It benefits the University of Rwanda. The program not only is educating the next generation of PhD-qualified professors who eventually will teach and conduct research in Rwanda, but it is improving the skills of current UR professors and raising the level of excellence throughout UR business education.

We consider this vitally important. Historically, Rwanda has underinvested in education and workforce development; the country’s economic and social challenges were compounded when it was ravaged by genocide in 1994. While Rwanda has made great strides forward in the past two decades, the country still sorely needs to expand its higher education capacities and close the skills gaps among academic personnel at the post-graduate level. Continual governmental efforts to rebuild society rest on opening doors to foreign investment, implementing zero tolerance policies on corruption—and improving education for citizens. Yet in 2012, only 6 percent of the domestic workforce had a tertiary qualification. Our collaboration with UR was specifically formulated to address the Rwandan objective of long-term human capacity development.

It benefits JIBS. First, the collaboration supports our three guiding principles: to be “international at heart, entrepreneurial in mind, responsible in action.” Second, the partnership matches JIBS’ mission to focus on entrepreneurship, ownership, and renewal, and it helps our faculty build their own expertise in these areas. We have been pleased to see how well those three focuses align with the national agenda in Rwanda, and how easy it has been for the Rwandan PhD candidates to select topics that fall within these areas.

Third, the program builds capacity among our faculty as it exposes them to new experiences. For instance, our junior faculty are growing more confident as they supervise doctoral candidates. In addition, all of our professors have opportunities to study business and development processes in Rwanda and surrounding regions, which are gaining ground as some of the world’s most dynamic economies. The interest among our faculty has grown to an extent where we now talk about Into Africa as a major and long-term growth strategy for JIBS.

Fourth, JIBS’ other PhD candidates benefit by interacting with their peers from Rwanda—and so do the rest of our students. A few months after the Rwandan PhD candidates joined JIBS, they attended a meeting with bachelor’s and master’s students, and there was intense interest on both sides. Soon after, several younger JIBS students decided to orient their thesis work toward issues relevant to Ethiopia, Rwanda, and similar countries.

It builds networks. The JIBS/UR collaboration accomplishes another purpose at a higher level—it builds valuable networks among the many stakeholders at both institutions. As participating faculty publish research and students graduate with master’s and PhD degrees, we expect they will form wide-ranging connections that promote international development, entrepreneurial activities, and family businesses. Joint research projects could help Rwandan and Swedish stakeholders identify and act on trends relevant to businesses in both nations.

JIBS’ collaboration with African universities aligns with its three guiding principles.

We believe that such collaborations eventually could become the basis for partnerships between small- and medium-sized enterprises and NGOs in Sweden and Rwanda. Their collaboration even could lead to alliances between the two governments, where key objectives include increasing international development, social responsibility, and sustainability. In short, we envision that this model of internationalizing JIBS’ education will do more than create a few short-term advantages; it will lead to many deep long-term benefits for both Sweden and Rwanda.


This collaborative model of business education offers another important future benefit to regional economies. According to the “economic complexity” concept in economic theory, prosperity rises only when nations have complex networks of businesses—when they share broad-based knowledge and unique skills in industries and services that cannot be replicated elsewhere. For instance, textile factories and furniture manufacturers can be located in many different countries, and they can be relocated wherever wages and operations are less costly. But rockets, robots, high-speed trains, medical equipment, precision tools, and high-level technology can be designed and built only in a small number of places.

By its very nature, economic complexity creates the need for an educated, enlightened citizenry with certain skills and knowledge. More important, it leads to millions of direct, advanced-level, high-paying jobs, as well as indirect, less advanced-level jobs that supply and service the more complex functions of the economy. Combined, all of this activity improves per capita income, contributes to a nation’s GDP, and builds widespread prosperity.

We believe the JIBS/UR collaboration will help Rwanda develop a stronger knowledge-based infrastructure and an educated class of workers. With our mutual focus on entrepreneurship, family-owned business, and renewal of industry, we are not just increasing the University of Rwanda’s academic capacities. We’re also jointly building managerial capacity and leading the nation to economic success.


Despite our lofty goals, we know that any joint international program faces potential hazards. One of our challenges is to avoid the pitfalls that Western schools can run into when partnering with schools in emerging markets. These include not customizing content enough to suit the local context, failing to understand the business needs of their host countries, or charging too much for programs.

We might avoid those problems, but the JIBS/UR alliance comes with its own challenges. For instance, the geographical distance and cultural differences between our nations result in high costs for communication, but these are being reduced over time. We are also uncertain about the interpretation of academic freedom in Rwanda, but remain hopeful this will not be an issue for our joint PhD students.

In the meantime, we have received much positive feedback on our programs from deans and project leaders at Addis Ababa University and the University of Rwanda—and we have seen evidence that our programs are producing tangible results. For instance, eight junior faculty members from UR are being mentored by JIBS faculty as they contribute to a paper that will be presented at a joint international conference in June; the conference, which will be held in Rwanda, will consider how to develop the economy by putting theory into practice. Sida officials also believe our programs are working; they have invited JIBS to submit a proposal for a five-year extension of our initiatives in Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to explore opportunities to build larger networks and stronger alliances among ourselves, our partner schools, and our host countries. For instance, with our UR partners, we are investigating a regional collaboration with PhD programs at other universities in East Africa. We also are looking for ways to collaborate with Rwandan industry. We believe that if our research helps spur the development of the economy in Rwanda, Swedish companies are more likely to do business in that nation.

Finally, our hope is that our collaborative business education programs will have a higher-level and longer-term outcome: We will contribute to the economic complexity that will lead nations like Ethiopia and Rwanda to greater levels of prosperity. That seems like the noblest end goal business education can achieve.