The Global Business School Gap

Many b-schools are trying to make inroads worldwide, but a report suggests there are still significant steps that need to be made.

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Globalization is the hot topic in management education these days. In the past two years, elite business schools have initiated a slew of programs and partnerships designed to cultivate leaders who can work in cross-cultural environments with ease. 

Examples of schools jumping on the international express abound. New efforts include the multi-national campus network of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, the just-launched Global Managers Program offered by Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and Spain's ESADE Business School, the Indiana University Kelley School of Business's newly endowed Institute for Global Organizational Effectiveness, and the TrendLab on Globalization created last year by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

[Learn more about business schools' efforts to go global.]

When Nitin Nohria took over as dean of Harvard Business School last year, his video address to mark the occasion captured this intellectual zeitgeist. "Harvard Business School has to become more global," Nohria said. "We have to be the place that people can come to and feel that they're getting the world's best thinking, that they're learning about the world's most cutting-edge companies. And as those companies and that thinking is becoming more global, Harvard Business School inevitably has to become more global than it is today."

The Wharton School also revamped its M.B.A. curriculum recently to include a sharper focus on globalization. It's time to move students to overseas classes where they can get some "on the ground" perspective, rather than simply study these elements in a classroom, professor Richard Shell, who chaired Wharton's M.B.A. review committee, tells Marketplace's Bob Moon.

But are business schools doing a good job preparing students for an increasingly global world? Dean Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business recently chaired a report by the U.S. accrediting body AACSB International titled "Globalization of Management Education."

This task force report, based on three years of research, suggests that business schools are coming up short in their efforts to prepare students for careers in today's international marketplace. "The rate of globalization is only going to increase," Bruner warns, "and it will be a disruptive force for which managers need to prepare."

[See other major changes taking place at business schools.]

The results of the report are sobering, Bruner writes on his blog, because they reveal a sizable gap between what the world needs and what management educators generally do. The task force also discovered a gap in the curricula of b-schools between the aspiration for global content and the current lack thereof. Most schools—even leading schools—aren't bringing globalization into the classroom in ways that do justice to the subject or the needs of business, says the dean.

While business schools have made efforts to internationalize the content of their degree programs, in many cases they have struggled to do so consistently, comprehensively, or effectively, the task force finds. Most schools place a greater emphasis on the incorporation of global experiential learning opportunities than on the development and integration of global content within the curriculum.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]

Bruner blames roadblocks such as schools' lack of capital and talented faculty, cultural impediments, regulatory barriers, restrictions on the freedom of speech and association, and, in some cases, sheer lack of imagination. While some schools will overcome these barriers, most will not, he writes. "Much like the widening gap in income between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in many countries, it is easy to envision a widening competence gap in regard to globalization."

Overall, the task force concludes that the globalization of management education hasn't achieved its full potential and is being shaped by a complex web of forces we have only just begun to understand. A global business school must do more than rent classroom space on other continents. The solution will require creativity and innovation, and likely lies within the management programs themselves.

"Schools should help one another," says Bruner. "We should hold the bar of excellence high, and perhaps raise it a few notches in regard to globalization. There is no more powerful force in academia than peer pressure."