Monday, December 3, 2012


Following the global financial crisis of 2008, one of the more interesting debates that took place was over the role of business schools in training the so-called "Masters of the Universe" graduates who were at the helm of failing companies such as Lehman Brothers.

As a result of the various banking scandals, and the general breakdown of trust in business that followed, those in management education began to question their overall strategic approach, the content of their flagship Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme and, more importantly, how they should develop the managers of the future.

Some of the external criticisms that business schools have faced during the last few years include failing to provide the ethical direction needed by managers, having a curriculum that is too narrow and specialised which ignores leadership and entrepreneurial skills; and undertaking research that is motivated only by academic rigour and not practical value.

There has also been concern expressed by those working within business schools that they have lost their way because they are increasingly perceived as cash cows for universities to subsidise other loss-making academic departments, with quality and relevance becoming victims of financial imperatives.

As a result, there continues to be an increasing amount of soul searching by some of the leaders of business schools as to the way forward for their organisations.

One of the more interesting critiques is to be found in "The Learning Curve" by Santiago Iniguez de Onzono of the IE Business School in Madrid. As Dean of one of the best business schools in the World, he creates a marvellous journey into the changes that he believes will influence management education over the next decade.

In particular, he notes the importance of ensuring that MBA students learn more than just management skills as part of their training and emphasises the importance of connecting with the outside world, encouraging the recruitment of both academics and practitioners as faculty members.

An interview with Santiago is shown below.


Another review, this time by Professor David Wilson of Warwick University, suggests that business schools should broaden their focus of research and teaching towards the bigger public and private sector debates in work, employment and society. He argues that this should be done by being less insular and engaging more with other departments across the University.

Indeed, he goes on to propose that business schools could, and should, become a critical part of the knowledge transfer process by helping in the commercialisation process of science and technology from higher education institutions, something that is sadly missing within the majority of universities in the UK.

There is also some debate as to whether the MBA programme, which drives most business school activity, is fit for purpose. For example, a recent survey by the Association for MBAs  (AMBA) suggests that there is likely to be increased specialisation over the next few years to reflect the needs of global business and society, especially in areas such as sustainable development, health and energy. In addition, an increasing number of MBA graduates are opting to start their own businesses rather than work for other organisations as entrepreneurship becomes more popular globally.

Another key development is that of online learning, which some believe poses a major threat to the traditional campus-based MBA programmes which dominate the US and European business education markets, especially as serious players such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford are entering the market.

Therefore, whilst there are major global challenges facing business schools in an increasingly competitive marketplace, little attention has been paid to their role and relevance to the local business community. Given the importance of strategic leadership and business skills to the growth of companies, there is surely a greater role to be played in ensuring that the competitive advantage of local businesses are maximised through improved management development?

The CBI has recently suggested that there should be a focus on improving the performance of medium-sized firms in Wales. Yet apart from the occasional European funded management programme, the focus of nearly every business school in Wales is on attracting high fee paying overseas students rather than on developing the competences of indigenous businesses so that they gain the strategic, operational and entrepreneurial skills necessary to grow and develop.

It has been argued that this is because there is a lack of demand from Welsh firms but I simply don't believe that is the case, especially given the tens of millions of pounds of support that is available through the Welsh Government for workforce development, much of which is currently spent on low level training.

Whilst creating an internationally oriented business school may be the primary imperative for many universities,  I still passionately believe that there is a need for an organisation that focuses predominantly on creating a more entrepreneurial business community that will help make the local economy more competitive by training those leaders and managers within the public and private sectors that can make a real difference to their organisations.

More importantly, if a university in Wales was prepared to take up this challenge, I am sure there would be widespread and positive support from politicians and the business community alike for such a development.