Our world is undergoing constant and rapid change, unprecedented in history and the world of business is no exception. At the same time, the world just keeps getting smaller. A political shakeup or an economic crisis in one part of the world can have an instant and lasting effect on another far, far away. Business people know this and recognize that they must keep abreast of all that’s going on. They must also have the knowledge and the managerial tools to successfully deal with this constant and sometimes revolutionary, change.
Business educators, many of whom also hold senior managerial posts in companies or maintain extremely close ties to the boardroom, are aware of this need and continuously overhaul their MBA curricula to better meet the needs and expectations of their students. In some cases, this involves just updating or refining the course material. But in other cases, entire new courses are designed. In this edition of the Newsweek International MBA Showcase journalist B.H. Jones tracks the latest trends in business education.
DEVELOPING GLOBAL STRATEGIES
As the world constricts, there are unique challenges for managers in handling the opportunities and pitfalls of globalization. But how to initiate and successfully apply a global strategy is a challenge in itself as new markets open up, others undergo radical change and new trade alliances and rules complicate the picture even further.
Well aware of these seismic shifts in the worldwide business environment, business educators are providing their students with the understanding and methods to best take advantage of current and future conditions in which acting globally will be a key component in any winning corporate strategy. Cross-cultural training and issues are an important part of the training.
At some schools, the subject of developing global strategies is a stand-alone course, while at others it is wrapped into several courses. At the Australian Graduate School of Management/University of New South Wales MBA program, the subject is included in the stand-alone International Business Strategy, a ten-week course with each class lasting 90 minutes and taught by Prof. Tim Devinney, who is the director of the Centre for Corporate Change.
“The course gives participants insight into the challenges, opportunities and problems corporations face in the context of a global economy,” says a spokeswoman for the MBA program. The course focuses on the definition and implementation of corporate strategy for worldwide operations and explores the unique competitive, sociocultural and political environments in which international business takes place and develops skills to deal with these challenges.”
“At the University of Strathclyde Graduate School of Business, this topic is incorporated into a number of subjects, as well as taught in electives,” explains Dr. George Burt, a lecturer at the Glasgow, Scotland, school. “It’s incorporated into ‘Strategy, Analysis and Evaluation’, for example, as we look at the parent company, its role, the logic or business idea of the parent company and how it manages itself across all its operations,” he says.
A similar approach is taken by the International Executive MBA (IEMBA) program at Stockholm University in the Swedish capital. “Global strategy is a common thread through all our courses here”, according to IEMBA Manager Anne Pihl. “In a dynamic and international business environment, the ability to think globally is the essential objective of our program,” she notes. “A strong focus on teamwork challenges our participants’ interpersonal skills and ability to network with diverse groups, thereby promoting their ability to operate in the global marketplace.
“The program at Stockholm University also places particular emphasis on cross-cultural differences. World-wide representation on the program and an entry requirement of international experience helps ensure that global strategy is a constant them,” says Ms. Pihl.
“Developing Global Strategies” is also part of the Accelerated Certificate Programs offered by the University of California – Irvine Extension in the United States and which attracts many students from the Pacific Rim and especially Asia. Specifically designed for the international student the, three-month, full-time programs include Global Operations Management.
“The curriculum has courses on International Logistics and Supply Chain Management, International Finance and International Business Negotiations,” notes Kelly L. Otto, the manager for the professional programs at UC-Irvine. “And students have the opportunity to complete an internship with local branches of multi-national companies after the program which affords them an invaluable opportunity to utilize their newly-gained knowledge in an American business setting.”
At the University of Tasmania’s Graduate School of Management MBA program, the courses Strategic Management and International Business Management are two of nine core courses required for most students who must also choose three elective courses.
“Our ‘International Business Management’ course, for example, “identifies the challenges and the benefits of managing an organization which is involved in international operations,” says a University of Tasmania spokesperson. “It examines comparative approaches to management problem solving in the various functional areas of a firm operating multi-nationally and assists managers to develop competence in recognizing cultural differences and communicating crossculturally.”
CRISIS OR CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Uncertain times require cool heads in the executive suite. Corporate scandals, market meltdowns, abrupt fluctuations in currency values, terrorism and other major shocks mean that managers have to possess the tools to adequately deal with crises so as to ensure the survival of their companies and prove to senior executives and stockholders they can handle it.
Business schools are taking note and offering courses on leadership and change management which instruct students how best to get through the tough times. Showing true mettle with a human face at times of crisis can be difficult as the pressure mounts and schools are providing courses that help managers strike that fine balance.
“Crisis management is so very important these days because the business world is facing upheaval from many different causes,” notes a dean at a prestigious business school in the Netherlands.
“It’s a combination of capitalism failing to deliver with the resulting widening gap between rich and poor, managerial behavior crises such as corporate scandals and other bad news,” he says. “It’s a pretty gloomy picture out there and I believe that dealing with it is the whole point of any good management education.”
“Crisis and Change Management are not strictly interchangeable, although they are linked,” explains Prof. Alexander Kouzmin of the one-year MBA program at Australia´s Southern Cross University (SCU). “The two subjects are growing emphasises in the Strategic Marketing arena with crisis themes introduced as a growing are managerial failure and corporate governance competence.”
“At SCU there is a separate Emergency Management Graduate Diploma and Masters Degree with a large component of research/project work to be done by experienced emergency management personnel,” says Prof. Kouzmin. “Case studies in this area are used in the classroom but not relied upon exclusively.”
Brussels-based United Business Institute’s (UBI) full-time and parttime MBA programs offer “Leadership and Change Management” as one of its five concentrations from which business students are able to choose. At the Australian Graduate School of Management/University of New South Wales MBA program, the topic is covered in its Organisational Structure and Change course, a stand-alone subject taught over a ten-week period.
Instructors at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Manila, the Philippines, put a distinctive Asian emphasis on the subject which is also useful anywhere else in the world, says President Roberto F. de Ocampo.
“Managing in Asia means managing Asians and Asian organizations which are constantly rocked by transition and change,” he explains.
“Therefore, AIM believes that strategic change is best achieved from within the organization, guided by top management and executed by the company’s own managers.
“AIM’s programs reflect this in both stand-alone courses such as electives in the MBA program and with programs with corporate change as the particular focus. Co-founded by the Harvard Business School, AIM’s learning pedagogy was patterned after the case study method so students study actual business situations, perform analysis, develop alternative courses of action and generate recommendations,” Mr. De Ocampo says.
“At our school, Crisis or Change Management is incorporated into subjects like Organizational Development and Change, Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management,” says Dean and Associate Prof. Zainal Abidin Kidam at the Univeristi Putra Malaysia’s Graduate School of Management MBA program.
DISTANCE AND E-LEARNING
The dot.com revolution ended with a crash but the technology responsible for all those start ups is still fueling a revolution in business education. Distance learning, interactive courses, multi-school partnerships, electronic job search assistance and other web-based applications are helping business students in uncountable ways.
Thanks to online MBA courses, a student in Manila or Marseilles can study finance, accounting or anything else provided by a school in London or Los Angeles. While some business educators argue that nothing can ever really replace the give and take of face-to-face classroom and debate, MBA administrators, professors and educators admit that e-learning is here to stay.
According to the World Bank, by 2020 more than 100 million people around the world will be seeking higher education but unable to attain it because of the lack of traditional educational facilities. This is where e-learning could be the alternative to the brick and mortar institutions.
One of the major online business degree programs is offered by Universitas 21 Global which groups 16 of the world’s most prestigious universities including the National University of Singapore, University of Hong Kong, University of Edinburgh, University of New South Wales and University of Virginia.
“Our MBA program offers a flexibility not normally available to those seeking enhanced educational qualifications,” explains Dr. Mukesh Aghi, the CEO of Universitas 21 Global. “The course can be undertaken on a full-time basis but it also provides the opportunity for those juggling travel, work and personal commitments to extend their career opportunities through part-time study – at any time, place or rate of their choosing.”
“And in today’s challenging climate of economic recession, job retrenchments and threats of terrorism, it is becoming harder and harder to get a foreign study visa, never mind the high cost of travel and study,” he adds.
Students taking the Universitas 21 Global MBA program use such tools as e-mail, real-time chat, threaded discussion forums and public folders to exchange and post information and assignments. Course instructors maintain proactive communications with students through continuous monitoring of their progress, prompt responses to questions, guidance in solving problems and performance assessment.
“The most appealing benefit is that such interaction is not time zone or location dependent – students can interact with others anytime and anywhere,” Dr. Aghi says.
While there is no distance learning at the Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Graduate School of Management’s program, the school does employ elearning methods in teaching and discussions. “For instance, we use elibrary, on-line journals between professors and students,” says Dean Zainal Abidin Kidam.
“And we have also embarked on Problem Based Learning to enhance our MBA program and other post-graduate programs by incorporating systems, technologies and video tapes which make the programs flexible enough to cater to our students’ varied needs, “ he adds.
A similar approach is taken at the Asian Institute of Management, according to President Roberto F. de Campo, who says that continuous research into learning methodologies using web-based applications keeps the program at the cutting edge of instruction.
“The AIM MBA program has started infusing blended learning techniques utilizing e-learning in its program delivery to keep in stride with changing global program delivery methods,” he explains. “Mentoring through discussion boards, interactive courses and teamwork, and online modules are available for students.”
Various elements of e-learning are used at the MBA program at Australia’s Southern Cross University to support both distance education and on-campus delivery. “In addition to comprehensive printbased materials, each MBA unit is supported by an online learning site,” explains Program Coordinator David Morgan.
“These sites act as a means of providing additional up-to-date information through an announcements section and through posting of down-loadable files. They are also an important means of communication and learning interaction between staff and students and among the students via discussion forums and real-time interaction through virtual classrooms.”