My Scholarly Reflections

This is where I tell what I think, so that I see what I say

Archive for the ‘Business Schools’ Category

Unbusiness-like business schools …oh no not again!

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The Economist in an article in [opens in new tab] its February 8 edition adds to the periodic lament that we have been hearing about business schools for decades. In another article it talks about implications of MOOCs. We know that the long standing issue is the colonisation of the business schools by the so called ‘academic guilds’ since the early 60’s, and the envious mimicking of the likes of Harvard that forces business schools to splurge on buildings .   But this time the main factor, as might have guessed it,  threatening the business schools is technology, i.e., MOOCs et al. But the article makes some very interesting and thought provoking points that are often not realised by those who run business schools. First, business schools are more like film studios rather than hair salons, so the essential nature of the service is different as there is creativity of a different kind involved. Second, textbook publishing companies are now the direct competitors of universities because of the former’s access to technology and content creation. The top tier university may survive a little longer due to the ‘reputation’ effect, but the middle tier will soon loose out. Actually, I am already seeing these pressures in my experiences and interactions with people in the mid tier.


Written by Amer Khan

March 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Business Schools

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A problem in b-school organizational design: why b-schools are not like medical schools

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In my previous post (here), I cited Herbert Simon’s article to start off my musings on the ‘problem in organizational design’ of business schools. My inspiration comes from another blog here. I am going to back to the article to highlight issues with business school as a learning space. Herbert Simon states that “Business schools are a particular species in the genus known as professional schools” (p.2)  He then goes on to compare business schools with other professional schools in the medical and engineering domains, invoking parallels related to teaching and research. Business schools, he asserts, like med and eng. schools, need to combine science and professional practice in order to be effective.

Is this a fair comparison? In order to highlight issues in this comparison, business schools as learning spaces can be analyzed in terms of three aspects: content, pedagogy and credentials.

First, content. Med school content involves application of ‘hard science’ disciplines. The applications have been developed through rigorous scientific methods, standardised and widely accepted. This cannot be said about the content of B-school content. Of course, content related to such areas as accounting (backed by global professional bodies), and finance ( amenable to established quantitative methods borrowed from hard sciences) stand out. But there are problems, even in these domains (the comments on issues with business schools and particularly references to the famous ‘CAPM’ model in finance on this blogpost (here) are highly enlightening!). Path-breaking theories, such as ‘transacion cost theory’, taught in standard curricula have even been considered to be ‘bad for practice’ (see this by Ghoshal and Moran; Ghoshal’s highly cited article is also noteworth: Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practice, abstract here). There is a lot that can be said about content but space does not allow that, and the interested readers can do their own ‘googling’ to find out. The point is that b-school content, even the most fundamental one (‘efficient market hypothesis’ in finance, the marginalist principle in economics, and these domains are considered to be closest to ‘hard science’!!)  is controversial both with respect to its claims as ‘scientific truth’, and its claims to providing guidance to professionals. Medical and Engineering domains do not face this problem, even if they do, it appears to be not so severe.

Second, pedagogy. Medical and engineering education involves artefacts which appear to have high ‘fidelity’ to the real world. Medical schools are linked with ‘teaching hospitals’. Students often work on real human bodies. The tools used in med school are often the same used in the hospitaI. I was the other day watching a documentary which showed special ‘medical make-up artists’ who create almost life-like wounds on real humans (acting as patients) through special makeup. These actors with artificial wounds are used in role plays to teach students. Similarly engineering labs and instruments can be identical to the real world technical artefacts. And what do b-schools do? [ Professor Larry Michaelsen’s  ‘Integrative Business Experience’,is an exception, see his article on page 25, here (pdf)). B-schools have instituted similar activities involving ‘real life’ experience for students in businesses….but there are issues in those replications/adaptations…more on that some other time.

Third, credentials. Only med schools can provide the main qualification, approved and accredited by the national and international professional bodies (Medican Councils etc), including further examinations to attain professional membership. Engineering has a similar situation. Both med and eng schools are indispenable credentialling organizations without which professionals cannot in most circumstances practice. There is no competitor or alternative source of credentials. In business schools only the accounting domain has a similar situation. But accounting bodies have the potential to pose as competitors to b-schools. Would you prefer a CPA/CA/ACCA qualification or a Bachelor of Accounting? Of course parents and students would like to ‘hedge’ their options by first going for a basic degree and then a suitable professional qualification ( I have personally heard this line of argument from parents!). One thing is noteworthy though: Professional accounting bodies are the ultimate source of practice based knowledge in the accounting profession; this role is often legally determined to be assumed by those bodies, hence their exclusive domain. So which institution is a better creator/disseminator of knowledge in accounting: professional bodies or the b-school? Here is CPA Australia’s web portal; compare their ‘professional development’ programmes, and the ‘knowledge portal’ with a standard b-school offering in accounting.

I believe it is of utmost importance that I as a higher education professional think about the ‘core business model’ of higher education. and take a birdseye view beyond the daily grind of the ‘production line’. This is not to demean my profession in anyway, BUT to sharpen my own career focus in the profession, devise a strategy to strengthen my competitive advantage, and in the process, find out ways to suggest improvements in the business model.


Written by Amer Khan

April 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm