To celebrate and recognise EFMD’s 40th Anniversary Howard Thomas, and co-authors, are writing a book to be published by Emerald Group Publishing next year. It examines management education and its future focusing on EFMD’s contribution to management education in Europe and its influence around the world. The book’s material is drawn from a wide range of interviews with leading management educators and this special Global Focus supplement introduces some of the themes and issues from the book.
The Unfulfilled Promise of Management Education? Its role, value and purpose
The extensive critiques of management education also attest to the contested nature of debates about the role, legitimacy, and academic and social status of business schools. They argue that business schools currently face an image and identity crisis. In the evolution of business schools there have been a number of key milestones en route to the present somewhat confused set of affairs.
The conventional judgement is that the business school model is definitely in transition and business schools are at a “turning point” in their evolution. The concerns of some of the most eloquent critics must be recognised in the transformation process in this transitionary period:
- Jeff Pfeffer and Christina Fong at Stanford have suggested that business schools are too market driven and that management research has fallen short of good scientific traditions.
- Henry Mintzberg has argued that management is an art, not a science, and that the emphasis on analytical methodology and science in business schools is misplaced. He maintains that the traditional MBA curriculum is too narrow and specialised and ignores the development of leadership and management skills.
- The late Sumantra Ghoshal pointed out the moral decline of business and argued that business schools had been guilty of propagating and teaching amoral theories that destroyed sound management practices.
- Recently, Edwin Locke and J C Spender amplified Ghoshal’s arguments and showed how the business school focus on numbers, mathematical modelling and theories, and specifically those based on financial economics, can lead to rational choices that ignore important issues of culture, managerial behaviour and ethics. They conclude that market capitalism has evolved into “casino capitalism”, largely absent of a moral and ethical compass in which the lack of financial morality and ethical leadership partially fuelled the global economic crisis of 2008.
Indeed, business schools have been blamed not only for their influence on the global financial crisis but also for ethical business failures such as Enron and WorldCom in America and Parmalat in Europe. Khurana has observed that a manager’s role has shifted from “higher aims” as professional stewards of a firm’s resources to that of “hired hands” operating only on the basis of contractual relationships. A key consequence of this demoralisation and de-professionalisation of managers is that the self-interest of relevant parties has overcome a proper ethical and moral compass and that the principle of trust that was central to the operation of market capitalism has been abandoned. Clearly, the ethical tradition in business life is in danger of erosion by the institutionalisation of management education and business schools in their current form.
It is, therefore, urgent for management educators to engage in a period of sustained reflection about the purpose of management education. Important questions include the following:
- What is business for?
- What are business schools for?
- Who are the key stakeholders in management education?
- Should the curriculum of management education emphasise breadth and a holistic perspective encompassing disciplines, theories, models, cultures, ethics, social science, history, philosophy and embracing traditions of both analysis and synthesis?
This paper consequently focuses on the relative influence of stakeholders, individuals and organisations, the issues they focus on, the lessons not learned and the potential for change. To gain insight into these issues we draw on the perspectives of interview participants from a range of stakeholder groups in management education. The debate and criticism surrounding management education energises a number of stakeholders and changes their relative interests and influence. Understanding the relations and interactions between the various actors in management education is fundamental to our analysis of the roles, value and purpose of management education.
This research is based on a series of in-depth interviews conducted across a set of stakeholders to develop a more comprehensive and informed view. Around 35 interviews lasting between two and three hours each were conducted taking in the informed views of stakeholders from academia, professional bodies, media, business and students. Interviews followed a semi-structured design to guide key thematic areas and to allow respondents the flexibility to expand on issues they found relevant and important to the discussion. Interviewees were asked to focus on the time period from EFMD’s formation in 1971 to present and also to consider the likely future scenarios for management education.