Soapbox

October 29, 2013 3:15 pm

Emerging markets necessitate a rethink of business education

A collaboration between academics and regional specialists will better prepare students

With the global economy still sluggish in the west much of the talk about business success is focused on emerging markets.

But are business schools in the west really preparing students for business success in China and elsewhere in Asia? Are they allocating sufficient time and resources to the teaching and understanding of such culturally different and changing business environments? And are business school academics suitably knowledgeable and experienced in emerging markets such as China?

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The measure of business education success lies ultimately in the subsequent industry performance of the students involved and the companies they work for. But news of western corporations struggling to thrive in emerging markets strongly suggests that business students desperately need a new approach.

Certainly the top business schools around the world continue to operate much as they always have done, with their teaching based largely on the Harvard case study approach. Lectures, where business and management theories and models are presented, explained and applied, are closely followed by seminars in which theories are challenged and a fairly hefty case study is analysed. This provides a very useful business and management education even if it is general and superficial. But whether or not this meets the needs of budding business professionals, many of whom have already planned a career in emerging markets, is debatable.

The case study approach, with cases often in excess of 15-20 pages, presents difficulties when studying emerging markets where native companies and brands are in their fledgling stages. Moreover, emerging markets are also changing, and in the case of China rapidly, which can often leave case studies out of date very quickly

More recently in western business schools academics and even whole departments have started to adopt an area focus. For example, China or Chinese studies departments are now commonplace within European and US universities. However, because they are so new these departments are unlikely to possess anything like the required depth of understanding of the academic theories and models that underpin the teaching of most business subjects. Any programme on management in China taught only by China studies academics and residing solely in the China studies department is unlikely to contain the theoretical intensity and rigour delivered by a general management module as part of a business school’s programme portfolio.

The way forward, therefore, is to achieve a perfect blend and fusion of business subject specialists and area experts. In this case, a collaboration between China studies and business school cognoscenti leading to the establishment of a centre which focuses exclusively on one or more emerging markets and sits outside a business school. Such a centre, for example a China Centre, could facilitate this much needed co-operation and collaboration between business schools and area studies. Any new centre should be able to not only provide a link but also ensure that both sides work well together.

Many European and US universities already display such a centre on their organisational charts. But it is still not apparent that these centres focus on business education and aim to create an effective blend between business subject experts with area specialists.

At present, for example, numerous university-based China centres aim to further understanding and knowledge across all faculties, from the arts to science and social science, and as a result, do not present clear opportunities for collaboration with business schools and their emerging market educational efforts.

An emerging market business centre – not just a loosely defined all-embracing area centre, such as a China business centre – could remedy this situation and provide the vehicle necessary to unite effectively area and business specialists.

Emerging markets, China in particular, are of course the future of business education, but these markets are not merely changing the nature of business; they also necessitate a major rethink of the design and delivery of business education.

The author is a visiting professor at China’s University of International Business and Economics and senior lecturer at Southampton Solent’s School of Business.

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