July 14, 2008 9:57 am

Soap box: US research supremacy draws to a close

Successful leading-edge management research is an expensive game in which only a few can compete. In the early 1990s, a handful of US universities dominated the world but this US supremacy is coming to an end. My colleagues and I predict that the share of management research carried out by US institutions will drop below 50 per cent of the total within the next two years.

Research output in management is still concentrated: less than 3 per cent of the world’s universities produce more than 70 per cent of global output.* Of these 214 universities, 126 are in the US, 13 in Canada, 57 in Europe and 18 in Asia and elsewhere. But comparative world positions have been changing quickly. My research** reveals how the world’s academic business research output has become more dispersed.

While Wharton and Harvard are still the best by a margin, Europe now accounts for 25 per cent of international research output. Its best schools – London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management (Erasmus), Insead and Tilburg are in the global top 30. Asian schools – in China and Singapore especially – are further behind but their stock is rising even faster.

While some of the best US schools admit privately to being worried, publicly they stress their continued dominance – at least, according to their data. But their measurements overemphasise past successes, ignore current trends and importantly use narrowly based research measures, looking only at material published in US journals and ignoring the fact that important new ideas are increasingly being published in highly regarded, peer-reviewed non-US publications.

Their concerns are well-founded: compared with 10 years ago, fewer Americans are willing to sign up to arduous five-year US doctoral study programmes, their places being taken by Europeans and (increasingly) Asians, who often take their knowledge and skills back home. This knowledge emigration will accelerate the decline of the US schools’ historical position.

US schools were first movers in this field – in effect, they invented the business and management research game and set the rules in the early 1980s. They built the research paradigm (adapting the social science model) and set up the symbiotic structure of research- oriented PhD programmes (the laboratories where most business research is conducted), balanced with the modern journal system (where its results are published). European and Asian research was mostly little more than US ideas translated into local languages and contexts.

But European and Asian schools are becoming more innovative and productive, adopting new approaches to research, engaging in more cross-border comparative work than their US colleagues – so important for international business. Another group is examining management practices in microdetail, something many US academics play down in their search for macrostatistical trends.

Complementing and adapting original US methods with local innovations, teaming up with locally based but globally competitive firms, European and Asian schools are turning out top-quality ideas fast, gaining global currency.

In the increasingly important marketplace for ideas, research in business and management is a high-stakes game. More than half of a top university’s budget is devoted to research. A published piece can yield big salary increases for authors and prestige for their schools, leading in turn to more donations and student fees.

What does this mean for the future of academic business research? Knowledge is expensive but also valuable. A decade ago, there was no question: for the best, you headed to the US. And the US still leads. But, if you are global business located in Europe or Asia, association with a research-oriented local school will see you riding the wave, not following the herd.

Charles Baden-Fuller is professor of strategy at Cass Business School
* Based on publications in 149 leading business and management journals (Thompson ISI)
** “Global Contests in the Production of Business Knowledge” (2008) V. Mangematin and C. Baden-Fuller. Long Range Planning volume 41:117-140

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