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Is it possible to convert an English literature PhD candidate into a marketing professor? What about an econ­omics professor into one who teaches corporate finance? According to John Fernandes, president of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the answer is Yes.

Concerned about the looming shortage of management professors at business schools in the US, the AACSB, the accreditation group, has developed an innovative programme that provides academics in various disciplines with the skills necessary to teach business education.

Changing course: academics are being wooed by business education

The “bridge programme”, to launch at five business school campuses in the coming months, is not as newfangled as it sounds, says Mr Fernandes. “The programmes target professors who already have their PhDs in related social science fields,” he says. “Remember: there was no business PhDs until the 1950s. The business professors of old wandered in from other disciplines.”

The production of business PhDs has declined while enrolments in undergraduate and masters level business programmes have increased. (see sidebar). A recent survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which runs the GMAT entry test for business school, found that PhD programmes were the only business administration programmes that did not report many applications from prospective students this year. And business schools – like other institutions – will be hard-hit as the baby boomer generation retires.

The shortage presents a problem for business schools, particularly in maintaining accreditation, says Mr Fernandes. The AACSB requires 50 per cent of classes to be taught by academically qualified staff, with 40 per cent allowed for “professionally qualified”, non-PhD teachers and 10 per cent that may not qualify as either. “The practitioners do a great job in the classroom, teaching and bringing real world experience to students,” he says. “However, it’s the academic – the person whose life is management education – that develops curriculum changes and does the basic research that advances the discipline.”

Schools planning to launch bridge programmes include the University of Toledo’s College of Business Administration, Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, Virginia Tech’s Pamplin, University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business and Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.

The schools have each designed a programme, ranging in length from two months to two years, involving a combination of seminars, workshops, internet-based course work and research projects. Tuition costs range from $14,000 to $40,000, paid for by either the participant, the participant’s sponsoring school, or government loans and grants.

Within the next five years, the AACSB hopes to have 200 graduates from the bridge programme. “I believe this will be a long-term staple for producing PhDs,” says Mr Fernandes.

He says the key to the programme’s success is that it gives prospective students both intellectual and financial incentives. The bridge programme enables students “to apply their base discipline”: “They can do the applied state rather than the theoretical state.”

Second, business school professors make a lot more money than faculty in other fields.

“A math professor makes $70,000 a year, while an accounting professor makes $115,000 and will make much more than that over the course of his lifetime. There’s a big economic incentive. Some liberal arts disciplines are way overproducing PhD candidates. They can’t possibly be absorbed by academia,” he says. “A business degree has a lot of portability.”

However, Mr Fernandes admits the programme has got off to a slower start than he had envisaged. He recognises that perhaps the bump in salary might not inspire the average philosopher to embark on the programme.

“They have to see the intrinsic rewards,” he says. “We’re asking them to reconcentrate their area of core emphasis. They have to find it personally rewarding to take what they’ve learnt and …apply it and make improvements in business and teaching.”

Frank Smith, director of management and professional development at Pamplin, who oversees the programme there, says the bleak job market for academics is a motivating factor.

“These are people who’ve invested time and money completing a doctorate, but then find it’s hard to secure jobs in their discipline because there’s an oversupply for the demand,” he says. “When they learn there are opportunities within a business school that can directly relate to their research interests, and provide a good career in academia, their eyes light up.”

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