Masters in the business of a truly global outlook

October 29, 1999

The best business education will have to be multicultural and transnational, predicts Bernard Ramanantsoa

The "in" word to describe management education seems to be "global". Taking a cue from this latest business buzzword, the academic community has adopted the word with a vengeance. But is this reality or a case of mistaken identity?

For some time now, business schools have introduced an international dimension to their course programmes. For at least 30 years, students have learned about export policy, exchange markets or the need to take into account consumer attitudes. As the barriers to international commerce have fallen, business education in general has offered additional courses, allowing schools to feature their international programmes as showcases of academic excellence, no matter what the content.

But beyond such showcases, the reality is far more complex. On the one hand, there are business schools which are content to reinforce their international courses and, on the other, there are those - the best - which have understood that the real challenge in the years to come is to become truly international, both in terms of structure and of "culture".

Leading business schools have come to this realisation because they are in direct contact with the global companies, banks and counselling firms that recruit their graduates. These companies have internationalised their recruiting in recent years, a trend which is sure to accelerate.

Student exchange networks among business schools constitute an established response to this demand from major companies, but this is no longer enough. Clearly, we will have to propose foreign student graduates who have completed a business school's entire curriculum to recruiting companies. Moreover, foreign students are acutely aware of this need: in a business school such as the Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Paris, this year's MBA class intake includes 54 per cent of non-French students.

In addition, the faculty market has also become global. To be a "good professor" today means being able to convey knowledge (that is to say, to be able to teach, but above all to be able to produce knowledge). In turn, this means a professor today must be a good researcher. And business research today is global. To be recognised, a professor has to show he has published in internationally refereed journals.

Accordingly, in most areas of management specialisation, faculty pursue their careers on an international market. The best business schools must be able to attract the best professors and be capable of keeping them. These two challenges, the recruitment of foreign students and foreign faculty, cannot be met by all business schools. On the one hand, the culture of the institution must be ready to accept these changes and, on the other hand, the institution must have the financial means needed to carry them out. And as a given, it implies a position as a leading national business management institution.

I would be willing to predict that at best only one or two schools in each country will remain in the race long-term. Students and faculty, if they are aware that they should study or work in another country, are, a priori, drawn only to the top schools in each country.

It is difficult to foresee how the rules of the game will evolve over the next ten years, but I would be willing to venture one prediction. Business schools that enter this international competition will have to have the means to develop the essential dimension of management: the multicultural dimension.

In the area of education as in the area of business management, the notion of a totally global model, that is mono-cultural, has been rejected. To be sure, the fundamental rules are universal, such as optimising resources and maximising value for stockholders, but the optimal method to carry them out in practice will continue to take into account the cultural differences of employees as well as consumers.

Competition is global and this movement will accelerate, but the reality of the world of business remains multicultural and I believe this too will accelerate. The best will therefore be those willing and able to face the global competition, teaching students from many different nationalities, and recruiting faculty of international stature, but whose educational programmes and culture will be transnational rather than mono-cultural.

This then makes clear another predictable development in the world of business schools, that of alliances. Far beyond conventional student exchanges, the leading business schools will establish agreements with other schools following formally structured procedures to exchange faculty and educational methods.

Bernard Ramanantsoa is dean of the Hautes Etudes Commerciales school of management in Paris.

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