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Where business schools are going wrong

Universities are now selling management academia as a commodity which may be homogeneous in nature. As research is critically viewed as having no objectivity and if all knowledge claims are equally true or false, then business schools have become no more than political institutions, selling and promoting business education as a product rather than a tool to succeed in the real world.

A decade ago having obtained an MBA or MSc from a prestigious university was considered a guaranteed ticket to the start of a respectable career in the corporate or pretty much any sector of the industry. However, recently, MBA programs face strong criticism for deteriorating to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, failing to infuse norms of ethical and sound managerial behaviour and most importantly, failing to lead graduates to good corporate jobs. This debate has been strongly brought to light by Warren Beniss and James O’toole in 2005.

In the light of recent research and much debate, the root of the problem seems to stem from the much argued point of view that in the discipline of marketing there is a major gap or ‘divorce’ between marketing theory that is being taught in business schools and marketing practice actually taking place in the working field. It has been long reported by scholars such as Henry Mintzberg that the ironies of the marketing myopia or short-sightedness is its significance to the generation, propagation and distribution of marketing knowledge between academia and practice.

According to research conducted by Webster et al. (2005), a large percentage of senior executives in the US and Europe are dissatisfied with the performance of their managing executives, owing to the fact that they have a diminutive awareness of the current research and ways of thinking and executing and this is partly due to the fact that there is a conflict between management schools’ idealism of academic research and the need for managers to focus on solving strategic problems.
Concerns have also been raised by parties that marketing academia are not teaching the most contemporary skills and research required for managers to meet the needs of organizations and practitioners, as theory can only build a knowledge base for students, but not teach them the necessary skills required to make decisions or execute plans, lead teams, be effective supervisors or managers and most importantly, be flawless communicators, a trait very pertinent to any career in the cut-throat corporate world today.

However, the actual gap between what is taught as marketing and how it is practiced apparently stems from the shift in the teaching culture and the relevance of the curriculum and literature taught within business schools. According to Webster, the emphasis on scientific rigor over problem importance and significance has meant that the marketing discipline has not progressed to keep pace with a rapidly changing market environment.
Business Schools are now widely being criticized for having adopted a more scientific model of education, more like the physics discipline, which is rigorous in its academic research, rather than the previous law or medical school like structure, where theory met with practice in the real world. Business schools are failing to impart useful skills such as leadership, decision making, commercial awareness, teamwork etc., which are crucial for students to thrive in the corporate industry.

Where as previously business institutions were ranked on the bases of their academic excellence, University league tables now give the highest rankings to business institutions with the best world class research facilities. Institutions such as Royal Holloway Business School, UK, now introduce their University in the ‘About us’ section as ‘In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise 95% of our research was judged to be of an international standard…’ rather than talk about their academics, awards or campus etc. Research also shows that most institutions in collaboration with Research Councils provide grants and funding for Research/ PhD, Masters rather than students opting for a taught Masters program.

Institutions such as MIT Sloan whereas previously hired individuals who had factual life experience in the business field, are now hiring professors who have published in A-list discipline based journals and may be excellent fact collectors, but have never had any real experience with businesses except as customers because their careers are devoted to science and research. The general view is currently indicating that business professors too often forget that executive decision makers are not fact collectors; they are fact users and integrators. Thus, scholars and practitioners collectively agree that what students need from professors is an understanding of how to interpret facts and guidance on how to ‘take a shot in the dark’ in indecisive situations in boardrooms, especially in the absence of clear facts, rather than dissipate their time learning complex methods of quantifying data and writing papers on theory that is no longer functional nor pertinent in most likely aspects of their future.

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