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The Education of Business Education’

My son came to me recently saying he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, but was adamant he wanted to go to university. I made encouraging noises and then enquired as to the subject. “No idea dad!” “Well,” I replied, “probably best to do a business qualification.”

How many parents are giving the same advice around the world?

Matthew Cooper

Matthew Cooper

Certainly there is value in a business programme. This often the domain of ‘lost souls’ who wish to create an academic foundation that will provide them with the largest number of potential life options. However, increasingly, business programmes are being chosen by those that truly wish to become experts in the field of Management.

Management has always had its challenges, but still contemporary management demands that those challenges be met more effectively, more efficiently, and within a shorter time frame. That’s because the dynamic nature of modern management, communication and change requires this!

Many managers have arrived at their current post by keeping their ‘noses clean’, working hard and being in the right place at the right time. This is all well and good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that these ‘evolved’ managers are making the best decisions, rather they are making the decisions that have worked before, and are therefore reliable and safe. More often than not, a safe decision is not conducive to effective change; in fact, some may argue the opposite.

One must not belittle the value of experience; experience coupled with a solid theoretical foundation, which provides a sounding board and support mechanism for decision making, is in fact the best way forward.

This is not to say that just having a business degree will be the answer to all yours and your businesses’ problems, this is a dangerous assumption. But not all business programmes are created equally. The word business after all does cover a great deal of ground.

I recently contacted some of my alumni, and asked them what they would like to see in an ‘ideal’ business programme. 300 students from around the world, working in pretty much every sector, with roles ranging from retail supervisory to government ministers, shared some valuable insight.

Themes such as ‘no exams’ were hardly surprising – a point which I happen to endorse. Why test a student’s ability to do an exam instead of giving them the time to create a well-reasoned, well substantiated argument that truly digs into an issue?

The second response that appeared with surprising regularity was that students noted, traditionally, each management function is studied in isolation, and they often missed out on the interconnectedness of the subject areas that one has to deal with in the working environment.  For example, if one was to write a marketing plan, this shouldn’t be done remotely from the finance function, as they are intrinsically linked.

An MBA programme I have been working on contains each management function within every module. The feedback so far has been excellent, with each module being ‘real’, ‘interesting’ and ‘fully contextualised to the actual business world’. The only challenge was finding staff to deliver it. I needed academics who had been in the industry, seen the real world and had cross cutting experience of multiple departments. In addition, staff have to talk to each other so modules don’t exist in isolation, but are linked; this will make them interesting, useful and relevant.

In the business world, we are all familiar with the concept of ‘added value’. The business world is changing, due to its highly dynamic nature, and so are the specific requirements of employers who are looking for staff that can hit the ground running.

Potential business employees don’t want to go for an interview and sit in a waiting room surrounded by other applicants who all hold the same qualification. Interviewees are aware that employers are looking for someone that stands out from the crowd. Such awareness should motivate newcomers to start building a competitive professional profile from the onset.

Going forward, we need managers that have talent and expertise in their fields, not managers that have lots of useful subsets of knowledge that orbit freely around them, without ever gaining any symbiotic value. For this to happen, more innovative approaches to the process of business education need to be taken.

About the author

Matthew Cooper is director of postgraduates programs at Arden University. He has a long experience in international business, and a wide knowledge of the Far East culture and markets.

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