Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Are all Business Schools bad?

Earlier this year, Martin Parker (27 April 2018) talked about why - in his opinion - business schools are terrible places. I was quite surprised by his view, as in my experience, almost everything he said was the antithesis of what the Business School I am in teaches.

Martin felt that business schools had the "newest and most ostentatious" facilities on campus, implied they had too much influence, have and perpetuate cultures of "short-termism and greed", are to blame for global crises, and are places where those graduating have poor soft skills and cannot apply what they those skills they have learned. Ouch. He cited all those old MBA jokes: that it stands for “More Bad Advice” or "Master Bullshit Artist" (Parker, 27 April 2018). Man, if only he could see the scabby building and facilities in our business school. Yes, it is the largest income earner, but it also has the oldest building, no air con, and everything is tatty. Our fire-doors are so old and stiff it is a gym workout to walk through the building. 

Martin talks about business school qualification being elitist in the US, reserved for those who can afford it. In New Zealand the issue of class doesn't translate well into a business degree or post-graduate study, so these arguments do not really fit (Parker, 27 April 2018). Here in New Zealand there are government controls on how much an institute can charge for courses. While I may wish that we could fully fund everyone to study whatever they wanted to study, every citizen can get a loan to continue their study as far as they would like to. 

In thinking about this, I was wondering if an MBA is largely an American thing. Here in New Zealand, we tend to do our undergraduate degrees and then work our way up within our profession. While Kiwis may sometimes go on to an MBA, it is more likely we have done a B.Com at the outset, so our later post-graduate qualification is more likely to be industry-specific. We apprentice our business skills in a more practical way. We also tend to teach ethics, law and leadership as part of our programmes. We also tend to teach the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: because all our tertiary institutions are government run and funded, all our business schools have to adhere to New Zealand's partnership agreement between the Crown and Iwi. When many Iwi have 500 year plans, this tends to give us a slightly more social and a slightly longer-term focus. We do not have such a profit-focus in New Zealand as our trans-Tasman cousins have, and we have a much more collective focus than our US compatriots. I do not think that the following is true here:
" the business school, both the explicit and hidden curriculums sing the same song. The things taught and the way that they are taught generally mean that the virtues of capitalist market managerialism are told and sold as if there were no other ways of seeing the world" (Parker, 27 April 2018).
Martin mentioned that the business school is likely to pull in the most revenue. I suspect that is true in New Zealand as well, but, as New Zealand business school contribution margins add to what are effectively under-funded public government departments, this doesn't convert to power. 

I wonder if all this is what helps to keep Kiwi institutions honest. New Zealanders' approach to honesty, transparency and integrity helps us to ensure that our business school graduates are not usually on the front page of the paper for the wrong reasons. I am sure that these are not the only reasons why New Zealand business schools are different to their international cousins. But I do feel that the almost 30 business schools in New Zealand should not be bulldozed with the 13,000-odd others on the planet that Martin is calling for. 

While this might be naive, I think the Kiwi business model is a more socially-oriented, sustainable capitalism. And long may that last.


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