CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Business schools: positioning, rankings, research and futures
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Management Decision, Volume 47, Issue 9
In a recent paper (Thomas, 2007) I noted that, despite the undoubted success of business schools and particularly MBA programmes (Antunes and Thomas, 2007, p. 382), there has been considerable discussion about the purpose of business schools in modern universities. Indeed, I pointed out (Thomas, 2007, p. 9) that business schools “currently face an image and identity crisis and have been subject to a wide range of critical reviews about their societal status as academic and professional schools”. Bennis and O’Toole (2005); Ghoshal (2005); Pfeffer and Fong (2004); and Mintzberg and Gosling (2002) have suggested that business schools are too market-driven, pander too much to league table rankings and ratings, do irrelevant and not actionable research and focus too much on the development of analytical rather than professional managerial skills.
In the light of the critical tone of many recent comments it is important that business schools, and their deans, focus on their strategy and strategic positioning and decide what kind of business school they want to be. Their strategic choices can lie on a continuum from internationally prestigious and research-oriented to more professionally focused and applied schools.
The aim of this set of papers, therefore, is to provide frameworks for interpreting the current strategic debates about positioning, research, resources and future evolution of business schools. The papers can be categorized into three themes covering business schools and their strategic pathways, namely,
the influence of rankings and league tables; and
management research and the future evolution of business schools.
The first theme develops insights about strategic positioning and the dean’s role and presents a competitive mapping of global business schools based on the Financial Times Global MBA rankings. Julie Davies and Howard Thomas first present a unique interview study of the 16 UK business school deans, which asks what business school deans do. They indicate that the role of a dean is similar to that of a partner in a professional service forum. They identify, using the Myers-Briggs personality scale, a predominant dean’s psychometric type, involving preferences for extroversion, tough mindedness, seeing patterns and making connections, strategic thinking and a tendency to bring issues to closure. Howard Thomas and Xiaoying Li then follow up on a suggestion made by Policano (2007, p. 46) that business schools should be rated and clustered rather than ranked on a numerical scale as is typically the case in league tables provided by, for example, the Financial Times and The Economist. Thomas and Li, therefore, cluster the listing of global business schools into a number of strategic groups that reflect the similarity of their strategies and strategic positions. This means that, for example, the elite internationally ranked schools fall clearly into the top cluster as their strategies are similar and reinforced by strong strategic barriers such as outstanding reputations, clear brand names and very strong resource bases and endowments.
The second theme focuses specifically on the influence of rankings and league tables on the strategies of business schools. Peters (2007, p. 52) notes that “many schools have come to terms with the new socially constructed reality of rankings and they are learning how to work with them. Rankings cause schools to reflect on a broad range of conditions and outcomes related to their schools”. Business schools must link their activities to a broad set of rankings ranging from the Global MBA league table rankings of Financial Times and The Economist to the research rankings provided, for example, by the research assessment exercise (RAE) for the UK business schools. The presence of so many diverse rankings leads Khurana (2007) to highlight the “tyranny of the rankings” as a perhaps unwelcome influence on the management and positioning of business schools.
Thomas and Wilson (2009) note the growing focus on performance measures such as research citation metrics and academic paper download measures in judging the quality of business schools and particularly their research strengths. Huw Morris and his co-authors in their paper provide an extensive justification for the use of journal ranking lists, such as that provided by the Association of Business Schools in the UK. Indeed, in a more recent unpublished working paper they show that journal rankings are a strong predictor of the recent research rankings (RAE) of UK Business Schools. John Peters and Rebecca Marsh on the other hand further note how important download ranking measures can be in judging the relevance of research papers used by management schools and, equally importantly, the wider management audience.
Citation and download metrics, however, may become ends in their own right; a political rather than an academic pursuit (Lawrence, 2003; Adler and Harzing, 2009). This focus on metrics to assess research quality has been an important part of the debate on the role and purpose of research in management schools, which is the subject of the third theme in this collection of papers. The papers by Armand Hatchuel and Robin Wensley provide commentaries on important aspects of management research. Hatchuel examines the growth of strong, foundationalist disciplinary research as French business schools developed their competitive identities while Wensley examines the experience of the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) in enhancing UK management research and in bridging the gap between theoretically grounded and practically oriented research in business schools. They both examine whether business schools can produce academically rigorous research and at the same time engage more actively with the needs of management practitioners. These papers also complement the recent work of the authors of the AACSB (Association to AACSB International, 2007, p. 11) in their report on the impact of research who also note the “passionate dialogue and debate” that surrounds the purpose of research in business schools and the problematic relationship between theory and practice.
This tension between the academic and professional orientations of business schools is captured by Crainer and Dearlove’s (1998: 48) description of the schizophrenic positioning of the business school: “The dilemma is this: On the one hand business schools present themselves as BONA FIDE academic institutions. On the other, they try to demonstrate their ability to manage themselves as businesses because, that, effectively is what they are.” Indeed both Khurana (2007) and Starkey and Tiratsoo (2007) argue that business schools have overly stressed business values – and one model of business – rather than the concept of the business school as an important area of scholarship in modern universities. Khurana’s “higher aims” represent a shift toward redefining he purpose of business schools as professional schools that focus on management as a profession with well-articulated professional and moral ideals, Starkey and Tiratsoo, on the other hand, emphasise the need for an ideological repositioning of the business school and the need for new directions, knowledge and narratives that encompass socio-economic, political, technological and cultural forces of change and provide a greater sense of moral and intellectual identity and purpose.
As we look to long-term goals and solutions for business schools we should recognize the opportunities provided by the current global crisis to bring ethical thinking, the role of business in society, the relevance of business history and the changing impacts of globalization into the fabric of business school curricula. In this process business school deans must recognize, and be even more sensitive to, the variety of cultural and educational models that exist beyond their home countries. Through a clearer understanding of such educational diversity, all models of business education should become more internationally and culturally sensitive and much more enriched overall (Thomas, 2003, pp.44). Indeed, the report on the global management education landscape (Global Foundation for Management Education, 2007) seeks to specifically engage the global management education community in shaping the future of business schools and in developing such schools effectively in all the areas of the world – developed, developing or underdeveloped. This challenge should be one of the key strategic foci of innovative and insightful business school deans.
Howard ThomasGuest Editor
AACSB International (2007), “Report on the impact of management research”, available at: www.aacsb.edu
Adler, N.J. and Harzing, A.W. (2009), “When knowledge wins: transcending the sense and nonsense of academic rankings academy of management learning and education”, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 72–95
Antunes, D. and Thomas, H. (2007), “The competitive (dis)advantages of European business schools”, Long Range Planning, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 382–404
Bennis, W.G. and O’Toole, J. (2005), “How business schools lost their way”, Harvard Business Review, May/June
Crainer, S. and Dearlove, D. (1998), Gravy Training: Inside the World’s Top Business Schools, Capstone, Oxford
Ghoshal, S. (2005), “Bad management theories are destroying good management practice”, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 75–91
Global Foundation for Management Education (2007), The Global Management Education Landscape, GFME, Emerald Group Publishing, Bingley
Khurana, R. (2007), From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
Lawrence, P.A. (2003), “The politics of publication – authors, reviewers and editors must act to protect the quality of research”, Nature, Vol. 422 No. 6929, pp. 259–61
Mintzberg, H. and Gosling, J. (2002), “Educating managers beyond borders”, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 64–76
Peters, K. (2007), “Business school ranking: content and context”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 49–53
Pfeffer, J. and Fong, C.T. (2004), “The business schools business: some lessons from the US experience”, Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 41 No. 8, pp. 1501–20
Policano, A.J. (2007), “The rankings game, and the winner is …”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 43–8
Starkey, K. and Tiratsoo, N. (2007), The Business School and the Bottom Line, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Thomas, H. (2003), “The myth of standardised business education”, BizEd, September/October, pp. 40–4
Thomas, H. (2007), “Editorial: strategic themes and challenges facing business schools”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 5–8
Thomas, H. and Wilson, A. (2009), “An analysis of the environment and competitive dynamics of management research”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 28 No. 8, pp. 668–84