Delivering MBA Programs in Emerging Markets: The Challenge of National Culture

Delivering MBA Programs in Emerging Markets: The Challenge of National Culture

Stephanie Jones (Department of Organizational Behavior, Maastricht School of Management, Maastricht, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/ijwltt.2013070104


Increasingly, Western-style MBA programs are being delivered in emerging markets, as the developed countries become more and more saturated with MBAs and related offerings. This article, based on the global experience of the author in teaching and assessing MBA modules including thesis and dissertation research and writing, suggests approaches to coping with the special challenges faced in new markets for MBA delivery worldwide. The differences with typical experiences in the West are cultural, linguistic, behavioral and relate to learning styles, economic backgrounds, use of technology, and relationships with administrators, teachers and fellow-students. This article is based on the author’s experiences of MBA course delivery in China, the Arab World, Africa, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, former Russian states such as Kazakhstan, and South America, such as Peru and Suriname. Examples of specific MBA teaching and assessment challenges are provided, with possible solutions and approaches for coping.
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MBA programs from “the West” are now increasingly being delivered in emerging markets. As this article is prepared as a revision of a case study researched and written three years ago, the scenario would appear to be similar, although some emerging markets are in decline and others are on the rise. It is still the case that an MBA from a reputable and accredited international business school or university can enable students in these countries to join international companies, become expatriates, earn significantly more money, and gain elite status in society. For the MBA providers, this expansion possibility internationally – together with online and distance courses, and even Coursera options – can enable these business schools and universities to increase revenues and remain competitive. This can be both outbound – the providers go to them – and inbound – they come to the providers. Here, the focus is on the former scenario – transnational learning provided by universities and business schools overseas through wholly-owned subsidiaries (less common) and in collaboration with partners (mostly other universities or business schools) in countries such as Africa, China, The Middle East, South-East Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, etc.

This article has been based on the experience of the author over six years of teaching flying in and out in outreach programs all over the world, following four years of delivering “Western” style MBAs whilst based in Dubai in the Middle East (which included traveling to other Gulf countries and Egypt, including Iran).

MBA program delivery outbound to students on the ground in emerging markets can present completely new challenges, especially for faculty members. The students behave in completely unexpected ways, and demand unheard of – and sometimes quite unacceptable – new arrangements. They are used to being “customers” – not “candidates’. The resulting challenges can include issues of academic integrity and other matters relating to academic standards. The students ask for special treatment with more time to finish assignments and examinations, want to attend less than the full hours of study, expect to be allowed to opt out of or compensate for different assessment items, resist individual accountability, refuse to accept rules about plagiarism, and admire those students who can hoodwink professors or otherwise undermine academic authority. These issues in course delivery and teaching can be seen as reflecting cultural norms: high power distance, uncertainty avoidance, ascribed leadership, collectivism, synchronism and diffuseness, particularistic behaviors and other national cultural concepts identified in by theorists in the literature.

This article therefore focuses on identifying the cultural barriers to successful MBA delivery in emerging market contexts and to recommend strategies for maintaining “academic product” quality and integrity, through evidence-based research to help decision-making for hands-on faculty members and the initiators of international partnerships, who should take these operational, delivery issues into account when preparing their education strategies. This can be seen as a context for technology-related issues, which must take the socio-cultural-economic of transnational learning initiatives into account.

The rationale for this article stems from the fact that more and more MBA courses are being launched in emerging markets, despite the overall worldwide recession; that this represents an ongoing challenge for teachers of these courses, sometimes ill-prepared for these environments, given the lack of orientation provided to them; and the existence of considerable cross-cultural issues, which are rarely explored in detail in preparing teachers for assignments. Teachers of executive courses, language teachers, aid workers and all visiting expatriate teachers and consultants focused on emerging market participants will also probably face these and similar issues. How can MBA faculty members in particular gain insights to overcome cross-cultural barriers, keep up standards of the course and product, and manage multicultural training groups in the best way they can? Technology can be both an enabler and a barrier here. The standardization of course materials, the ability to electronically send materials in advance, the use of technology in the classroom when delivering the program – all these have benefits and drawbacks.

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