Business Schools: Internationalization towards a New European Perspective

Business Schools: Internationalization towards a New European Perspective

Volker Rundshagen
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5998-8.ch007
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This chapter offers a conceptual contribution to the debate of European business schools and their future directions within the context of higher education internationalization. On the one hand, European business schools represent a continuous success story in terms of enrolment figures and increasing visibility on international rankings. On the other hand, particularly driven by overarching competitiveness paradigms, they are on a path of conformity and obedience to external pressures, leading to dangerously homogenous institutions. Furthermore, they are losing their esteem within society and face increasing criticism in the wake of financial and social crises, as business school contributions have come under scrutiny. Four drivers of European business schools internationalization are identified: globalization, EU policy, rankings/accreditation, and student consumerism. Opportunities and risks arising from all four drivers are highlighted in this chapter, and the subsequent discussion outlines potential future pathways of a more beneficial internationalization that allows for new perspectives beyond apparent Americanization tendencies. It is argued that, despite manifold ambiguities associated with such concepts, through a strategic elaboration of a distinct European identity, business schools could better meet their responsibilities and also develop propositions that are competitive in the global marketplace as well as inspiring constituencies beyond this continent.
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Against the backdrop of various crises, international business schools are losing their esteem against the backdrop of various crises. An emerging body of academic literature is embarking to explore how far the very concept of academic business or management education is already or should be questioned by internal and external stakeholders. These crises include particularly the global financial market turmoil, initially caused by excessive subprime loan accumulation and trading in the United States, bursting with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. These crises also include corporate scandals intermittently startling the broader public. Landmark cases of unprecedented magnitude in the category of corporate finance fraud are Enron in the United States and Parmalat in Europe. They had to file for bankruptcy in 2001 and 2003, respectively, leaving behind a devastated workforce and a betrayed investor scene. Despite ensued heightened regulatory efforts, aimed at sound financial reporting, the trust in corporate capitalism has been eroding (e.g. Schäfer, 2009). Even more so, as recent incidents draw public attention to another category of corporate scandals, we might dub social responsibility violations. Lives were lost in Bangladesh where textile manufacturing buildings collapsed as a consequence of poor maintenance; only the culmination of appalling working conditions threatening a workforce busy to produce goods for discount and even branded clothing store imperia of Europe and North America.

Hence, it looks like the corporate world is falling apart in moral and ethical terms, “with each new scandal pointing to new levels of selfishness, greed and dishonesty in business” (Swanson, & Frederick, 2003, p. 24). Financial success increasingly comes at arguably unacceptable social and environmental costs, and the public awareness is rising, certainly also enabled through digital media spreading news and detailed accounts of perceived corporate misbehaviour ever faster (e.g. Garrett, 2006). In that very context the contribution of business schools – educating future managers and business leaders – to corporate malpractice, and also their responsibility vis-à-vis society at large is questioned and debated (e.g. Donaldson, 2012; Mintzberg, 2004). The paradox that several of the contemporary crises featured above are “brewed in the cauldrons of the new economy” (Castells, 2010: xx) which is defined, among other aspects, by higher levels of education of their protagonists, most of whom have undergone business school degree programmes. Therefore, it is obvious that business schools need to focus more on their value to society (Thomas, & Cornuel, 2012). Also, we may have reached a turning point: criticism does not only reach business schools from the outside but also increasingly from the inside, (being) represented by some of their leading professors (Birnik, & Billsberry, 2008; Starkey, Hatchuel, & Tempest, 2004).

Apparently, there is a global interconnectedness of the business world. Therefore, we also need to consider the resulting global trends (also) in a discussion of recent developments within the higher education scenery of Europe. Under the roof of those overarching global trends, the consideration of the most recent and most dramatic external force affecting European business schools is essential: the current financial turbulence on the continent that turned into the so-called Euro crisis in 2010 (Bohn, & de Jong, 2011). Whereas monetary stability seems to be granted for the time being, its frightening consequences extend far beyond the economic arena. Observers point to an erosion of democracy and citizens’ participation and to rising income inequalities probing the legitimacy of the entire political construction (e.g. Balibar, 2013). Also, there is a return of nationalism in economic policies of member states, in an era where we thought that the EU had united the continent. Industrial lobbyists and desperate politicians facing a pressurized electorate in their home countries resort to it in the pursuit of short sighted, pseudo-economic agendas (Menasse, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Millennials: Generation born between 1980 and 1995; encompasses the children of the so-called baby-boomer generation. Currently representing the vast majority of university enrollments. Usually associated with exaggerated self-confidence and consumerist attitudes, but also tends to look for meaningful careers and workplaces.

Bologna Process: Political process within Europe to create a common higher education area. Aiming at harmonization of degrees and increasing student mobility through the so-called ECTS credit point scheme covering a two-tier system of Bachelor’s (undergraduate) and Master’s level (post-graduate) degrees. At the core of EU higher education policy; reflecting a neo-liberal approach devoted to competition, market forces, and enactment of a globalized knowledge economy.

Rankings: Competitive listings of universities and other higher education institutions. Sometimes also referred to as league tables. Various international rankings are relevant for business schools competing for overseas students and highly qualified international faculty members, and there are also separate national rankings in many European countries. The evaluation criteria leading to the ranking positions of individual institutions are mostly not transparent. Increasingly used by governments to allocate funding.

Business School: University faculty or separate private or public institution where business and/or management degree programmes are offered, and where research and teaching activities at academic level are conducted.

Consumerism: Sociological concept identifying consumption as the major driving force of society. Affecting higher education through increasingly consumerist behaviour of students who look for enticing experience, explicit service provision, and value for money, rather than for traditional academic values, when enrolling for degree programmes.

Neo-Liberalism: Ideology based on free-market reign. Widely adopted by the European Union, driving liberalization and deregulation agendas currently transforming the higher education scene, among other sectors. Universities are increasingly forced to implement principles associated with private sector management, and they become subjects to market mechanisms, such as competition.

Globalization: Overarching concept to describe and analyze the phenomenon of business transactions, cultural practices, and lifestyle attitudes that are impacting distant localities and/or are diffused around the world. Underlying principle, it is the increasing interdependence of political and economic activities across national borders and continents.

Accreditation: Process and label of certification of universities, in particular business schools, meeting defined sets of criteria. Provided by national government institutions or national and international agencies. Mainly understood as quality assurance and communication instrument. Increasingly important to secure government funding and to compete for prospective students, as well as for qualified academic staff, in the global higher education scene.

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