The Challenges of Teaching Globalization in B-Schools: How to be Open-Minded

Long S. Le

Global strategy professors, such as Pankaj Ghemawat, have noted that, despite advertising that they are globalized, many business schools fall short in teaching globalization – struggling to internationalize their curriculums in order to prepare students for a globalized environment.

According to Dean Bob Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, who chaired the recent task force report for AACSB International on “Globalization of Management,” the curriculums of many business schools are not very global:

Some are setting up special courses, other schools enforce that all courses do a bit about globalization and a third group combines a flagship course with doing a bit in other courses as well. But overall I would say that we have a long way to go in globalizing the content of our degrees… In the future business schools will need to focus more on building competencies like the ability to influence others, sell, negotiate, deliver difficult feedback, and lead or win the support of others. Globalization stretches these competencies. Our graduates need to understand the global setting and local cultures, know law variations across borders, and market imperfections from region to region.

However, getting to “global” or becoming globally competent, implies an explicit choice. That is, whether globalization at business schools should be taught as an end in itself or simply a means to an end. For the AACSB International’s task force report, it believes that when the underlying objective is to be perceived as “global,” there can be fragmented or disjointed activities and programs that may bring little added value to the stakeholders being served. On the one hand, the task force recognizes that each business school’s mission and environment provide a unique set of circumstances that require a customized approach to globalization. On the other hand, the above task force promotes the view that business schools should globalize as a means of achieving other objectives – educating young adults, mid-career professionals, and seasoned executives. To that end, some authors of the task force report focus on the “what” global content a business curriculum should be included, and “how” the global-related materials should be included through approaches that account for differences and distances.

Far Harder to Teach an Attitude that Embraces Many Globalizations

Even among the elite and largest business schools, they can only give their students a taste of global-related content along with what it implies and the understanding of working globally, especially at the undergraduate level.

For some, the above is probably not enough. That is, the key to good management in a global world is to be open-minded, of which is not something that is learnt but rather developed. In particular, the world is not as globalized as business students think it is. For example, when professor Pankaj Ghemawat polls his students, on what percentage of phone calls are international, they guess 40 percent – the reality is closer to 2 percent.

For me, it is no longer surprising that many business students cannot entertain the idea that China can be statistically labeled as a developing country — a per capita income of $6,500 (2014) and where about one-sixth of the population still lives on less than two dollars a day. Indeed, China contains multitudes in which party leaders and diplomats take pains to communicate that the country is “developing,” whereas American leaders think the phrase “developing” only provide China excuses about contributing more to resolve international problems.

Importantly, I learn that business schools and their faculty also need to be open-minded. For instance, some surveys show that only a small percentage of business deans, business executives, and business students see globalization as basically bad or mixed, whereas the general public (particularly those in developed countries) are skeptical about or hostile to globalization. While many business professors avoid spending time in the curriculum on anti-globalization perspectives or sociological perspectives of globalization because they amount to nonsense, doing so leaves business students ill-prepared for real-world actors that conceptualize or embrace the various dimensions of globalization very differently. These dimensions include the phenomenon of globalization, the philosophy of globalization, the process of globalization, and the patterns of globalization. If business students can become more open-minded towards “globalizations,” perhaps they are more apt to understand and communicate the underpinnings of diverse foreign environments of business  along with the cross-cultural differences in business management.

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