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Lost in Translation? Impact and the Future of the Business School


The intellectual capital of business and management schools around the world should not be underestimated. The interdisciplinary expertise of researchers and teachers represents a huge asset across a broad range of fields, from strategy to supply chains and from economics to entrepreneurship. However, the critical question facing business schools is whether they are truly unlocking and maximizing their potential, or whether much of the value they provide is being lost in translation—if it is translated at all.

For many years, AACSB International has been at the frontier in promoting the highest standards of teaching and learning across its membership. Whether through undergraduate, graduate, or executive education, business schools aspire to excellence and innovation. Likewise, the emphasis on pursuing academic and applied research remains a defining feature of many business schools. If the potential of these core missions and values is to be realized, we must ensure that they continue to be developed.

For a number of years business schools have pursued, to different degrees, what is known as an impact, service, outreach, or engagement mission. It is imperative that business schools do more than pay lip service to this agenda because, beyond generating research-based insights and developing the skills of learners, this mission will define the relevance of business schools in the future. The central question facing business schools, then, is how will they evolve to become more innovative, more engaged, and more impactful?

A Time for Change

Now more than ever there is a need for business schools to “walk the talk” with respect to engagement, impact, and innovation. This means building on existing strengths in teaching and research to develop new ways of engaging with public, private, and third-sector (nonprofit, voluntary, nongovernmental) organizations to foster impact and innovation through relationships. The challenge here is in establishing new ways of working, such as co-design and co-production, which are fast becoming the new imperatives to which business schools must adhere.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here is changing mindsets. There is view among external organizations that business school are detached centers of teaching and research; business school leaders must invalidate this view by encouraging faculty to not only recognize the value of their expertise but articulate it to different audiences and engage with them. Through a growing portfolio of activity, by whatever name, business schools need to ensure that more than just our academic peers, our learners, and our partners recognize the value we have to offer. Business schools have the potential to be anchor institutions regionally, nationally, and internationally. However, if business schools fail to innovate, there is a danger of not realizing our potential, or worse, being left behind.

There are, of course, a number business schools already engaged in aspects of this agenda, and who are breaking new ground. Indeed, AACSB’s Impact of Research Task Force is also driving this agenda, stating in its report, “it is clear that any effort to increase the value of business school research and, we would argue, teaching, should address the challenge of knowledge production and knowledge transfer.” In setting out “five opportunities to thrive,” terminology coined in the Collective Vision for Business Education, AACSB is pushing business schools to reconsider not only the vision of business education but the vision of the business school.

AACSB Collective Vision Five Opportunities to Thrive

The Business School of the Future

Every business school has its own strengths, and these should provide both the basis and catalyst for change. In seizing these and other opportunities, the business school of the future needs to evolve and adapt. Business school leaders now need to embrace this agenda and see it as a way to empower the teaching and research activities of colleagues. While most business schools have already stepped outside the “ivory tower” of the university, in order to address the big questions facing society, there is a need to truly work with different stakeholders from the public and private sectors as well as with colleagues from departments across the institution.

To address this new reality, business schools need to find new ways of working. This involves a change of emphasis from working independently to becoming a facilitator and enabler in translating research insights to leverage socioeconomic impact. More than ever, engagement, impact, and innovation is about co-creation, and business schools are ideally placed to span disciplinary and organizational boundaries to lead activities in these areas. By doing things differently, business schools are redefining their relationships with organizations in the public, private, and third sectors, where the emphasis is on applying and translating academic expertise with partners to (co-)create new insights and value. Only in this way can the business schools of today realize their full potential tomorrow.


Tim Vorley, Professor, Sheffield University Management SchoolTim Vorley is a professor of entrepreneurship and associate dean of research at Sheffield University Management School in the U.K. He is on Twitter @timvorley.

Patrick Cullen Patrick Cullen is vice president of strategy and innovation at AACSB International and is coauthor of the book Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads.

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