A New Age for Doctoral Education
In an effort to address the ability of business doctoral programs to adequately prepare graduates for the evolving world of business and higher education, AACSB International commissioned the Doctoral Education Task Force to better understand the varied models, challenges, and opportunities for business doctoral education around the world.
On September 10, 2013, AACSB International will release its report, The Promise of Business Doctoral Education, to its global membership. The findings encourage and support business schools to achieve innovation, sustainability, relevance and quality in business doctoral education. Full access to the report will be available to the general public beginning September 16, 2013. The report also seeks to accelerate an evolution of program models to make business doctoral education more accessible and relevant to a broader range of participants while serving an expansive set of societal purposes.
Business doctoral education has directly contributed to advancing the intellectual foundations of business and management, while sustaining vibrant academic communities and elevating the scholarly reputation of business schools within universities.
Yet the lens through which we evaluate the needs served by doctoral education is broadening, and imminent issues in global doctoral education still must be addressed. Doctoral education design and delivery models must continue to evolve in a way that best supports different needs, experiences, and goals around the globe. Schools must look globally to identify effective practices, seek partners, and understand the forces impacting their recruitment, positioning, and placement strategies—all while providing an unrelenting attention to quality.
Serving a Broader Range of Societal Purposes
Quality business doctoral education adds value to the dynamics among business schools, in business, and society as a whole. Resulting work of the task force revealed:
Business doctoral education can (and should) support individuals pursuing a range of professional paths within and beyond academia and create new career pathways between business and academic sectors.
A need for a clearer distinction between the growing class of professionally-oriented doctoral programs, and programs that are more appropriate for academic career paths. While both are valuable, the strengths expected from graduates differ, with implications for program design.
A need for the range of research training in doctoral education to expand along a continuum from basic/foundational research, to more applied/translational research—providing value at the intersection of theory and business practice. Intercultural and interdisciplinary perspectives in research are also important for addressing modern management problems.
Programs should seek ways to create closer connections between business and academic sectors, supporting the increased relevance of business school research to practicing business leaders.
The skills required of doctoral program graduates to effectively communicate ideas and teach effectively to diverse audiences are vital and deserve greater attention within doctoral programs.
A Call for Innovation in Design and Delivery Models
Barriers to innovation range from faculty members' value of tradition and limited perspectives of alternative models, to the high costs of delivering doctoral education and the related perceived high cost of failure. Still, the drivers for innovation in doctoral program design and delivery include:
- Purpose: Greater differentiation in the defined purposes of business doctoral programs contributes to a richer set of options for personal and professional development, and is needed to serve the evolving needs of both higher education and professional organizations.
- Access: Expanding doctoral education to parts of the world where it is limited, and ensuring that the programs are affordable, accessible, and of high quality is critical.
- Capacity: The increasing financial constraints in higher education require close attention to the financial models for doctoral education. There is a critical need for innovations that can scale doctoral education and increase efficiency.
- Quality: Innovation should not just be directed at reaching more people, but delivering them an educational experience of the highest quality.
The report challenges individual schools, especially AACSB-accredited schools, to lead the way in doctoral education innovation. Business schools must be bold in their pursuit of innovation and positive change in doctoral education.
Management education leaders must accept the responsibility of shepherding a transformation of doctoral education to meet the needs of the academic and professional organizations graduates will enter, while preserving the quality and integrity of doctoral education amid pressures to cut corners and lower standards.
To answer this call to action, the report suggests several potential strategies, including:
- Implementing capacity-building initiatives
- Facilitating student/faculty mobility
- Increasing program flexibility
- Integrating distance delivery
- Developing industry partnerships
- Enhancing collaborations and consortia
- Unrelenting Attention to Quality
Regardless of intended purpose or design/delivery model, a doctoral program should be characterized by rigor and ensure that students are challenged to achieve the highest level of learning.
The 2013 AACSB Accreditation Standards encourage and enable schools to be more innovative in doctoral education, while maintaining clear guidelines for quality in accordance with program mission. The task force encourages AACSB accreditation committees and review teams to reinforce this intent in the application of the 2013 standards.
Program directors, potential students, potential funders, and potential collaborators (including businesses considering research partnerships) also have an interest in better understanding the attributes that characterize a quality business doctoral program. The report outlines the attributes related to program mission, content, design, participants, and learning outcomes that schools (and others) can use as a basis for evaluating the quality and, perhaps more importantly, the "fit" of different programs with specific objectives.
The report calls attention to a role for other organizations to support a thriving doctoral education environment by supporting data and information on programs, networks for schools, students, and employers, and ancillary programs to facilitate career success.