Business Schools Confronting a De-Globalized World
Business schools today face a historic opportunity to reinvent our mission and reposition our activities to influence the transformation of global society.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
These popular first lines of A Tale of Two Cities seem as applicable to our current world as when Charles Dickens wrote them at the peak of the nineteenth century’s Industrial Revolution. Indeed, we live in a time of dramatic change, one in which social paradigms are shifting, and we can’t help but wonder what the world will be like in the future.
The beginning of my mandate as chair of AACSB’s board of directors in 2016 coincided with the start of the association’s Visioning Initiative, a project focused on defining the main approaches for the development of business schools around the world, which culminated in A Collective Vision for Business Education.
The basis for this initiative was a shared optimism that business schools should play a transformational role in society. There were some suppositions behind this. For example, we accepted the world’s globalization as irreversible fact and, consequently, that AACSB’s membership should expand its boundaries across all continents.
There were other things taken for granted, too: the expansion of international trade, an increase in the cross-border movement of talent, respect and promotion of cultural diversity, as well as worldwide governmental support for sustainable growth initiatives to combat climate change.
However, recent upheavals such as Brexit, policies announced by the current American presidency, the rise of nationalism and populism, and issues brought on by massive immigration have thrown much into question. A common expression used to define today’s context is the “post-world.” We are post-global, post-truth, and post-certain.
It is challenging to realize and assimilate these profound and unforeseen changes that have occurred in such a short period. Not to mention that they may have caused the enthusiasm and support generated at the launch of the Collective Vision to cool.
One of the consequences of populism is that business schools, along with other higher education institutions, have become a favorite target of critics who claim that we are the cradle of globalization and perpetuate elitism. No doubt that we have all heard such criticism before—it is anything but novel; however, it would be naïve to think that given the current climate, it will dissolve as quickly as it has in the past.
What business schools face today is a historic opportunity to reinvent our mission and reposition our activities to influence the transformation of global society. Business schools can contribute to the development and preparation of managers and entrepreneurs to be the architects of inclusive and fair societal structures. Our faculty can develop research of impact that addresses real problems in our communities. This is particularly important during times like now when anti-scientific attitudes are rampant. We can and should contribute to the design of a better society, one that is more just and equal.
It is very likely that all these changes will continue to create turbulence in the short term, turbulence that will affect our activity as business schools. We may witness a decrease in the flow of cross-border talent (students, faculty, entrepreneurs, recruiters) because of increased obstacles to mobility across countries. Or, a change in the ways companies do business may affect our graduates, for example the configuration of supply chains or a move from offshoring to on-shoring to confront trade tariffs.
Yet, there are two good reasons to nurture hope for the long run. First, given the unstoppable development of digitalization across all sectors, including education, it is very likely that the world will evolve toward further integration, despite the odds. Second, millennials and younger generations—our current and future students—have a distinct cosmopolitan mindset with which they actively cultivate a feeling of global citizenship.
It may be the worst of times, but it also is the best of times. There are many opportunities to be seized by business schools. It is time for us to reconquer our role as the trailblazers of global society.