The Benefits of International Advisory Boards

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023
By Ira Weiss
Photo by iStock/PeopleImages
Is your school getting the strategic guidance it needs from its dean’s advisory board? If not, an IAB might fill the gap.
  • Although a dean’s advisory board can help a business school engage with the community and enhance reputation, it might lack a global perspective on a school’s broader strategic plan.
  • That’s why deans should consider assembling international advisory boards, which can apply global mindsets and diversity of thought to strategic challenges.
  • An IAB’s insights can force schools to fine-tune their missions and position themselves for more successful accreditation visits.


It’s common for a business school to rely on its dean’s advisory board (DAB) to support fundraising efforts, provide student internships, promote the school’s community engagement, and enhance its reputation. But a DAB, which most often is composed of alumni and local executives, is not normally equipped to position a college to address areas such as curriculum innovations, student success, continuous improvement, and overall impact.

DABs can have a valuable place in the dean’s arsenal. But now more than ever, deans need more vehicles for receiving advice for securing the short- and long-term futures of their schools.

Traditionally, deans have garnered global perspectives and strategic guidance by engaging their colleagues at deans’ conferences or by receiving feedback from AACSB initial or continuous improvement review visits. But there is a way for schools to institutionalize this more comprehensive advising process—they can establish boards made up of a global group of fellow academicians. These boards are often known as international advisory boards, or IABs.

Having served on such boards, I know how valuable they can be to deans and their institutions. Below, I share factors that schools should consider when setting up their own IABs.

What Does an IAB Do?

An IAB is an objective group of academic administrators and business leaders who provide deans with input on a range of strategic planning concerns, often related to the school’s global aspirations. For example, below is the charter that one school created for its own IAB:

Our school desires to assemble a board of highly successful national and international business school deans and professionals who will advise and assist on the following topics:

  • Creating innovative programs and curricula.
  • Identifying emerging best practices for global business schools.
  • Addressing challenges facing business schools over the next 10+ years.
  • Creating and establishing global academic partnerships and consortia.
  • Accessing global and domestic student internships.     
  • Creating successful global and domestic partnerships within the business community. 
  • Setting realistic strategies and time frames.
  • Accessing highly qualified and diverse academic talent.
  • Providing quality opportunities for students both globally and domestically.

During each IAB meeting, members explore questions similar to those asked during a typical AACSB peer review team (PRT) visit. These include:

  • What has happened over the last year, internally or externally, that might impact the plan?
  • What progress has been made on the plan?
  • Does the plan need to be updated or modified?
  • Can the plan be accomplished in the time frame originally proposed?
  • Are the responsible individuals able to execute on their tasks?

An IAB can apply a global mindset to these probing questions, and its discussions take place in a highly constructive environment. Once an IAB’s members address concerns related to the school’s strategic plan, they typically explore what is happening globally and locally that might impact the school’s mission. Then, they can make recommendations about how the dean and the school’s executive committee should react or adjust.

An IAB’s input forces a dean to look critically at the school’s strategic plan and accomplishments each year, which is a useful exercise for any administrator at an institution that wants to expand its global reach. An IAB can be particularly valuable for a school that is looking to achieve or maintain accreditation, because it sets the school up for a successful accreditation visit.

What Goes Into Assembling an IAB?

Administrators who are considering forming IABs for their business schools will have to consider several foundational questions:

Will the school benefit from an IAB? For most schools, the answer is yes, because an IAB provides a trifecta of input. It promotes an annual review of strategies and execution. It includes individuals from different countries, who bring different perspectives on global business education. And it presents diversity of thought from a cultural perspective, from individuals who will potentially challenge and enhance strategic thinking at the school.

These advantages could be even more beneficial to schools pursuing AACSB accreditation, which emphasizes the importance of strategic planning and execution, a global mindset, and diversity and inclusion.

An IAB’s input forces a dean to look critically at the school’s strategic plan, which is a useful exercise for institutions that want to expand their global reach or that are seeking to achieve or maintain accreditation.

What are the mechanics of choosing and assembling an IAB? Ideally, deans and faculty members have colleagues located in international venues who can identify and make introductions to appropriate potential members. If enough schools become interested in forming such boards, I can envision alliances between AACSB, EFMD, CLADEA, and other organizations that could possibly facilitate and assist schools in forming their boards.

How often should the IAB meet? Schools with IABs typically meet with their boards once a year to discuss the school’s strategic plan. Members can meet face-to-face, virtually, or in a hybrid format.

For example, at the most recent meeting I attended, some members met on campus and others attended virtually. The host school had a strong internet connection, as well as on-site assistance from the IT staff. As a result, the meeting went extremely well.

What should an IAB’s composition be? Most IABs include six to 10 members. Typically, at least two of those members work in the corporate/professional world at local organizations. The remaining members are deans or former deans, all international. This combination provides a nice balance between perspectives that represent domestic business and those that represent global business education.

Schools with a regional focus might need to shift this balance, adding more domestic perspectives to align with their visions and missions. But I would argue that all business schools should ensure that at least a portion of their boards represent global thought. If a board is composed primarily of domestic deans and professionals, the term Strategic Advisory Board (SAB) might be more appropriate. That said, its function remains the same: to assist the dean and school in executing its overall strategy and academic plan.

What Takeaways Can IABs Offer?

At recent meetings that I have attended, board members provided school leadership with fresh perspectives on everything from student recruitment to curricular content. Here is a sampling of questions they discussed:

  • Do administrators have a handle on the types of faculties the school will need to support its programmatic and student growth?
  • Is the political and economic climate stable enough in countries where the school plans to open programs or campuses?
  • Should information technology and artificial intelligence be the school’s programmatic focus?
  • Are the school’s current faculty aligned with its stated research foci?
  • Is the school highlighting resources and facilities that will appeal to prospective international and domestic students and faculty?
  • Does the school have adequate resources available to invest in supporting a strong alumni network, which is critical to the success of the school and its students?

After each IAB meeting, members most often provide the dean with a report that includes discussion highlights and the board’s overall recommendations. For example, IAB members might tell a dean that the school needs to better define its strategies if it wants to accomplish its stated mission. Or, they might advise a dean to use caution when growing the student body aggressively, because such growth must be aligned with the capacity of the faculty and staff.

Are IABs Worth the Effort?

Establishing such a board is not a trivial task. It is reasonable for any dean to ask whether an IAB’s value is worth the time and effort required to form and maintain it. To answer that question, I share below how I’ve seen some schools modify, scale down, or even cancel their plans based on the input of their IABs—and likely achieved improved strategic outcomes as a result.

For instance, one school planned to align with many international schools for exchanges and double degrees. In response to its IAB’s recommendations, the school modified its plan, instead adopting more strategic partnerships with at most 10 schools that were geographically aligned with the school’s mission and vision.

Another school was about to open a campus in in a different country. Few, if any, other international schools had entered this market, so it seemed like a great opportunity. But based on its IAB’s concerns, the school delayed moving forward. After further research, it ultimately never executed the plan.

IABs provide school leadership with fresh perspectives on everything from student recruitment to curricular content.

The administration at another school believed its position in the region provided it with a great opportunity to significantly expand its executive education offerings, including executive MBA and other master’s programs. But board members pointed out that the school would need to utilize a significant number of adjunct faculty, which could put its faculty qualification ratios in jeopardy. As a result, the school scaled down its plan.

One IAB pointed out that although the school’s mission statement described its strategies and aspirations, it neither articulated why the school was established nor communicated a clear message to the public. The school modified its mission statement and was much better prepared for its next AACSB visit.

Another school had outsourced its alumni network to an independent group of alumni and supported that group with funding. But its IAB members pointed out that this outsourced arrangement did not support the roles that the school wanted its network to fulfill, such as acting as a source of jobs and internships for students, enhancing the institution’s reputation, and supporting fundraising efforts. At the board’s recommendation, the school brought its alumni network in-house, despite the increased costs involved. Fast-forward a few years later, the school is reaping significant benefits.

IABs Fill the Advisory Gap

These are just a few examples of the ways that well-formed IABs can create significant value for business schools. IABs can help deans examine their overall strategies—and the global climate in which the schools exist—in far more depth.

It’s true that DABs and SABs can link schools to the business community, engage with alumni, enhance regional reputation, and support fundraising. But these boards often lack the broader global perspective that deans need to fine-tune and execute their strategic plans. Establishing an IAB (or, in some cases, and SAB) could help business school deans fill this gap.

Ira Weiss
Former Dean and Professor of Strategic Management, Poole College of Management, North Carolina State University
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