BOOK REVIEW: “Business Schools in Transition?” by Howard Thomas, Eric Cornuel, Arnoud De Meyer, Kai Peters, David Wilson, and Peter Lorange (2012)

Business Schools in Transition?This book is a collection of essays written by some of the major names in management education (Eric Cornuel, Howard Thomas, Arnoud De Meyer, James Fleck, Kai Peters, David Wilson, and Peter Lorange).   

It looks at the reasons behind business schools wishing to internationalize, how  social media is having an impact on how business schools work, challenges  some of the criticisms thrown at business schools and also looks at how sustainable the current model is within the industry. Like other books in this EFMD collection, it is a thought provoking read for all stakeholders in higher education.  


80% of traditional business schools have some form of online learning.

Michael and Howard Thomas deal with the issue of new social media, and how they will affect business school teaching and learning.  Quoting Iniguez (2011), they estimate that 80% of traditional business schools have some form of online learning.  Indeed, there are even US department of education studies that find that online students outperform more traditional students.  There has been a lot of talk on this issue over the past few years, but sometimes far more talk than real action.  However, it is an issue that business schools will increasingly have to deal with.

Arnoud  de Meyer, looks at why business schools want to internationalize. He finds that there are several reasons. including leveraging the home base (“I need to make more home money”), enriching the home base (“attracting more international students”), and learning from the world.  Strategies behind internationalizations have several drivers, and this book gives some of the key challenges Mr. De Meyer gives some good examples from schools such as Carnegie Melon University, Wharton, St. Gallen, and Cass Business School.

David C Wilson, former President of GMAC, deals with the reasons behind criticisms of business schools.  These are centered around knowledge creation (i.e. research that has no relevance), pedagogical issues, poor teaching that is not related to the business school, and the very ideology of business schools (focusing on free market economics and profit-maximization rather than value creation).  Mr. Wilson concludes that business schools have reached the limit of their price elasticity with some MBA programs costing as much as $170,000.  He even estimates that a journal article costs up to $200,000.  He argues that business schools should look towards more highly skilled global professionals and that we should encourage our graduates to become T-shaped (i.e. have disciplinary depth but a broad, liberal education).

Hourly teaching costsThe sustainability model for business schools is taken up by Howard Thomas and Kai Peters, who look at the financing of schools in general and of research.  They estimate that an hourly teaching cost of a professor, doing 120 hours a year, is 1350 euros.  This compares to secondary school teachers in developing economies, who cost just 8 euros per hour, or 34 euros in OECD countries.  This model is coming under increasing pressure.

A final chapter well worth reading is the one by James Fleck, the former Dean of the Open University UK.  From his experience in distance learning, Mr. Fleck gives an excellent insight into how blended learning can be a very useful tool today.  Mr. Fleck warns us about getting too enamored with technology that is being introduced, since this is not hold the complete solution to effective learning.  In fact, such a pedagogical approach, rather than being a blended smoothie, is more like a chunky fruit salad.

Eric Cornuel on business education

Interesting Quotes

Sumantra Ghoshal pointed out that business schools had been propagating and teaching amoral theories. Business schools need to focus more on their value to society and, hence, provide a clearer vision and purpose.

Arnoud de Meyer argues that it is easy to announce globalization initiatives but far harder to implement them. Deans must increasingly adopt new globally available technological models of learning, incorporating a wide range of digital and social media approaches, as they create new “blended” learning modules.

active management

Multicultural teams are more performing if managed actively.

Many of these collaborations have a much stronger learning component than our original exchange partnerships. This evolution requires us to evaluate the ideal portfolio of partners and how we organize our international activities. We know from the literature on intercultural management that multicultural teams can be more performing than monocultural teams, but are not necessary so. It requires active management (Schneider and Barsoux, 1997).

One of the most commonly held beliefs is that business schools are neither relevant nor close enough to real businesses. The use of social media could help to close that gap. Students with access to laptops during class, with the ability to source a substantial amount of up-to-date material instantaneously – even while a class is taking place – may have ready access to more recent information and data than that being presented to them in class, whether as case studies or in other forms.

Students should be able to gain access to tutors when needed, with less “office hours”. New learners want an education so focused that it’s almost vocational. They want to learn by doing, or at least experimenting in parallel with their reading and lectures.

IT training

Faculty should be provided with intensive training in digital technologies.

We strongly endorse Professor Grange’ s arguments and argue (see also Wiles, 2010) that faculty should be provided with intensive training in digital technologies and their potential for pedagogical and curricular innovations and even the design of new interdisciplinary research agendas.

The spread of business schools throughout Asia and Europe from their dominant base primarily in the USA has been a story of constant growth (10 percent per year on year, according to Pfeffer and Fong, 2002).

In the USA, the top 20 MBA programmes command tuition fees of $100,000 and charge even more for Executive MBA programmes (up to $170,000). Price elasticity may be approaching its limit. Costing teaching time per hour can reach £2,000 where teaching hours are kept relatively low in research-intensive schools. Estimates suggest that an A-journal article may cost £70-100 K.

Deans need to have the courage to build curricula which develop simultaneously so called T-shaped individuals, i.e. those have significant disciplinary depth achieved through a liberal education involving critical, synthetic and analytic thinking and appropriate training in the important functions and languages of management education.

Rakesh Khurana’ s (2007) history of business schools, notes that management is actually a relatively new phenomenon triggered by late nineteenth century industrialization. A 1928 survey of curriculum content illustrates this dilemma. Of the 34 business schools surveyed, all included accounting and economics, and interestingly, English. Only 18 looked at markets, six at labour, three at production and two at personnel.

table BS

Evolution of top 25 business schools’ ranking.

In a recent article, Bradshaw (2010) noted that when the Financial Times began ranking MBA programs in 1999, 20 of the top 25 schools were from the USA, with the remaining five from Europe. However, in 2010 there were just 11 US schools in the top 25, a further 11 were from Europe and three business schools were from Asia.

Blended learning (mixed learning) – in practice the mix is more “lumpy”, more a chunky fruit salad than a blended smoothie. Students typically devote more than 25 percent of their overall workload to assessment. The practice-based model starts explicitly to harness the dynamics of learning communities.

 It is very difficult to avoid being seduced by the excitement of new technology into thinking the technology itself holds the complete solution.

The Economist (2009) argued that the teaching at schools of business administration lacks a long-range vision, is not based on formal knowledge, and does not emphasize the development of critical thinking.  


See also:

On MBA programme pricing

Kai Peters on MBAPoets and Quants is a blog run by John Byrne, the man who originally brought business school rankings to the world in 1988 in Businessweek. Since everyone likes a list, he continues to compile them.

Is innovation becoming less and less effective in business schools?

Innovation Peter LorangeIn this week’s guest post, Peter Lorange, President and owner of the Lorange Institute of Business Zürich and former President of the IMD, Lausanne, asks if innovation in business schools is becoming less and less effective

French Management Schools: Stop apologizing!

Studying in FranceOver the past 20 years, management schools in France have led the way in providing young internationally minded graduates fit to work in modern business. They should recognize this and stop apologizing for what they have achieved.

Business school performance culture. Are we targeting the right things?

cover pic publish or perishThose of us working in higher education at the moment must recognise that some of the targets to which are business schools work are leading to dysfunctional outcomes, for example staff being taken away from front line teaching and student support duties so that they can write articles for obscure academic journals.


Cover cover Cover pic
Sets out some of the challenges and external pressures on business schools today and the impact that may have for the coming years. The book is an “insider’s account” of why business schools have never gained the respectabilty they have searched for over the past century.
Philip Delves Broughton is critical of HBS omitting a sales course in MBA programs.


Promises Fulfilled and Unfulfilled in Management Education Cover

Commissioned by EFMD and Emerald, this book is an analysis of thirty-nine interviews of key stakeholders in management education.

Excellent advice taken from Lorange’s business and academic career.

Learning is fundamentally based on the social context through the process of “legitimate peripheral participation.”


Filed under Book Review, Business Schools, Higher Education, Leadership, Management, MBA, Rankings, Strategy, USA

2 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Business Schools in Transition?” by Howard Thomas, Eric Cornuel, Arnoud De Meyer, Kai Peters, David Wilson, and Peter Lorange (2012)

  1. Pingback: EFMD Annual Conference 2014: Annual General Assembly | GlobalEd

  2. Pingback: “Changing Roles of Business Schools, an outlook in the future”. A talk by Howard Thomas. | GlobalEd

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