To MBA or not to MBA?
When things go bad there is a tendency to dig the finger of blame out of the pocket and point it at someone(s) or something(s). In terms of the current recession, the latest finger pointing is towards graduate business schools. See here and here. The premise is that the schools that educated our bankers and financiers didn’t do enough to teach them about ethics and didn’t focus enough on the required skills of proper business.
Do they have a point? Is that pinnacle of business qualification, the MBA, somehow responsible for the current global economic crisis?
Having spent some time recently analysing MBA courses on offer in Dublin colleges / universities, I felt the urge to blog about the world of the MBA.
Apparently, the prefered destination of MBA graduates is banking and finance. However, it seems to me that this cannot imply a direct cause-and-effect with bad business decision-making. Can the motivations and actions of corrupt bankers and financiers really be traced to their MBA studies. The term ‘long shot’ comes to mind. While such programs of study encourage reflection and expose students to aspects of themselves and their work activities, there are far more contributing factors to why a corrupt banker is a corrupt banker. It’s not as if an MBA program has a subject called ‘how to be a corrupt businessperson’.
On the other hand, there is interesting content in the reports. There is comment that MBA courses are short on ethics. I find myself agreeing with this one. Personally, I reckon ethics should be a core feature on every business course. But it’s often marginalised as a light subject on the outside of the core business subjects. Instead of having a named Business Ethics subject, I reckon that integrating ethical thinking and activities into each and every domain subject is a better approach. This way, students can study much more directly, the ethical implications of different courses of action and possible solutions.
Lack of ethics manifest in other ways too. The BBC report tells us that “A 2006 study of cheating among US graduates, published in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, found that 56% of all MBA students cheated regularly – more than in any other discipline”. Now, this is a serious cause for concern. There is plenty anecdotal evidence to suggest that academic infringement cases among students are on the rise. Tackling it is a problem facing many educational institutions. An emphasis on ethics imbued through out a program would help but I doubt if it would eliminate the problem. There are (in my humble opinion) just too many people for whom ethics is just a word in the dictionary that doesn’t apply to them.
There was criticism that the graduate business courses are not equipping students with appropriate skills for the workplace. My (admittedly not in-depth) look at MBA courses begs to differ. I found the courses I looked at to be very practical in focus. The influence of ivory-tower academia was not in evidence. I was struck by the number of courses that don’t refer to the masters capstone project as a dissertation, a term very suggestive of academia. TCD’s MBA, for example, has a Company Project as its capstone. It certainly looks like an in-depth project grounded in reality.
So, on balance, can graduate business schools be blamed for this recession? I, for one, do not agree.