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Business School in a Globalized Economy

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Sept. 19 is perhaps a day of no significance. It is not a holiday. It is not a weekend. The new school semesters are well underway.

This year was not much different — except a Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group, had a record-breaking initial public offering on that day. Alibaba Group is now the largest online retailer in the world. In 15 years, its chairman Jack Ma has grown this startup to a mammoth organization with $170 billion annual sales.

What’s Changed

The IPO success of Alibaba highlights the progress of globalization in the last three decades. Globalization has opened up many new opportunities and challenges. Although it is true that larger businesses always have sales presence and manufacturing activities overseas, it was not until the 1980s when we started to see the acceleration of globalization. With the help of advanced information technologies, even a startup is able to take advantage of capital, market and talents from all over the world.

The waves of globalization have also changed business education. Many may remember the days when Introduction to International Business was the only course that covered international topics. Everything about doing business outside of the United States would be included in this course and likely only in this course.

As globalization continues to create new opportunities and challenges to different business functions, nowadays it is very common that every business course has a chapter or two dedicated to the international business context.

In recent years, many business schools, domestic or international, have quickly adapted to the new paradigm to incorporate globalization into students’ learning experiences. The most obvious change in business schools may be the growth of international students. Since 2000, the overall number of international students in the United States has grown by 72%, according to the Institute of International Education. About 200,000 international students studied business or management in the academic year of 2013–14.

International students bring their perspectives and experiences to the classrooms of American business schools. As globalization becomes the norm of business, many American schools and programs have developed school-to-school initiatives to expand the exposure of globalization beyond the classrooms through school-to-school partnerships.

For example, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University recently signed a joint Cornell-Tsinghua MBA/FMBA agreement with the PBC School of Finance at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This agreement will allow both American students and Chinese students to study Finance MBA (FMBA) in Beijing for one year and in Ithaca for the second year. Students will receive diplomas from both institutions after completing all of the course work.

Additional Locations

In addition to the joint degree, another increasingly popular model of school-to-school collaboration is the multi-location degree. This kind of degree is almost always driven by the intent to increase students’ readiness for the challenges and opportunities associated with globalization. A good example is the newly launched S3 MBA co-developed by three top-tier business schools in Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore. Students in this program have to study in all three locations (eight months each) to graduate.

For part-time students who are seldom able to commit to study abroad for one or more semesters, international study tours are a more reasonable option. A third, perhaps the most popular, model of institution-level collaboration is to move a course to an overseas destination. Although international study tours are not exactly a new idea in MBA education, the institutional partnerships between business schools allow the visiting group to fully utilize the resources of the hosting school to help study-tour students to develop in-depth understanding of the culture, values, political and economic systems of the country they visit.

For example, the MBA program of the Beijing Institute of Technology has an agreement with the Sellinger School of Loyola University Maryland to send a cohort of MBA students to Baltimore to visit local businesses and to sit in the regular MBA classes offered by the Loyola professors.

As all of the students in this study tour are working professionals, they bring the current viewpoints of Chinese managers to the American MBA classrooms. Their experiences in the United States also enable them to bring changes back to China to influence their colleagues.

The New Face

Looking forward, as globalization continues to change the face of business, the MBA and other business programs will have to rise to the challenge and prepare their students to the new, changing world of globalization. What we have observed in the last five years may be just the beginning.

Hung-bin Ding is an associate professor of management and director of international partnerships at Loyola University Maryland Sellinger School of Business and Management, which has a campus in Columbia.