You might think that most MBA programs are different but when it comes to things that matter – curriculum, learning methods, outcomes – they are quite similar. Let me explain what I mean.
MBA programs have been around since 1908 when Harvard established the first MBA program (although, business schools existed long before), but the MBA as we currently know them evolved in the late 60s and early 70s.
Several things happened that time that profoundly changed the approach to business education:
- First, universities decided that business education is more of an academic discipline than a professional one – prioritizing more and more theory over practice.
- Second, teachers with no real-life business experience started to dominate faculties.
- Third, curriculum, completely focused on corporate environment, got standardised and widely adopted by almost every other university.
Since that the world has changed dramatically. We are now in the period of rapid transformation, driven by the proliferation of new technological, cultural, and economic landscape – widely referred to as “digital disruption”. As a result, business world is facing new challenges, and this challenges require new capabilities.
There is a growing feeling among business community around the world that business schools aren’t adequately preparing the individuals with relevant knowledge and skills (Canals, 2011). The culprits are several and well known among scholars, and can be summarized as too much focus on theory and less emphasis on experiential learning. As a result skills learned in seminars, case discussions, and classrooms are rarely applied in the context of real work environment.
“[traditional] MBA programs face intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, failing to instill norms of ethical behavior—and even failing to lead graduates to good corporate jobs. These criticisms come not just from students, employers, and the media but also from deans of some of America’s most prestigious business schools, including Dipak Jain at Northwestern University’s top-ranked Kellogg School of Management. “ – writes Warren Bennis in his famous Harvard Business Review article “How Business Schools Lost Their Way”.
Another critique of traditional MBA programs but from different perspective comes from Jeff Sandefer (entrepreneur,, founder of Acton School of Business and Acton Academy): “Most business schools don’t care much about students or their journeys through life. Until this changes, ancillary efforts like reforming curriculum or adding ethics courses won’t make much of a difference.
At best, at most schools, the student is seen as a ‘product,’ prepared as fodder for consulting firms or investment banks, private equity funds and other financial speculators. This is not only dehumanizing but leads to faculty believing that ‘teaching’ is a matter of filling a student’s head with facts and theory, supplied by “all knowing” professors.
At worst, the tenured faculty becomes the customer, and being published in an obscure academic journal becomes the key measure for success. Students are seen as an annoyance, to be kept around as window dressing to convince wealthy donors and legislators to keep subsidizing organizations that adds little, if any real value to society.
The loss of student focus has led many business schools to embrace a “pedagogy of arrogance,” where the faculty are seen as wise masters, using (boring) lectures to convey more and more detailed theory and knowledge that is less and less relevant in the real world. Graduates from these schools long to be “masters of the universe,” in a fool’s errand to amass as much riches, power and fame as possible.”
I’ve studied in nine different higher educational institutions around the world (Georgia, UK, the Netherlands, USA), including four business schools: Caucasus Business School (which I dropped in the middle), Judge Business School of Cambridge University (leadership program), George Washington University (master’s in project management), and the most important one – Acton School of Business (MBA in Entrepreneurship).