In the first keynote speech Jordi Canals reported his concern that recently managers recommended young people not to go to university but just to start businesses and to learn through practice. Besides the critique of business schools within society, this is another signal alarming the questioning of the role of business schools. However, Canals argues that business schools can have a positive impact on society. Business Schools have to show good governance, which is expected to spillover on social institutions. While the speaker’s views and proposals are sound, he did not go beyond a rather undifferentiated defense of business schools and neglected other potential problems.
In the discussion of the keynote address a main argument guiding throughout the conference and getting much agreement emerged: the critique of the peer review system inhibiting to improve the impact of (management) research on society. It was criticized, that the peer review system is self-referential and does not concern for practical problems. Scholars are caught within the system, being evaluated and hired according to publication success, even if they are interested in more practical research. This dilemma for scholars and the schools has been labeled the rigor versus relevance mantra (Birnik & Billsberry, 2008). Taking a system theory perspective, we have to be skeptical with attempts aiming at a reconciliation of research and practice. As Kieser and Leiner (2009) summarize their analysis of the rigor-relevance gap:
“social systems are self-referential or autopoietic, which means that communication elements of one system, such as science, cannot be authentically integrated into communication of other systems, such as the system of a business organization. Social systems can only irritate – provoke – each other, i.e. alter conditions in such a way that other systems are forced to respond. Because of the differences between management science and practice it is impossible to assess relevance of research output within the system of science. […] Researchers and practitioners cannot collaboratively produce research, they can only irritate each other. However, sometimes irritations or provocations turn out inspiring.”
Hence, we have to be skeptical about conceptions such as the mode2 of knowledge production or the triple helix model of the university.
Charles McMillan in his presentation argued that the task of business schools is to prepare students for wicked problems (in contrast to conventional problems). This is challenging as paradoxically in order to solve unstructured and complex problems both specialists and generalists are needed. However, in order to escape narrow focus of business schools and their curricula, the focus on publishing had to be reduced and academics with practitioner knowledge should be recruited. Further, preparing students to tackle the wicked of our time can hardly be reached by focusing rigor, but by learning from other disciplines and conducting interdisciplinary research, as argued by Volker Rundshagen in his presentation.In another plenary session, Andrew Pettigrew gave some critical thoughts about the present and future of business schools. For example, he sees a danger for the teaching stuff becoming a professional proletariat. He depicted to institutional problems and calls for further research on institutional change of the higher education system and how to avoid the institutional traps.
Richard Straub in his plenary speech went so far claiming that management research doesn´t get its share in funding compared to other disciplines such as economics. When the speaker and others demand more relevant research for the business community one might respond that this could be financed through course fees and private enterprise partnerships. Hence, Peter Lorange (2012) is proposing the model of a “network-based” school, promising financial support as well as increase of relevance by importing expertise and latest knowledge. However, Volker Rundshagen in his presentation reminded the pitfall if management education is mainly aiming at income generation (for schools as well as students). By dissolving boundaries between business schools and private enterprises conflicts of interest arise because social and academic missions are adversely impacted.
Presenters and discussants further ascertained that MBA programs are often just copied leading to an Americanization of European business schools. It has been proposed that European business schools should go their own way building on the European heritage and serving European problems.
Birnik, A. and Billsberry, J. 2008. Reorienting the Business School Agenda: The Case for
Relevance, Rigor, and Righteousness. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(4): 985-999.
Kieser, A. and Leiner, L. (2009) Why the Rigour–Relevance Gap in Management Research is Unbridgeable. Journal of Management Studies, 46: 516–533.
Lorange, P. (2012) The business school of the future: the network-based business model. Journal of Management Development, Vol. 31(4): 424 – 430.
Polanyi, M. 1962. The republic of science: its political and economic theory. Minerva, 38(1): 1-21.