Monthly Archives: June 2013

EFMD Higher Education Research Conference – Further Details

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.

The rigor-relevance-problem
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.

Wicked Problems
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.

EFMD Higher Education Research Conference – General Impression

The European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) organized the second Higher Education Research Conference with the theme “Purpose, Performance and Impact of Higher Education Institutions and Business Schools”. The conference was hosted by Université Paris Dauphine on 23th and 24th of may. Like in the last year, the conference has been primarily concerned with business schools but gave space for more general topics of higher education research.
For the public, the corporate world is falling apart in ethical terms, with “each new scandal pointing to new levels of selfishness, greed and dishonesty in business” (Swanson & Frederick, 2003: 24, taken from the presentation of Volker Rundshagen). Consequentially, business schools are criticized and face problems of legitimacy in society.
In her critical plenary speech, Ellen Hazelkorn among other thoughts addresses the question of measuring “research quality” by assessing its practical relevance. Summarizing the conference, one major common belief is that the peer review system fails to generate and measure the relevance of (management) research. Hence, the “social trustee model”, where academics themselves define standards of research and teaching – Polanyi’s “Republic of Science” (1962) – is heavily attacked. The conventional mode of knowledge production within the academic community is challenged by new modes, more strongly interacting with the business world, governments and other social actors. Who is criticizing the trustee model must be aware of existing suggestions as well the potential pitfalls. Further conferences could address the problem of calling for more practical relevance more in depth and thereby more extensively reflect the developments in higher education and the impact of higher education as well as business schools. However, it has to be remembered that participants of the conference mainly come from business schools and that it has to be acknowledged that reflective critique from inside is rather a recent phenomenon.

Our research “Institutional Work and Organizational Transformation: A Case Study of a University Merger” presented by Ferdinand Wenzlaff was of particular interest. The community did not so much respond to our institutionalist theoretical framework and suggested transformational practices. But mergers of higher education institutions are a very relevant practical topic. Since there was another interesting comparative study of eight merger cases in Europe (by Boris Walbaum and Heye Scheftel) and participants interested in mergers, many practical questions have been asked. The discussion revealed, that mergers in higher education are an important growing research field as for Europe many mergers due to cost efficiency or strategic considerations are expected.