Bridging the Global Management Education Divide

Bridging the Global Management Education Divide
President Susan Aldridge of University of Maryland University College (UMUC) delivered this keynote address, titled “Bridging the Global Management Education Divide: The Use of Collaborative Degree Programs in Promoting Transnational Academic Exchange” in the Academy of Business Administration Global Trends Conference. St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles.

I’m sure we would all agree that while universities were once shaped by nationalism, they are now being driven by globalism…as they scramble to provide both their students and their faculties with the specialized knowledge and skills they must have to live and work successfully in today’s highly competitive global business environment.

Which is why the concept of internationalization has become a hot topic on college campuses everywhere. And not just in the United States…but around the world, as well…with institutions of all sizes allocating significant resources to transnational academic exchange opportunities…the most popular of which is the study abroad program.

At the very least, these programs provide a number of such short-term advantages as increased foreign language proficiency and heightened international awareness. But according to a longitudinal study conducted by the Institute for the International Education of Students…or IES…they also have an enduring impact on career choice, world view, and self-concept.

Certainly in my experience, studying and living abroad promotes a far greater diversity of both friends and professional associates…while also preparing us to become more effective in and respectful of other social, political, and economic systems.

Additionally, the IES research revealed that these overseas experiences frequently influenced subsequent academic pursuits and career choices…with more than half of all respondents having since engaged in international work or volunteerism.

Most interestingly, there are also a number of studies that demonstrate a strong correlation between study abroad and creativity. In several conducted by William Maddux and Adam Galinsky…MBA students who had spent time in a foreign country were far more likely to come up with creative solutions to both abstract problems and complicated business negotiation scenarios.

And a group of Canadian researchers found that bi-lingual exposure over time had an extremely positive effect on intellectual and creative development…particularly with respect to cognitive flexibility.

Still as popular as transnational academic exchange has become in theory…it has yet to take flight in real terms…particularly when it comes to the very programs that seem to have the greatest long-term impact.

In fact, according to the International Institute for Education…with some 18 million students enrolled in American colleges and universities…only a little more than 260,000 of them studied abroad for credit last year. And of that number, over half made Europe their overseas destination…with less than five percent spending an entire academic year overseas.

Likewise, slightly less than 700,000 foreign college students studied in the United States…with some 60 percent of them attending just 156 our country’s more than 5,000 institutions of higher education. Even more significant…only 30 of the more than 190 U.N. member states claimed international student enrollments exceeding one percent.

Of course, this low participation rate can be attributed to any number of political, economic, and institutional obstacles. In its third Global Survey Report, the International Association of Universities…or IAU…reported that insufficient resources and transfer credit inequities top the list of barriers for students worldwide.

This is especially significant among the growing number who must balance academic demands with work and family responsibilities…and as such, have neither the time nor the money to spend on study away from home…where they often earn credits that do not transfer easily once they return.

Visa restrictions also inhibit the number of foreign exchange students…particularly those coming in from Asia and the Middle East. What’s more, developing countries have begun to fear brain drain…as a growing number of their most talented university graduates stay on to work in Europe and North America, where they have acquired their degrees.

And finally…the IAU found that limited faculty interest and involvement in study abroad programs and cross-cultural academic activities was a major stumbling block in far too many universities…especially given the central role that faculty members must play in developing and promoting them among students and colleagues.

In hurtling these and other obstacles…an increasing number of universities are turning to collaborative degree programs…as a way to promote transnational academic exchange on a much broader scale…among students and faculty, alike…in bridging the global management education and research divide.

In fact, nearly 30 percent of American graduate schools have established at least one such arrangement with another international college or university. Moreover, some one-fourth of all American graduate schools are in the process of establishing a program of this kind.
And while the majority of agreements are struck with European institutions…there is a steady uptick in the number of shared MBA and MPA programs with universities in two of the world’s fastest growing economies…China and India.

Although there are any number of variations on the model…these internationally inspired collaborative degree arrangements share several common characteristics. They require an articulation agreement between two or more institutions in two or more participating countries.

Administrators and faculty at partnering institutions…work closely to develop mutually acceptable program standards, curricula, and learning outcomes that result in fully transferrable credits. Moreover, in a growing number of programs…industry partners have become an integral and certainly valuable part of the process…providing research opportunities, scholarship funding, experiential work projects, and internship programs.

And finally…participating institutions collaborate on such administrative details as program admissions and selection criteria…tuition payment arrangements and graduation requirements.

For the most part, these agreements fall into two basic categories…the first of which is the joint degree. This option enables students to study on two or more foreign campuses while earning one commonly sanctioned degree. An arrangement that can be difficult to implement…in light of the often broad differences in academic delivery and credentialing requirements from one country to another. Take China and the United States, for example.

As China becomes a major player in the global marketplace…it has explored any number of collaborative business degree opportunities with American universities. For starters, the Chinese hope to improve the quality of their workforce…particularly with respect to emerging international business standards and practices, as well as improved English language proficiency.

They also see these cooperative ventures as a way for China to expand its academic outreach at a time when the demand for business school graduates far exceeds the university system’s enrollment capacity.

Yet as attractive as these programs are for both nations…they are still rare indeed given more than a few inherent challenges…the most obvious of which involve visa restrictions and insufficient financial resources for students and faculty alike.

Our two countries also have drastically different viewpoints when it comes to the purpose of higher education. While the Chinese believe that it should produce students who are highly competent in one specific discipline…we Americans have come to view postsecondary education as both the path to professional training…and the foundation for global citizenship.

And while we practice individual academic freedom…the Chinese Ministry of Education makes all of the decisions around what their students learn and when they learn it. Which in turn makes course equivalencies difficult to negotiate. To be sure, it requires a great deal of flexibility on our part to fit such mandatory Chinese offerings as Dengxiaoping and Maozedong Theory into the American repertoire of social science requirements.

And even when courses have the same title and description their content and stated outcomes can be vastly divergent. Thus, in striking the deal, we often have to consider other equivalency factors…like faculty qualifications, teaching materials, and delivery methods.

In meeting these challenges, however, colleges and universities in both countries have come up with a variety of alternative models. For instance, Chinese undergraduate students might complete the majority of their degree credits at home…while their American institutional counterpart furnishes a few pre-established major courses in English…using American textbooks. In addition, faculty members at both universities often exchange places as visiting professors…and students, participate in overseas work experiences.

Using a similar model…students study for some specified time on their home campuses, fulfilling preliminary requirements that are unique to their academic system…while earning the majority of their major credits abroad through the partnering institution. Thus, this arrangement provides one joint degree without having to make significant curricular adjustments or negotiate complex transfer equivalencies.

The dual degree arrangement offers management education yet another collaborative option…and one that is…for the most part…more flexible and thus, less time-consuming to negotiate.

Under this scenario, students take classes on all participating campuses, and receive a separate degree, diploma, or certificate from each institution…often in the amount of time it takes to earn one credential…and at a significantly lower cost. And while program partners agree to common academic standards and admissions criteria…they have greater leeway in actual course selection and development.

In some programs students earn the same credential. For example…working with universities in Quebec, Canada and Tijuana, Mexico…San Diego State University offers a triple degree undergraduate program designed in the spirit of the NAFTA partnership. This extraordinary opportunity allows students to earn three separately awarded bachelor’s degrees in international business…within the same timeframe it would take to complete one.

Moreover, after spending at least one year on each campus attending classes taught in the host country’s language…while interning with multinational firms in all of these locations…they not only become fluent in three languages…they also learn to work in three distinctly different business environments around a variety of common issues.

Conversely, the University of Michigan’s Center for International Business Education offers graduate students an opportunity to earn two highly marketable…and most assuredly complementary…degrees in just three years…an MBA from UM and a second master’s degree in Asian Studies from one of four Asian national resource centers.
And in addition to regular coursework, the university supplies instruction in all of Asia’s primary business languages…along with overseas consulting projects, internships, and job placements. Students may also arrange to earn a portion of their MBA credits through pre-established partnerships with several Asian business schools.

Now while these collaborative degree programs remove some of the more common barriers to transnational study…especially with regard to credit portability, brain drain, and faculty involvement…they are still offered, for the most part, in the more traditional face-to-face learning environment…which usually makes foreign travel an essential component.

And as I noted earlier…a significant number of the world’s postsecondary students face substantial obstacles when it comes to securing visas and financing prolonged overseas living arrangements…not to mention leaving work and family obligations behind.

Yet with the advent of flexible e-learning technologies…along with steadily increasing Internet access worldwide…we can now create a highly effective online education model. One that not only transcends these stumbling blocks…but also prepares students for their future roles as virtual team members. Skilled in using the latest digital communication technologies to organize projects, share information, and conduct meetings with their colleagues in many parts of the world.

What’s more, the virtual learning environment offers faculty members far greater access to an increasing number of resources and opportunities for intellectual study and knowledge exchange…through electronic publications and online communities of practice.

At my own University of Maryland University College, we are using our vast global presence and ever-expanding virtual campus to forge strategic management education alliances with foreign academic institutions and private organizations.
As the largest public university in the United States, UMUC is also a truly international enterprise…with divisions on four continents and more than 93,000 students in 28 countries…most of whom are busy, working adults of all ages.

So we have had to master the art of delivering multi-cultural, multi-generational academic programs in a variety of flexible delivery formats. And as a result, we offer more than a few collaborative degree programs online that provide students with an affordable opportunity to study abroad…without ever losing credits or leaving home.

Likewise, these programs provide our faculty members with a unique opportunity to serve as visiting professors and resident scholars on a variety of overseas campuses…a practice that has greatly expanded UMUC’s international research and publication efforts.

One of the most successful of these ventures is our longstanding dual degree program with two Russian universities. After completing this five-year program…partially on campus and partially online…Russian students receive two degrees….one in international economics from their home university and a bachelor of science in business and management from UMUC.

And besides the opportunity to study at a distance with students from around the world…our Russian exchange group enjoys full access to UMUC’s extensive online library…while participating in face-to-face classes taught by visiting UMUC professors. And if family finances permit, these students also have the option of spending a residential semester or two with us on our American campus in Maryland.

UMUC recently pioneered a similar agreement with the Higher School of Insurance and Finance in Bulgaria…to provide a four-year, dual-degree undergraduate program in finance…thus making it possible for Bulgarian students to obtain a first-rate international education…while acquiring both a global business perspective and a highly coveted proficiency in business English.

And like San Diego State…UMUC has also taken up the NAFTA banner…having now joined forces with its virtual campus partners…Athabasca University in Canada and Tec de Monterrey in Mexico…to form the North American Alliance of Innovative Universities.

This alliance has convened a special group of distinguished educators, government officials, business executives, and NGO leaders. And we are using their input to deliver a series of jointly sponsored graduate education programs around global entrepreneurship and sustainable development…which will be offered fully online…with each school providing specific courses within a mutually agreed upon curriculum.

Having developed a variety of these international education models throughout my academic career…I have learned some very important lessons when it comes to designing sustainable programs. So in closing today, I would like to share a few of them with you.

To begin with…collaborative degree programs are all about relationships…among colleagues and between institutions. Because as all of you know, navigating the often intricate bureaucracies we call institutions of higher education can be tricky at best. Which is why it can take anywhere from months to years to establish a mutually beneficial articulation agreement that truly meets the needs of the students we hope to attract.

So it is critical to choose appropriate institutional partners…after carefully researching the host country’s academic philosophy, political realities, cultural and linguistic traditions, and tax structures. It’s also a good idea to rely on existing faculty and staff connections…not only in paving the way for initial discussions…but also in shepherding the process through final signatures.

Moreover, development teams should be limited to only a few key members…with one individual at each institution empowered to make strategic decisions. Believe me, there is nothing worse than trying to run the ball with too many players on the field. And while email and telephone exchanges are sufficient for ironing out the details…face-to-face meetings are always necessary for laying the groundwork and managing expectations along the way.

Once the partners are identified and the negotiations are underway…we must then design a mutually beneficial degree option that is flexible, scalable, and above all effective in meeting carefully established program goals and budget parameters.

Consequently, it is essential to protect each institution’s core curriculum and existing faculty structure…while establishing academic requirements, learning outcomes, and requisite resources that are program-specific. For example…adding a cross-cultural psychology course to a dual-MBA program…or furnishing English language textbooks on a non-English speaking campus.

What’s more, there should be a process in place for easily updating courses and materials…or expanding institutional participation, as needed. So most programs create a faculty advisory committee that comprises representatives from each institutional partner.

Additionally, I would strongly recommend incorporating high-quality support services chosen with student success in mind…such as language tutors and host campus faculty advisors…digital library resources and ongoing social activities…just to name a few.

And finally…given vast income disparities among students…especially those in developing countries…we must find ways to keep these programs affordable . Although many schools provide scholarships and fellowships for academically exceptional students…it has become increasingly difficult to underwrite them in today’s tough economic environment.

Thus, a growing number of collaborative programs are using something called tuition waiver credits. Under this arrangement, students pay tuition on their home campus…thereby creating tuition waver credits for reciprocal student exchange across participating institutions.

Still other colleges and universities ask visiting students to pay tuition and fees for each residential experience…based upon the host institution’s standard rate. Now while this may sound more expensive…it usually isn’t… given that many programs either do not require extended overseas residencies or are compressed into shorter timeframes.

I cannot think of any better way to end today than with the words of the late Senator J. William Fulbright…who as a prolific champion for study abroad…once said: “There is a multiplier effect in international education and it carries the possibility – the only real possibility – of changing our manner of thinking about the world, and therefore of changing the world.

Certainly, by using forums such as this one to expand our international education horizons…we can indeed change the world…by preparing culturally competent knowledge leaders. Individuals who embrace business practices and public policies that promote a sustainable future for this great global community of ours and all of its citizens.