Preparing Knowledge Leaders for the Global World of Work

President Susan Aldridge of University of Maryland University College (UMUC)delivered this keynote address, titled “Preparing Knowledge Leaders for the Global World of Work” and delivered in the Academy of Business Administration Conference. Cancun, Mexico.

As teachers, administrators, and university communities, we live on an increasingly interconnected planet…a phenomenon that offers any number of opportunities to create and exchange knowledge with our colleagues around the world. In just the last several decades, tens of thousands of American academics — and just as many from other countries — have crossed borders to expand both their intellectual and their professional horizons.

This transnational pollination of ideas and innovations, practices and perspectives has enriched us all…both collectively and individually. I know that the experience has had a profound influence on my own academic career…first as a visiting lecturer in Hong Kong, a faculty member in Singapore and for a state university, …then as an administrator in two universities with roots both here, at home and abroad.

Whereas universities were once shaped by nationalism, they are now being driven by globalism….with our students looking to us for new ways of thinking and doing…in a global economy that is far less concerned about who they are than about what they know and how well they use it. Indeed, we must look well beyond our own institutional communities to prepare creative and competent knowledge leaders for the global world of work.

Culturally and socio-economically diverse individuals who —as lifelong learners — value the power of intellectual capital and entrepreneurial skill to fuel tremendous innovation. And learners who are extremely adept at using what they know to make critical decisions that are ethical, effective, and empowering within the context of real-world problems and solutions.

This is especially true when it comes to educating the next generation of knowledge leaders in the global business arena.

In my position as president of the second largest public university in the United States, and a truly global enterprise, I am often asked to speak to educators, business leaders, and policymakers in many different parts of the world. And in the course of doing so, I have gained remarkable insight around both their needs in the present and their visions for the future.

Consequently, I am convinced that with the right business education programs, pathways, and partnerships, universities such as ours can indeed play a prominent role in promoting international development and stimulating global prosperity. Especially given our enormous capacity for collaboration as a global community of scholars.

Certainly, in educating the next generation of business knowledge leaders, we must first understand global workforce trends….particularly those in developing and transitioning economies, as they pertain to national business development and international business practices.

Take China, for example, where the Ministry of Finance now requires companies listed on the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock markets to adopt norms that are more compatible with International Financial Reporting Standards. While this seems like a perfectly reasonable condition, it has resulted in a tremendous increase in the demand for accountants there — with 70,000 practicing accountants trying to do the work of nearly 10 times that number.

And in addition to addressing identified professional shortages, China is also looking for more than a few great managers…a trend that it shares with other developing and transitioning nations.

A few years ago, The McKinsey Global Institute projected that, given China’s economic aspirations over the next 10 to 15 years, this country will need 75,000 global business leaders…men and women who have both the knowledge and the skills necessary to work more effectively in today’s global market environment. And as of right now, there are only a few thousand such qualified individuals there.

Obviously, this emerging global business perspective goes well beyond simple statistics. According to The Global Foundation for Management Education, it calls for a dramatic paradigm shift in business education…away from mastering specific business disciplines…to acquiring a deeper intellectual understanding of effective business operation.

As developing countries move into the 21st century global economy, they will need to further strengthen their infrastructure, modernize their living conditions, and upgrade their information systems. That will mean educating business knowledge leaders, who are not only exceptional project managers and savvy technology users, but also good listeners, consensus builders, and team players.

So in addition to standard business coursework in marketing, operations, finance, and business strategy, these countries are looking for programs that offer management specializations in such industries as construction and engineering. Particularly in places like Russia and the United Arab Emirates…with huge construction booms.

They also need academic offerings that place a greater emphasis on the so-called soft business skills….including leadership, entrepreneurship, interpersonal communication, human resource development, organizational learning, and customer service. As well as coursework in business development…including crisis decision-making, ethics and corporate responsibility, social innovation, and organizational change theory.

And finally, these countries are in desperate need of business programs that incorporate practical training in information technology…as well as advanced studies in technology management, security systems analysis, and e-commerce.

But while business schools in the developed world are beginning to address global workforce trends and learning needs….their programs and research are still largely inaccessible to all but an exclusive subset of students….at a time when the worldwide demand for business education far exceeds the supply.

Current estimates suggest that the number of students worldwide seeking university degrees may reach as many as 250 million over the next two decades….with most of them in the developing nations of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. And this burgeoning demand has tremendous implications for long-term growth in the business disciplines.

It is particularly strong in China and India. In 1991, only 86 Chinese students graduated from MBA programs there…while in 2006, nearly 40,000 students applied for admission to these programs in state-owned universities….with only slightly more than 15,000 accepted. In India, MBA enrollments went from 12,000 to around 75,000 during that same time period. – 1991-2006

Yet even with surging enrollments, these emerging nations continue to struggle with a variety of social, political, and economic barriers to educational access.

Unfortunately, state-supported universities in these countries are severely constrained when it comes to meeting enrollment needs. Frequently under-funded, they have limited facility space, along with inadequately paid faculties…..most of whom are poorly equipped to teach the skills and conduct the research that have become so essential in today’s global business environment.

On the other hand, traditional universities in some of the more developed nations offer a wealth of cutting-edge business degree programs. But by the same token, face enrollment constraints that are also driven by budget problems or demographic trends…from aging populations, with social welfare needs that drain public dollars from higher education.

As a result, postsecondary institutions in these countries can no longer accommodate large numbers of foreign students. So a growing number of them are turning to distance education technologies as a way to meet increasing foreign student demand.

Literally as I speak, more than one billion people around the world claim access to the Internet…with a steady increase among some of the lesser developed countries. As such, educators and students alike, have embraced the digital revolution…heralding technology as the gateway to high-quality business education and research…and a catalyst for cross-cultural exposure and awareness.

Technology transcends language barriers, geographic boundaries, and cultural divides….paving the way for communication and problem-solving that is both multidisciplinary and collaborative…among individuals, communities, institutions, and even nations. Even more importantly, however, it offers unlimited possibilities for scholarship…at a time when campus capacity is increasingly limited and the cost of an overseas education, prohibitive for most.

To be sure, e-learning paves the way for business education faculties and students in China, Guatemala, and the United States to create and exchange knowledge with colleagues and classmates in Ghana, Britain, and India.

What’s more, digital technology connects academics more closely to the wider knowledge economy…offering scholars everywhere even greater access to an increasing number of resources and opportunities for intellectual study.

Though while the need for educational access is great, a relatively small number of business schools worldwide have implemented distance learning in any significant way.

Frankly, it’s expensive to develop and sustain quality e-learning programs and platforms, given the cost of building appropriate technologies and student support services, while also training faculty and students to use them effectively. And unlike other academic innovations, external funding for these ventures has been limited to only a handful of foundations and a few specialized government projects.

There are also those who worry that the potential for academic failure may be greater among e-learners…believing that, for the most part, students perform at higher levels when they have the benefit of face-to-face interaction with their teachers and peers.

But perhaps the most salient concern when it comes to online education has to do with accountability – or the lack thereof – especially considering the appeal e-learning holds for those who see it as a money-making venture. Indeed, over the past two decades, we have seen a rapidly growing number of for-profit institutions emerge as an alternative to public and private colleges and universities. And unfortunately, far too many of them have sacrificed the purpose of knowledge for the limited utility of profit.

On the other hand, reputable institutions such as my own University of Maryland University College — with extensive experience in online education and the first in the U.S. — offer promising practices for incorporating these technologies to enhance…rather than wholly replace…the more traditional face to face learning experience. To further…rather than drive…the university’s academic mission.

Founded in the belief that higher education should be available to anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, UMUC has always been at the forefront of distance education….bringing quality academic opportunities to the people…..at times and in locations that are both convenient and accessible. Consequently, the promise of online learning presented yet another extraordinary tool for expanding both our academic reach and our academic quality.

For starters, digital technology has made it possible for my university to recruit a far more international student body. In fact, UMUC uses its web-based virtual campus to connect some 94,000 knowledge leaders…across a broad spectrum of cultural and linguistic traditions; learning styles and abilities; political and socio-economic perspectives. We teach face to face classes in 25 countries plus offer the largest distance education program at any state university in the U.S.

With the click of a mouse, UMUC business education students have immediate access…from anywhere in the world….to both the relevant information and the leading-edge skills they need to compete in a global workplace that is as diverse as they are. In fact, digital technology gives us tremendous leeway in building what we like to call a “culture full” learning environment.

As we all know, global management theory and practice is by no means monolithic….because the global business community itself is still only a collection of local populations, customs, languages, and histories. So instead of promoting a singular business education model or perspective, we must think globally and act locally.

That means creating “culture full” learning environments that accommodate for native languages, customs, politics, and learning styles…while also incorporating locally-relevant educational resources, including case studies and statistical data.
Yet as essential as they are, these environments are also far more difficult to reproduce in the face to face classroom. On the other hand e-coursework can be easily translated into multiple languages…and local textbooks and research materials can be cost-effectively digitized. This is especially important for students in remote locations, where good book stores and libraries are few and very far between.

Indeed, UMUC’s comprehensive virtual library offers a vast webliography of online scholarly resources from around the world….including more than 100 databases representing tens of thousands of volumes, …many of which furnish full-text versions of journal and newspaper articles. Moreover, reference librarians are on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in real time to assist students via e-mail, online chat, or toll-free telephone… and we offer a mandatory course around using electronic search engines to effectively find, evaluate, organize, and attribute research information.

In addition to providing us with greater latitude around what we teach…technology also offers tremendous flexibility in how we teach it. For years, we have witnessed firsthand the “power of technology” as a teaching tool…particularly in terms of facilitating the higher level cognitive skills and organizational competencies our students will need to become knowledge leaders in their own right.

That said, at UMUC we are not only teaching about technology, we are teaching through it….empowering our students to access an array of information sources using multiple media, while exploring a variety of both opportunities and challenges across disciplines and from many perspectives. In addition, they are learning to successfully apply the knowledge they create and acquire in solving real-world problems, both individually and in teams.

For example, working through its extensive network of public and private partners, UMUC has developed a number of what we call “next generation” remote access learning laboratories. These virtual labs engage learners…from literally every corner of the world…in real-time, hands-on business and systems security applications, using state-of-the-art technologies. The labs are in Maryland, Germany and Japan.

Even more important, however, they afford our students an extraordinary chance to work online with real-world professionals….defining complex issues and proposing feasible solutions in their individual fields of study. So for us, these labs offer the ultimate win-win. Our students acquire valuable experience with cutting-edge knowledge technologies and applications, while the workforce benefits from hiring graduates who bring this experience with them.

These same digital tools have also empowered us to create a virtual campus life…linking students worldwide with every possible service they must have to succeed. From tutors, career counseling, study skills support, and a writing lab… to financial aid, academic advising, automated transfer credits, and online clubs and honor societies.
What’s more, by using basic social networking technology, we have established global communities of practice. These communities create a common platform for communication…across time and place, language and culture….upon which to develop and diffuse standard business education principles and curricula.

This online forum also promotes socially responsible and sustainable business theories and practices….and connects students and faculty members with business leaders and policymakers throughout the world…to exchange research, share professional information, and engage in cooperative problem-solving.

Indeed, they have become “virtual greenhouses” for growing novel ideas and creative solutions, while also cultivating a stronger sense of collegial enterprise and professional identity.

Of course, in addition to anytime, anywhere learning, digital technology enables anytime, anywhere teaching….thus making it possible for us to recruit and retain a new breed of business education faculty. Scholar-practitioners, who as both renowned academics and recognized experts in their fields, have taught and worked all over the world.

Dr. Robert Goodwin is one such example….an exceptional business education professor, who also happens to be the university’s resident expert on China. And a valuable faculty member, who found his way to UMUC initially as an adjunct professor.

Bob’s firsthand understanding of Asian culture and commerce dates back to the 1960s…when he served a three-year stint in the Peace Corps, doing development work in a small village in rural Thailand. By actually rolling up his sleeves and becoming an active part of the village, he learned to understand and love the Asian people…who became his friends and co-workers.

That experience not only taught Bob a great deal about managing in a cross-cultural environment…it also inspired a career in international law, working for Chindex International, a medical equipment sales company doing business in China. As a member of the company’s legal team, he was an eye-witness to that country’s evolution from a government-dominated business environment to a private sector one…managing several hundred Chinese employees through the process.

You can well imagine, then, what a remarkable asset he is to UMUC, in the Graduate School of Management and Technology…as the program director for international management in the business and executive programs department. By drawing on real-world examples from his own international management career, Bob — like so many of our UMUC faculty members — has given more than a few global business leaders a running start for success…both online and on campus.

And last, but certainly not least, technology gives us a tremendous advantage in developing innovative business education programs and strategic alliances…which truly meet the unique training and research needs of the global business environment.

Take our Doctor of Management program, for instance….one of only a few in the world. This world-class program integrates research, practice, and education….using both online and onsite delivery to reach working professionals of the highest caliber…with some from as far away as Taiwan.

In fact, through a unique partnership in Taipei, UMUC enrolls a special group of Taiwanese students…all of whom have distinguished themselves as knowledge leaders par excellence in both the private and public sectors. These outstanding men and women begin their studies at UMUC with an intensive one-week residency program at our Maryland campus…where they gain first-hand experience with American management practices that may be adapted to their own work settings.

They also visit local business and government sites, including the Maryland Port Authority and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. And upon returning to Taiwan, continue their studies online through our virtual campus…as well as onsite with visiting UMUC faculty in Taiwan.

We have also entered into a variety of articulation alliances and joint degree programs with a number of international universities in Europe and Asia…all of which have greatly enriched our own academic programs and research efforts.

One of the most successful of these ventures is our joint degree program with two Russian universities…which serves as a perfect example of global thinking through local action. After completing this five-year program — partially on campus and partially online — Russian students receive two degrees….one in international economics from their Russian university and a bachelor of science in business and management from UMUC.

In addition, Russian students may spend a semester or two on UMUC’s home campus in Maryland, offering them an overseas learning experience — without the four-year price tag. At the same time, members of our faculty travel to both Russian universities to teach courses on their campuses.

Certainly, conferences such as this one are exceedingly valuable in that they set the stage for both a new global business perspective and a vigorous spirit of international collaboration…in our mutual quest for high-quality business education.

By strengthening our numbers, we may begin building a global knowledge ecology, of sorts. One that expands our international horizons, while supporting our national interests…by allowing us to identify critical interdependencies…integrate core learning outcomes….and embrace commonly held academic values and standards.

And in doing so, we generate the resources we need to inspire a new generation of knowledge leaders. Men and women of principle…who have both the intellectual capacity and the emotional will to engage the many challenges we all face as citizens of this great global village.