The Transformation of Business Education

To reflect on the future, you should appeal to the past for guidance. As business education continues to evolve, business schools should take notice and transform.

10 mins read
business education

Entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and those aspiring to grow professionally realize that lifelong learning is an important ingredient to anyone’s success. This leaves many questioning what do next, if anything, in their studies. The ubiquitous Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is an expensive course that leaves some trying to justify if the cost in time and effort is worth it. As with any situation, good decision-making in whether to pursue business education should be made with underlying comprehension of the facts before plunging into it.

Here is a historical look at the development of business as a subject field that can give a base from which to make informed decisions. It is worthwhile to remember that as economies evolved so did the requirement for success and understanding this can help shape any choice that you make.

The first university in the world was started in Fez Morroco and it is just over 1000 years old. European Universities came centuries later. In Asia, universities are generally newer still with the oldest one in Japan at just a hundred and fifty years old.  Even the name university is not particularly old. It derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium (community of teachers and scholars), which grew out of medieval Italian clergy and cathedral schools. Professor Robison points out that the traditions remain at graduation where graduates and faculty wear monk robes that are leftover from when the professoriate was for celibate men.

Traditionally higher education was purveyed to the most privileged of society, those with the funds to send their sons (it was almost exclusively male) to study at the tertiary level generally needed a lot of money. The students also had to have the intellectual ability to perform within the rigors of the program (meaning that the parents needed to send their boys to get good schooling from the earliest age). In the beginning, the studies were primarily limited to religious philosophy with some sciences and law – this continued for centuries. However, from that time institutes of higher education have generally had what is studied following the curve of human development as societies evolved.

Societal complexities and economies

For half a millennium from the beginning, there were few major societal changes where centuries would pass with almost no change for most people. With little chance for changes or social movement and a limited economy void of consumerism, it is not surprising that specialized university study courses are a relatively new phenomenon. The first growth of trade, specialization, and mechanization of labor was the first dramatic shift in human development. Much of that centered on the harnessing of hydrocarbons – at first coal (around the mid-1700), then oil (a century later). It is around this time that modern economies were reviewed and an attempt to understand them mirrored the growth of the industry as the complexity of societies increased.

The first major study that came to explain how human endeavors were shaped through commerce was the seminal work by Adam Smith in 1776 – Cause and Effect into The Wealth of Nations.  It was natural that the timing came near the end of the 18th century, and a testament to the brilliance as it is still referred to for understanding in how economies work 250 years later. While Smith’s book appeared that year, universities were not studying economics as a discipline until decades later. It was first studied in the UK, and then Germany; both countries blessed with abundant and easy access to coal, and both early industrializers. Economics led the way in business studies for almost a century in universities. As economies grew in size and complexity the areas of study also diversified in order to explain what was happening and to ensure that those who studied learned how to adapt and profit in the new areas of opportunities.

Read Also: Best Goal Setting Strategy for You and Your Business

Business as a study

As the global economies further developed, the first formal business studies were in Germany and the United States, both powerhouses in energy consumption, as they helped lead the industrial revolution up into the 1880s. In America, the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania developed the first business school in the world. This was so because the industry required scientific management and there was a demand for those who had skills that helped gain an advantage – leading to specialized areas that made businesses more successful. It was then that Harvard took business education to the next level with graduate school and the first Master of Business Administration (MBA) program in 1908. Just as American business started to dominate the globe and by the 1920’s Harvard was the first Business School to be established. Currently, Columbia, Harvard, and Wharton steer the largest full-time MBA programs in the world.

Shortly after it had begun, the MBA became the standard-bearer for business executives and continues to be the most famous of the business education degrees within the field. It generally is a basic degree that has basic components to the core, with finance, human resources, marketing, and operations; and that has not changed a lot. What has continued to change and to evolve are the further specialized areas that in general support the core.

There has been an evolution of more specialized areas of study as the economic environment continues to evolve and develop greatly. These specialized study areas have since grown into entire sections of universities. Universities such as Konan University’s Hirao Management School devoted itself to specialized areas of study.

The future of business education

According to data from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, just about 2 percent of students pursuing business degrees around the world are enrolled in full-time MBAs. The Business Schools with the largest MBA programs in the world only enroll a few students. For instance, Columbia admits less than 3,000 students a year to their full-time MBA programs. This means that business education is still too small and finite and opportunities lie therein. All odds show that the demand for business education around the world will continue to surge but the delivery tact ought to change. Platforms like Coursera have tapped into such opportunities and have drawn huge success. For instance, there have been roughly 20 million online enrollments in business courses on the Coursera platform since 2013.

Today, the study of business continues to emerge as an area with many different branches. This is expected to grow and transform along with the way that humans interact and deal with each other. With trends changing, business schools continue to rebrand and develop their MBA programs to evolve. Therefore, today’s newest types of business education that have advanced, have followed the latest changes in the business environment. The successful ones are on the cutting edge of information and how it is spread and have gone one step further, incorporating innovative and specialized approaches to their business education. SMC Business School for example offers courses that are newest within commerce, such as MBA in Information Security Management, alongside the more traditional MBA and doctorates through an online platform.

Each individual needs to take the idea of continuing education as a personal and professional decision. However, consultant Brian Tracey has often stated that “The more you learn, the more you earn”.  This is also countered with the expression “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”, and that can capture the essence of business people who misunderstand important facts about their business. This goes from the economy and marketplace to the basics within their firm and what the employees and paid professionals are doing with their time.

Finally, more education will give you prestige and respect when you announce your achievements on a card, letter, or email. So, before deciding what path to take look at the bigger picture of where it evolved from and then think through where you see the needs for yourself.

Prof. Richard Miller

A professor at Osaka Jogakuin University in Osaka Japan and a visiting lecturer at Management University of Africa