Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Applying Quality Principles in Business Schools: Potential and Limitations

Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Applying Quality Principles in Business Schools: Potential and Limitations

Article excerpt

Business schools in both North America (O'Reilly, 1994a, 1994b) and Europe (The Economist, 1994a, 1994b) e under pressure to change. Businesses who hire their graduates are increasingly dissatisfied with their education and training and are quite vocal about it (Mason, 1992). Several gaps have been identified in the quality of management education (Fogging, 1992), and companies claim that business schools are not responsive to the needs of their customers (Mason, 1992). The most frequent specific complaint is that business schools overemphasize analytical skills at the expense of people skills (Froiland, 1993; Likins, 1993). While many of these complaints are not new (Cheit, 1985), some business managers believe they recognize in these symptoms many of the same problems they have encountered in their own companies during the last decade. They also think that the remedy that worked well for some of them-total quality management (TQM)--could do wonders for business schools.

While there is still some debate among academics about whether TQM is just a fad or a major paradigm shift, business schools are increasingly adding courses on TQM to their curricula. However, there seems to be less enthusiasm for the application of TQM to business schools themselves. Yet the availability of good managers is an important determinant of competitiveness (Cyert, 1993), both at the firm and at the national level. Thus, any approach which can contribute to improving the quality of business education surely merits serious consideration. This paper explores the applicability of TQM principles in a business school environment.

As organizations, university business schools differ in many ways from the firms in which most of their graduates will eventually spend their careers. Are they so different that the principles underpinning the quality revolution in other organizations are less relevant? To begin exploring this question, we first briefly examine the structure and work patterns of university business schools, drawing attention to some of the problems associated with traditional modes of functioning, especially in the area of education. In the next section, we look at the implications of adopting a quality management perspective. We try to identify the customer and to circumscribe his or her needs. We then discuss the notion of quality in one of business schools' major business processes-teaching-and look at ways to improve it, describing the types of management systems implied by this, and possible levers for action. In the final section, we take a step backward, to examine factors that might affect the feasibility and desirability of such an approach.

The Context: Traditional Approaches to Quality

Business Schools as "Professional Bureaucracies"

Universities in general, and business schools in particular, are traditionally organized as professional bureaucracies according to Mintzberg's (1979) typology of organizational forms. Professional bureaucracies are specially adapted to accomplish complex but stable and repetitive work. They are characterized by two fundamental operating mechanisms: the pigeonholing process which partitions the work to be accomplished into categories, and the standardization of skills and knowledge which serves as the principle means of coordination (Hardy et al., 1984; Mintzberg, 1979).

The theory is that because work is complex, it can only be carried out by highly trained individuals (in this case, professors) who must have the autonomy necessary to make judgements as they carry out their tasks. For example, in the area of teaching, the pigeonholing process defines a series of slots (programs and courses) to which individual professors and students can be assigned (as shown in [a] of Figure 1)(omitted), maximizing the discretion of individual faculty members within their narrowly defined areas and minimizing the need for coordination across pigeonholes (Hardy et al., 19&t). …

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