Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

The MBA at the Crossroads: Design Issues for the Future

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

The MBA at the Crossroads: Design Issues for the Future

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

How appropriate is the MBA as the major vehicle for management education in Australia as we enter this new century? This question is explored from two perspectives. First, the implications of the changing social, economic and political context of management education, particularly the emerging needs for a sustainable and reflexive society. The second perspective will explore the recent debates around epistemology and their potentially important implications for related curriculum design issues. Assumptions about the nature of knowledge dominant in the 1960s formed the very rationale behind the design. At this time the assumption that knowledge was cumulative and each discipline had an uncontested knowledge, which could be taught in foundational subjects was central to the MBA's development. We question the ability of such subjects to capture the diversity of the disciplines they seek to represent and whether this design is the best way to develop graduates with the ability for reflexivity in action, who can broach different worldviews and have skills that can negotiate the transformations required of corporate Australia. The MBA is at the crossroads - can it regenerate through an incremental changing of curricula, to incorporate the active engagement of students with these issues? Or do we acknowledge the contested nature of knowledge creation and that the MBA is fundamentally a child of modernism which is no longer appropriate, and create a new holistic and integrated curriculum which is separate from the wide range of assumptions that currently underpin the MBA.

INTRODUCTION

No matter how contemporary the glossy promotional advertising, it cannot hide the fact that the MBA has beginnings that go back to the turn of the last century and that the first MBA was offered in the US as early as 1908. Whilst these early antecedents of the modern MBA had only small enrolments and many new developments have been incorporated, particularly over the twenty year period following World War II, it is timely to reflect on the appropriateness and extent to which the original assumptions behind the MBA's curriculum still influence its design. There has been a recent spate of articles critical of the MBA (Mintzberg & Gosling 2002; Neelankavil 1994; Pfeffer & Fong 2002; Ross-Smith, Clegg & Agius 2002) attacking important aspects of its design. Mintzberg and Gosling argue that there is significant cause for concern with the traditional MBA and that 'the fundamentals - the focus on business functions and on analysis and technique - have not changed' (2002, p. 65).

This article focuses on the design assumptions that underpin the MBA and its appropriateness as the major vehicle for management education in Australia for the 21st century. This question will be explored from two perspectives. The first will examine the assumptions about the social, economic and political context that underpinned the course design particularly during that formative period. It will argue that certain assumptions have dominated the history and development of the MBA and explore their potential impacts. The analysis will also highlight the dynamic nature of the contemporary context of the MBA, contending that rapidly eroding ecological and social conditions suggest that it may be undesirable for the MBA to remain in its current format for long into the 21st Century. The future of the MBA as the premium management qualification, it will be argued, is dependent on our ability as educators to fully respond to these changes.

The second perspective will explore the recent debates around epistemology and their potentially important implications for MBA curriculum design. Whilst the state of knowledge in general has significantly changed, the last major developments in the structure of MBA were in the late 1950s (Gordon & Howell 1959; Pierson 1959) and these were largely an evolution of what went before. These changes are fundamentally problematic as they question the very idea of foundations that form the raison d'être of the degree: that a broad superstructure of business administration skills could be built on a core of foundational subjects. …

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