Business schools, the business media, and the globalization of higher ed

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Another Monday morning, another day of profile for one field of study in the Financial Times – the world’s leading political-economic daily for business leaders and policy makers. Every Monday the FT includes 1-3 pages of business school material that ranges from gossip about school ‘comings and goings’, to powerful global ranking schemes, to diaries of biz school students, to summaries of dense and highly analytical new books and concepts. This material is simultaneously available and archived on the web site. And this is but one business media outlet, with others like the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes weighing in on matters. What other field of study receives attention on a near real time basis, and at such a global scale?

Nigel Thrift (2005), the University of Warwick’s new Vice Chancellor, has suggested that we need to think about business schools as part of the “cultural circuit of capitalism” – the fluid and highly interdependent network made up of management consultancies, management gurus, business media, and business schools – and their associated infrastructures and technologies. Thus business schools have an underlying media infrastructure that represents them, but that also governs them (especially via benchmarking and ranking schemes).

But business schools are also beneficiaries of other forces that differentially impact all fields of study. They are beneficiaries of the emergence of academic capitalism – the “pursuit of market and marketlike activities to generate external revenues” (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004, p. 11) in both research and teaching. Academic capitalism is blurring the boundaries between higher education institutions and market actors. And as markets globalize so go fields of study that are tightly interdependent with market actors. The delimitation process – the fragmentation and (de)valorization of select fields of study – is also being accentuated as universities begin compartmentalizing their organizational and financial structures, leading to intra-departmental/school fundraising: needless to say the wealthiest of alumni (aka benefactors) are often graduates from business schools.

Is it any surprise then, that many (not all!) business schools are leading the way with respect to thinking through how their field of study will adapt to, benefit from, and shape, the global higher ed development process?

Further reading

Slaughter, Sheila, and Rhoades, Gary (2004) Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State and Higher Education, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Thrift, Nigel (2005) Knowing Capitalism, London: Sage.

Kris Olds


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