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Challenges of Internationalization Discussed at GMAC® Hong Kong Conference

De Meyer has seen many schools become aware of the need to internationalize, create a program—perhaps an exchange with a school abroad—and then stop. “For them it’s finished—they have internationalized,” he says. “In the accreditation process they can tick off the box ‘we’ve internationalized.’ Box is checked off. Dean is happy. You have a few international students. But that doesn’t mean that your school becomes truly international, or indeed has an understanding of what international management is, or prepares your local students for international management.”

“You really need to get a critical mass of international activities, and not only one program where you have an international agreement or exchange program,” De Meyer says. “You have to carefully think through what kind of research do you need to do. How do we prepare some of our faculty for the internationalization process? What is the minimum number of international students that we need to have and how do we treat them, and how do we get the best out of them? How do we make sure that we get a critical mass of activities that truly give some international flavor to the place?”

Simplifying what he acknowledges is a complex world, De Meyer suggests that internationalization at business schools generally takes one of four tacks:

  1. An import model, where strong, brand-name schools bring in quality international students and faculty in sufficient numbers to create an environment where principles of international management can be learned.
  2. Schools known for strong intellectual property can achieve internationalization by exporting their ideas to the rest of the world.
  3. Many schools follow what De Meyer says could be called the Airbus model, building partnerships with other schools to build internationalization into their programs.
  4. A fourth model is based on the development of an international network of campuses, fueled by faculty research at multiple sites that enriches the whole of the enterprise.

Each model has its own strengths, De Meyer suggests, and each is a legitimate path to internationalization.

De Meyer suggests that one of the key challenges for many institutions is striking the right balance between local demands and international outreach. “Many business schools have a strong accountability to their local communities—they are very often funded by local business communities…to train local managers,” he observes. The trick for such schools, he suggests, is finding appropriate ways to build internationalization into their programs in ways that complement their accountability to local interests.

International success also depends on developing a critical mass of committed students in the international program, De Meyer says, and making sure that those students engage in and contribute to the program. Success also hinges on a school’s ability to create appropriate international governance structures and effective strategies for managing complex, often politically sensitive international networks.

Business schools need to develop better materials to support internationalization, De Meyer believes. “We need to develop case studies and concepts that help students and executives who come to our programs to understand what international management is all about,” he says.

Internationalization is important in part, De Meyer says, because it creates an environment where schools of management can gain new knowledge. “Twenty or thirty years ago, some of us missed what was going on in Japan in terms of manufacturing and quality methods, because we were not present in Japan,” he says. “If you don’t have an international footprint, it is very difficult to pick up some of the new ideas while they are still in the making. You need to be there at the moment the ideas are shaped.”

”[W]e are gradually redefining the value proposition of an MBA,” De Meyer suggests. “The value proposition that we make to potential participants and to companies is a very different one than the traditional one…in the last century. It may not be a two-year program. In Europe you see very strongly the emergence of a master’s of science in management immediately after the undergraduate program. You do your MBA perhaps not after two or three years of work but after five or six or seven years of work—later in your career. You see also much more of what I call ‘lifelong learning’—people who go for an executive program, and then keep on going to executive programs.”

Forty-five MBA deans and program directors took part in the meeting, “From Adaptation to Innovation: Learning from Asia.” Concurrent sessions focused on leadership development and styles in Asia, the Indian MBA market, what students want and how the Asian market is changing, and cultural understanding through social networks. Other speakers included two leading Chinese business leaders—Robin Li, CEO of Baidu (the “Chinese Google”), and Ronnie Chan, chair of Hang Lung Group, land developers in Hong Kong and China—who reflected on the kind of MBA graduates they and colleague companies across Asia will need to support corporate strategies and plans for growth.

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