Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Initial Thoughts on an 'International' BBA programme

In continuation of the earlier conversation about setting up truly Global universities, I return to the subject of creating a truly global bachelors programme as the fundamental building block of such an effort.

I know when talking about such initiatives, the conversation usually starts and ends with global research initiatives and building excellence at that level. However, it is difficult to build research excellence without a fundamental change in the way education is perceived, and unless a level of excellence is available in the student pool. Besides, while it can be assumed that it is easier to achieve excellence in tutoring and research leadership, because of the global movement of talent and the fashionable trend of reverse migration, an excellent student pool and a level of commitment to research excellence is usually the precondition for attracting good tutors and research guides.

Now, I shall argue that none of this actually possible without creating a good, internationally orientated and professionally relevant bachelors' programme. Without this, research excellence becomes a hanging garden; it may achieve some relevance in the context of prevailing academic orthodoxy, but by being disconnected from the host country, it loses its sustainability.

For example, let me talk about what I think a good 'international' Bachelor of Business Administration programme will look like. To start with, this programme should ideally combine the academic programme with hands-on work, usually in customer facing roles. It is important for the learners to gain experience of the everyday life of business more than learning theories in the classroom. However, in such a format, while this may become immensely relevant, one runs the risk of creating too narrow a perspective, by exposing the student to a limited types of scenarios and a limited range of cultures. Besides, practical exposure to work life may also develop its own range of orthodoxy: Such as a way of thinking imbibed through the professional practises of a particular trade, like that of the salesmen or the accountant. So, this must be balanced by two further elements - a global exposure and development of reflective abilities of a student so that the immediate experience can be contextualised.

There are very practical problems of a student studying a bachelor's programme to international workplaces. They may not have the threshold skills, and they may never be able to obtain the necessary permissions. However, much can be achieved through travel itself, as well as working in the development sector. Doing social work is invaluable for anyone's moral development, and exposure to such work help develop a perspective more valuable than learning to present inside a windowless room. This will be the way to develop a student's ability to contextualize the learning, as indeed any practical experience that may be gained within the narrow confines of the business.

Now, I shall also argue that such social development work, done in one's own country or even internationally, is much easier to do within the timetable of a bachelor's programme than the time-pressed Master's programmes. Besides, the expectations are far more flexible and the agendas and paradigms are much more fluid at this stage: In summary, the opportunity to shape lives and viewpoints are much more open.

There are more things that can be done with such a programme. It is possible to eliminate the classroom altogether, and instead offer a wide range of subjects through online lectures and interactive coursework, which will allow a truly global class to form. This will also break the linkage between education and expensive real estate, which often distorts the economics of education and makes it a rich men's plaything. I am not talking about eliminating the tutor at all; I am rather in favour of assigning tutors as life coaches and mentors who will take the students through the complexities of self-guided study, coursework, assessments and hands on work, insisting on conscious, reflective practise all the time.

I know there are challenges on the way. Language is one of them, because I would not want to succumb to typical anglophone assumption that everyone needs to, and wants to, learn English and English ways of life [which one?]. So, I would see language classes, exposure to good books and movies, being an integral part of such a curriculum too. An international mindset, which starts with the assumption that people are different and they will always remain that way, is a reliable starting point of creating an 'international' programme as we set out to do.


John Doe said...

"I know there are challenges on the way. Language is one of them,"

I was wondering how it would be if learning a new language and its corresponding culture becomes a mandatory subject?

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

The trick will be to balance the specifics without being too narrow. So, languages will open the doors to diverse cultures and ways of thinking, but the idea, at the undergraduate level, will be to instill in the student a passion for enquiry and exploration, so that s/he can decide for himself/herself which door s/he is going to knock on.

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