A classic human capital trend among business schools is a full time academic faculty comprising subject matter experts. These experts usually spend most of their time lecturing and or researching. In particular, universities sought after, promoted, tenured and rewarded academics that complied with the requirements related to research activity and output. The pedigree of academics was determined more by their theoretical knowledge and research output. This pedigree affords great status to business schools.
Lecturing and research are still valued as a core function of business school academics. However, this trend is fast changing. Other facets, previously regarded as secondary, have now come to the fore as critical to a business school's core function.
Advances in teaching and learning, the spreading of knowledge in non-academic forums, consulting, engaging with industry, chairing boards and entrepreneurial activities have now become part of a business school academic's repertoire. According to business school guru Santiagio Iniguez, a successful business school today requires a multi-faceted, well rounded faculty. Thus, Iniguez refers to the modern business school academic as an academic tri-athlete that needs to demonstrate excellence in a number of fields.
In South Africa, management education requires that special kind of academic. This academic must be able to expertly integrate various different facets; from a strong research background to the ability to effectively teach in class and interface with high performing managers. Apart from possessing these different facets, academics also need to be equipped with the skill to exploit/leverage the synergies between these activities. Academics need to understand and factor issues around business ethics, environmental sustainability and societal responsibility into research, teaching and learning. This tri-athlete who is usually trained and not born with such talents is certainly the type that is able to build the bridge between academia and the business world.
While Iniguez’s description of a business school academic is spot on, the problem is the scarcity of these academics to build the bridge between the world of thinking and research and the practical world of business. Multi-faceted and well rounded business individuals earn a fortune in consulting services and managing corporate projects. Unfortunately, very few of these well rounded individuals choose to be involved with a business school.
As a result, business schools in South Africa are left with a relatively small pool of full-time faculty supported by a heavy reliance on adjunct faculty who dedicate a few hours to the school a week. This adjunct faculty are usually the well rounded individuals. This is one reason why business schools do not play a significant role in contributing to the development of the economy. Business school academics have become accustomed to looking after themselves.
Another problem is the limited nature of the faculty within the business schools. They do have strengths but are unable to completely operate at the level of the tri-athlete as described by Iniguez. Business school Deans often agree that business school academics have strengths either in research, teaching and learning, or interacting with business and are therefore rarely multi-faceted.
An alternate way of benefitting from the tri-athlete academic is the appointment of a few academics that are strong in a particular area to form clusters. Clusters - although working in silos of research, teaching and learning, engaging business, business innovation etc. - are able to focus, develop and deliver their strengths in a particular area. Students can therefore be exposed to these specialists in different sessions and will be left to put it all together which is when the actual learning takes place. Although delivery will be made from several sources, the objective of providing learners with high quality business education will certainly be attained.
Clusters also make it possible for members in a cluster to learn from each other. This is an effective action learning technique that ensures the constant development of members within the cluster. Working in clusters would require little direct supervision from Deans which according to Mintzberg provides “protection and support” that creates legitimacy and reputation for the business school.
With many clusters of this nature, at a later stage, a member from each cluster can join to form a “dream team” – academic functional experts in a particular subject area. Business schools can also use these expert clusters to explore and craft solutions to a number of business and management challenges facing the country.
To attain this, the question is whether or not business schools are willing to change and adopt new and different approaches to management education. The traditional South African business school seems set in adopting European and American management education methods in teaching and learning, curriculum development and assessments. For good reason, there is a need to begin exploring and adopting new approaches to management education.