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Management Training Must Think Global


In a business environment that is increasingly global, David Head, Professor of International Business Communication at the University of Plymouth Business School, argues that management training in the UK must look beyond the shores of this small island.

Just over a decade after completion of the European Single Market and with the business context firmly in the grip of globalization, one might expect UK management training to be wholeheartedly into an ongoing process of internationalizing itself.

The reality of the situation is rather patchier.

Many business students expect to become hot commodities in an environment where it is hard to avoid an international dimension, but do not feel it is necessary to address international business issues, develop cross-cultural competence, or develop foreign-language skills.

Paradoxical though it may seem, business basics are not equated in their minds with such matters.

There are several useful lessons that UK management education can learn from abroad:

Other languages than English matter in the international business context.

For instance, web content in the European Union is not dominated by English, and Chinese is likely to become the most frequently used web language before long.

In other words, the products of UK management education rely on an assumed world dominance of English at their peril.

Of course, the population of UK business schools has become as cosmopolitan as British society, and they have in addition been successful in attracting large number of overseas students.

These bi-lingual students, and the home-grown ones who come from non-Anglophone ethnic minority backgrounds, together with those students who are on a course combining business subjects with study of a foreign languages, will have a significant competitive advantage in the globalised business environment.

They are also likely to have good communication skills generally, which is not an insignificant asset per se.

International placements, whether academic or work-based, are an invaluable part of business education.

This is not just a question of acquiring competence in a foreign language.

Even placements in other English-speaking countries expose the students concerned to different business practices and help to develop cross-cultural competence, i.e. an awareness of perspectives which, though different, are nevertheless coherent and justifiable.

Abroad is not just the United States.

Important though the US is to the evolution of business culture and business thinking, there is a growing awareness of the extent to which supposedly seminal business ideas from the USA have to be moulded to suit the business cultures of very different countries in order to make them workable.

In other words, the apparent assimilation of American business thinking should not be equated by wholesale adoption of it.

The global business environment is not as American as one might think, yet UK management students are not as aware as they should be of new business ideas and developments even in other EU member states.

Furthermore, there are subtle, but significant differences in management education across the globe.

Hence the importance of enabling UK students to experience such differences themselves in conjunction with international student exchange programmes.

Business courses have international clients

A recent survey has shown that European business school students rate specific programme characteristics as their most important selection criterion and a university’s research reputation as one of the least important selection criteria.

This does not mean that research should be a lesser priority for UK business academics, because research plays a big part in determining business school rankings, which also matter to would-be applicants, and research also enhances the quality of teaching and informs curriculum innovation.

It is also essential if business schools are to be incubators of new ideas and as such engines of business innovation.

However, the findings of the survey in question do mean that it would be advisable for UK business schools to focus more on developing a distinctive profile, which probably means taking greater risks in the development of the curriculum, not least by boldly addressing the international business agenda.

This might also mean giving greater recognition to non-mainstream research themes.

Management education, or management training, in the UK needs constantly to remind itself that it must not become as insular as the geographical location that is its home base.


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