Books: Rewriting Business Education | FinancialTimes

When Piet Naudé addressed fellow business school deans at a seminar at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, he asked an unexpected question: “How many of you wake up in the morning and realize that defending democracy is part of your job today?

While schools around the world teach many shared skills to students with common aspirations, there are important nuances depending on geography and culture. In Training in contemporary managementNaudé, trained in theological ethics, gives a controversial voice in particular to the institutions of his native South Africa, where he was until recently director of the business school of the University of Stellenbosch.

Some of the questions he believes will shape the future of management education – and the world it must address – would resonate with this gathering in Frankfurt and its counterparts elsewhere in Europe and North America, such as those around technology. and leadership.

But it also highlights trends that are particularly relevant in Africa and other emerging countries, although they are now more widely discussed around the world. These include the role of the market, purpose, good, decolonization, ecology and inequality.

Naudé argues that business schools should challenge the status quo and stand up for justice. He describes taking part in a march with colleagues to protest the corruption of South Africa’s disgraced former president, Joseph Zuma, and a colleague invited to lecture in China – once sensitive passages from the manual he chose have been erased.

Working in a country on the frontlines of climate change with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, Naudé brings an important critical perspective to the role of business education. He warns of the commodification of higher education and the enormous inequality of access, and that “the enormous social esteem given to successful graduates translates into a meritocratic hubris that assumes that they succeeded by themselves- same”.

Addressing decolonization, it seeks to move away from African research and teaching and ‘indigenous management’ (often by Westerners) that marginalizes other regions. Yet he cautions against the extreme position that all science is a Western construct to be questioned.

Many may disagree with his priorities and analysis — or the role of business schools in the reforms he seeks — but his book is a sobering addition to the debate.

Responsible management educationedited by Mette Morsing, presents a summary of the activities of the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) network created in 2007. More than 800 business schools have signed up to six standards covering purpose, values, method, research, partnership and dialogue to promote sustainability and responsibility.

The country with the most schools on board is the United States, although Europe leads by continent, with the United Kingdom topping the list in terms of share of its total number of schools.

A graph highlights the evolution of business and societal discussions away from shareholder-focused profit maximization, illustrated by an increase in stories from the mid-1980s in major international media (topped by FT ) that include the word “stakeholder”.

There is clearly a growing demand from students, faculty and employers to tackle these issues. For example, Paul Polman, the former chief executive of Unilever who has championed sustainability and is a board member of PRME, writes that business schools “are at the heart of society, their research informs and inspires and its teaching prepares new leaders for the challenges of the future”.

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Yet, with 800 registered business schools out of 15,000 worldwide, there is still a long way to go. As another author points out, Republicans – who tend to be much more suspicious of UN initiatives – significantly outnumber Democrats among business leaders in the United States, reflecting views that can deter deans to enroll in the PRME.

Some chapters look more like minutes of PRME regional chapter meetings than clear analyzes or recommendations. But the book is freely available online, allowing those with the patience to identify interesting initiatives. These include Sulitest, designed to test students’ knowledge of sustainability; the Carbon Literacy Project to provide teaching resources; and AIM2Flourish, which allows students to interview business leaders who have overseen successful and profitable innovations related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Video: Business schools focus on people, purpose and the planet

A challenge addressed but not fully resolved is the ambiguity over what responsibility or purpose actually means, and how this should be reflected in teaching, research and operations.

Another underexplored issue—despite criticism of business school rankings focused on salary outcomes—is any consensus on alternative consistent, quantifiable, results-based measures related to responsible management. These are challenges for PRMEs and for business education as a whole.

Training in contemporary management: Eight questions that will shape its future in the 21st centuryby Piet Naude Springers, £59.99

Responsible Management Education: The Global PRME Movementedited by Mette Morsing, Routledge, £120; free download at

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