Archive for August, 2008

Ask the expert: is internationalism always good?

August 27, 2008

Dear George,

I understand why it is important for an MBA programme to have international students, but I am worried: can a school be too international?

Dear Prospective MBA,

I doubt that many leading business schools would share your concerns about being “too international”. An international approach has become almost a badge of honour among them and virtually all schools claim to be international in their outlook, student body, faculty and teaching materials. Some have gone further, such as INSEAD, which has two campuses, one in France and one in Singapore. Chicago also has satellite campuses in London and Singapore. Others have wide-ranging contacts and alliances that allow joint international programmes and student and faculty exchanges.

The rationale behind this internationalism is that in a globalised world business itself is international and so business and management students must be exposed to it—not least because MBA recruiters expect it. Even if a company is not itself international in scope it will have customers, suppliers and partners who are.

Apart from offering overseas visits and exchange trips one of the best ways of exposing students to different cultures is to bring foreign students into the classroom. As the first part of your question suggests, international students do have an important contribution to make in terms of adding their own cultural “take” on issues raised.

But this may be where your worries arise from. It is not uncommon for (indigenous) MBA students to grumble about “international” students. Most complaints are about an aversion to boisterous class participation, particularly among Asian students. Or that nationalities tend to seek each other out—Brits congregating with Brits, Italians with Italians and so on. (Though many business schools deliberately organise “national” days, where a particular country’s culture is fêted.)

But surely such grumbles miss the point. If international students are brought into a classroom to teach the rest of us (and them) how to cope in a cross-cultural environment then it seems perverse to complain about their cultural traits.

Although national and regional issues will always be powerful it seems likely that the world will become more international and integrated—more “global”—in the future than it is even now.

It may sound a trite, liberal cliché, but the best way to cope with internationalism or “diversity” is probably to embrace and celebrate it.

George Bickerstaffe.

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