"Business Schools Worldwide Facing Fundamental Reorientation" by Andreas Pinkwart
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Digitalization, a new generation of students and homemade mistakes require us to quickly change the way we think so we can seize new opportunities.

The digital revolution does not stop at the doorsteps of business schools – neither here in Europe nor in other parts of the world. In addition to the fundamental challenges, it also offers them the unique opportunity to reinvent themselves. According to the latest studies, this seems to be a rather pressing matter. For instance, the Business Education Jam study by IBM and the world's leading accreditation agencies attests to a growing discrepancy between how business schools perceive themselves  and the way the economy sees them, calling for a reorientation in this field.

On top of the still palpable aftershocks of the financial crisis, the reasons for this yawning gap lie within the growing social, ecological and intercultural tensions all over the world as well as in the values and expectations of the new generation of the millennials. They find themselves born into a time of constant change and frequent crises which they want to face using their special abilities generated by media interconnectedness to solve economic, social and ecological problems with the help of networks and entrepreneurship quicker and more effectively. This new generation of students, just like the enterprises undergoing fundamental changes, have often encountered a scholastic discipline, which has become self-referential due to incentive agreements and ranking guidelines over the last few years and sought refuge in the ivory towers of research instead of effectively focusing on the necessary relevance of its research to teaching and knowledge transfer – holding true to the adage "If theory and practice are not compatible, too bad for practice!" At the same time, digital technologies are often regarded as a threat, and subsequently are mainly being installed as add-ons to existing structures instead of being used to further develop this discipline in research, teaching and knowledge transfer.

Digitalization offers a vast field of new research and teaching methods, particularly for economics, which makes studying the subject much more interesting to students and professors alike and is suited to improve the outcome for theory and practice. This includes the expansion of research methods to use big data for examinations with faster and more significant results as well as the simulation of complex learning models and new teaching methods such as flipped learning. The new interactive media can therefore be used specifically to teach knowledge and develop competencies outside the classroom returning once again to the actual investigative learning as defined by Humboldt during class – investigative learning which includes practical cases, like in the lab.

This procedure, of course, requires the availability of all the necessary resources. Those believing that the use of the latest technology could replace classic classes in the cheapest possible way, have not understood this possible quantum leap. The transformation will not succeed without the best infrastructure and the time required for qualified preparation and post-processing as well as a new design for the residential classes. The business discipline can learn a lot here, particularly from engineering sciences.

Considering the division of generations in the companies and universities into the groups of digital natives, digital immigrants and digital dinosaurs, investigative learning proves to be an excellent platform for reverse mentoring and reverse teaching as well as knowledge transfer characterized by learning from one another with business practice. In this context, the German model of chair-related individual doctorates will see a renaissance if designed as a two-way street of joint investigative learning which offers the candidates a sufficient level of freedom and prospects of rapid development through additional structured programs and interdisciplinary research groups.

This model might prove to be superior in a research world focusing on tenure tracks as it keeps professors more closely connected to the next new generation and more versatile not only in their teaching but their research as well. The same applies to doctoral projects by practitioners interested in scientific work and the systematic inclusion of honorary professors in the work of the faculty. Other options include interdisciplinary research platforms and transfer-oriented formats to better integrate students, researchers and corporate representatives into teaching; for instance, through open-innovation platforms and incubators.

Business administration is currently undergoing fundamental changes worldwide. Once again, it is our American colleagues leading the debate. Not by moaning about what they themselves were doing wrong for a long time but by quickly recognizing the new opportunities and using them to correct erroneous trends. Our business administration should adopt this procedure with self-confidence as well. For Germany, for instance, it was its doyen, Eugen Schmalenbach, who always attached great importance to finding a balance between professional rigor and practical relevance when developing this scholastic discipline. With this mindset, he is just as relevant currently as during his era of the industrial revolution. 

Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart is the Dean of Germany’s HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management and also holds the Stiftungsfonds Deutsche Bank Chair for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship.