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Business Schools in the Developing World vs. Business Schools in the Developed World

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guy PfeffermannThe vast majority of good business schools are in the "developed world” – what the World Bank calls "high-income countries”. However, the fastest-growing demand for business education is in the "developing world," where an increasing number of business schools and on-line education providers are struggling to meet that demand. The question often comes up at conferences and other discussions whether curricula and delivery mode existing in developed countries are appropriate to the developing world. To paraphrase Gertrud Stein, "is a business school a business school a business school?” or do business schools serve different needs in the two worlds. The same question arises for online business education providers.

Two sets of recent statistics shed light on the question, the first about curricular content, and the second about delivery modes.

The most recent World Bank flagship publications, the "World Development Report – 2014” just came out. It includes a table entitled "Selected indicators related to risk management at the enterprise sector level” (p. 306). Somewhat oddly, the table shows the relative importance of wage employment in total employment. Persons who work for wages and salaries are mostly part of the "formal sector” consisting of companies and government. In developed economies they represent 85 percent of total employment. Not so in the developing world. In the average Sub-Saharan African country as well as in India, only 17 percent of employment is for wages and salaries. What do the remaining 83 percent live on? They work as farmers or in petty services, and live off the sale of the goods and services they produce. In other words, they are independent small entrepreneurs.

Unsurprisingly, traditional business schools serve the corporate world, helping students and other participants to find good jobs or rise in the hierarchy. Business schools in the developing world also first and foremost serve their respective countries’ corporations. However, these schools face a huge need for basic entrepreneurship education. Consequently many developing country schools and also a growing number of online courses are focusing on self-employed small business owners, many at the "base of the pyramid." Ability to pay is of course a major challenge, but innovative low-cost solutions are being developed. The point here is that the needs for business education in the developing world are quite different from those in industrial countries.

Access to technology is a second fundamental difference between the two worlds. Fresh off-the-press data from the International Telecommunications Union mirror the structural differences noted earlier. In the "developed world," nearly 80 percent of households have Internet access at home; in spite of rapid increases, the proportion in the developing is under 30 percent. The contrast sharpens even more when looking at broadband access. In Europe and the United States, slightly under 30 percent of the population have broadband subscriptions; in Africa, 0.3 percent; in India, 1.14 percent. Conversely, 70 percent of the Indian population and 63 percent of the African have mobile phone subscriptions. of whom one-sixth use smartphones.

The implication for business education is clear. While online education solutions for developed world clients focuses almost entirely on delivery by computers and tablets, scaling-up in the developing world also requires research and development of courses that can be delivered on mobile phones, only a minority of which are "smart."

Now if I were a business school professor, I would draw a 2 by 2 figure, but I believe that the message is clear: scaling-up business education in the developing world requires curricular emphases and technologies that are different in important respects from those that serve the needs of the "developed world."

Our June Tunis conference focused on entrepreneurship education for the developing world. GBSN and INSEAD’s forthcoming Singapore event – "Tapping the Potential of Technology to Transform Management Education for Emerging Markets” may advance a broader understanding of needs and innovative solutions.


Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network. 

Tags:  Business Education  developing world  technology  the World Bank 

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