Debate: Should we close the management schools?


For more than a century, critics have been blowing on business schools. Whenever a crisis takes its toll, censors make a sentence of pillory schools accused of all the ills: the bankruptcy of such an enterprise, the oppression of women, the increase in global inequalities through the global ecological devastation. Why, on the contrary, should management schools be retained?

Two recent books provide an acid portrait of D. McDonald’s The Golden Passport and Mr. Parker’s Shut Down the Business School. Thus, Professor Martin Parker finds “immoral”, “stupid”, “vulgar” business schools solely concerned with money and where corporate social responsibility is just a marketing tool. One may be surprised by the hypocrisy of being a 20-year professor in two UK business schools and throwing his gall on colleagues and institutions without proposing a solution except (I quote) teaching the “conception of hierarchy and the decision-making process of communism “or” the forms of microcredit and mutualism “.

Martin Parker seems to have fallen asleep in the 70s and, suddenly lighting up his television set in 2018, he discovers the ecological crisis, the war in Syria or the rise of religious fundamentalism. Frightened, he accuses management schools. Obviously, management schools are not wonderful institutions, free from the slightest criticism. All teachers are able to see the path we have to go to improve our schools. But, we should not put in the same bag of quality schools and some lower-end establishments. Moreover, we can notice the real value of management schools.

Firstly, the schools have evolved considerably since their creation in 1819 in France with ESCP, HEC in 1881, Audencia in 1900 or ESSEC in 1907. The contents, the teaching methods, the modes of operation, the recruitment processes have have been totally renewed. In the 1950s, schools were institutions recruiting children from good families, with no real selection, with practical courses distilling a series of recipes without hindsight on practices. Conservatism has long made room for managerial innovation, international diversity, personal development, critical analysis. With the development of research in the 90s, management schools have become places of innovation creation in the field of management sciences, fantastic R & D reserves for the economy and companies.

The success of alumni

On the other hand, the success of the schools is that of their graduates who knew how to develop within them, then develop themselves in the organizations and giving in turn to their environment. Proof of this quality: the occupational integration rate. Many of our students have jobs before they finish their studies. Rarely, some elders may have been the actors of certain places of oppression and domination. On the contrary, in the vast majority of cases, the alumni of schools are carriers of energy, respect for others, thirst for discovering and developing the well-being of their team. The students I meet daily remind me of the image of a positive youth who wants to change the world with a real moral concern.

Third, business schools are a reflection of their society. They have been forced to enrich themselves by the diversity of student profiles, the heterogeneity of worldviews, the multiplicity of forms of organization and the reasons for being companies. For example, business schools have long ago taught that the sole purpose of a private company is only shareholder profit. In passing, to think that “finance is bad” is to understand nothing about the ways of financing the economy, innovation and, consequently, job creation.

Moreover, management schools also convey the need for a critical look at our world, respect for otherness, gender equality, the defense of the oppressed, the protection of our ecological environment … Thus, schools have allowed to fund critical researchers (like Martin Parker), moribund departments (student failures) and also encouraged teachers to have ethical teaching and research projects. For example, the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) was launched in 2007 by international representatives of leading business schools and academic institutions to further develop responsible management education. For example, business schools are increasingly funding research on corporate social responsibility, corruption, gender equality, and ecological transition.

Places of fulfillment

Finally, management schools are places of fulfillment where every teacher experiences every day the possibilities offered to help young people who will change the world tomorrow. Our project as management science teachers, is not to facilitate the domination of some money-hungry crooks, ready to do anything to satisfy their wealth needs. Our ambition is to help young people develop with the necessary critical eye to work in companies for the common good. With such a pedagogical project, management schools are obviously absolutely necessary.

Author Bio: Bertrand Venard is a Professor at the Audencia Business School