The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Is business education a good preparation for a business career?

Tanya Bondarouk and Ivar Dorst detail their study for the University of Twente in the Netherlands of how business leaders see the role of business education.

Improving the link between business education and the requirements of business practice has received a lot of research attention recently. We believe it is probably now time to discover business leaders’ own expectations of graduates.

In a recent such study we asked 16 business leaders several key questions such as:

  • How valuable is a generic business education for a career in business?
  • What is the relative importance of competences attained by academic business graduates?
  • What are the developments in the business world that demand different competences of business graduates?

Our interviewees differed in gender, educational background, tenure and function and covered a wide range of service and production companies from airlines to semi-governmental organisations.

Value of a generic business education

Opinion among business leaders on how business education should be targeted is divided.

Some think that business administration programmes must be specialised, since “Companies are tired of having only generically educated graduates”.

Other interviewees think that the generic programme is actually very valuable and is the key strength of a business administration education.

As one of the interviewees said: “A car manufacturer would never say: ‘Do you know what is important for a good car? The engine, the bumper and the tyres.’ How about the lights? Without headlights I am not allowed to drive. It is about the complete image instead of knowledge of separate details”.

For business schools, this simply means that finding a good balance remains as important as it was before. Businesses value a generic business administration degree but raise questions whether such graduates can perform specialised job tasks.

Importance of competences

All our interviewees express an opinion that they prefer to hire young graduates with strongly developed skills: “You have to understand the content, but afterwards skills are of decisive importance within business administration”.

It is difficult to disagree with this view. Indeed, knowledge has two practical functions: being able to choose between options and a tool to learn analytical skills. The fact that a student succeeds in graduating from a business school programme provides business with expectations that he or she is able to handle analytical knowledge: “Getting your university diploma proves that you are able to deal with a specific way of thinking”.

Probably it may be time for business schools to consider introducing specialist, challenging knowledge-integrating subjects/courses into their curricula.

Is business education a good preparation for a business career?

Tanya Bondarouk is professor of Human Resource Management at the University of Twente (UT), Netherlands. She conducts research about HRM, Technology and Innovation that forms the key topic of the HRM profile in the UT Business Administration masters programme.

Ivar Dorst graduated from the University of Twente and RSM Erasmus University, and is currently active as a consultant supporting organisations in change projects. He participated in the study this article is based on during his graduation at the University of Twente (UT).

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