Q&A: AACSB President Tom Robinson

What are some of AACSB’s important initiatives you’ve been involved with since taking the helm in 2015?  

When I came in, the organization had already started a visioning process, and the AACSB had a committee looking at issues in management education. They were looking at technology and what is happening in business, and figuring out what was happening in business schools as well. They’d also been considering what were the opportunities and threats there were to business education. They’d been meeting for a couple of years collecting information and reports from various sources. They were about midway through that process when I came in. Over the last year-and-a-half, we finished up that process and issued last April at our annual meeting what we called our Collective Vision on Business Education. We decided there were five major opportunities for business schools and the direction we thought they should head. At the same time we started our strategic planning process for our organization to elevate what we needed to do to support our vision for the next five years. That’s what has kept us busy for the last year and a half. If they had gone through the strategic planning process before I got there, I wouldn’t have had any hand in it. The timing of me coming in when I did enabled me to be an active participant and help shape it.

Tell me more about AACSB’s new report, “A Collective Vision for the Future of Business Education,” and how it is guiding the organization’s mission. 

There are five elements to our vision for business schools, and they are all very much tied into this idea of having a closer connection between business and academia. The first one is serving as a co-creator of knowledge. Instead of business schools doing research in a silo and hoping to be useful to the business community, we are working with the business community to identify problems that need to be solved and working with them on creating research that needs to be done and disseminated in a particular manner.

Secondly, we want business schools to be hubs of lifelong learning, and we want business schools to work closer with businesses to provide life-long learning for their graduates. It’s of increasing importance to people to increase learning throughout your career. It’s not enough to go to business school and be done. You need to continue learning through life.

The third element is that business schools today are becoming more of a catalyst for areas that spur innovation. I see student interest in entrepreneurship, and I see business schools having labs in which students can develop new products in conjunction with business, as well as business competitions with businesses at business schools. There’s even more business schools can do to work across universities. We need to work with the engineering, law and science schools to help bring new products and processes to market. Those three opportunities in particular require particular connections between business and academia.

The fourth part of our vision is that business schools need to be leaders on leadership, providing leadership training not just to people in business, but to professional and government organizations. We need to take and leverage the expertise that business schools have on training leaders.

The last important focus we think business schools should have is probably the most important as it is about demonstrating and furthering what business and business education contributes to society. It’s about helping people start their jobs and businesses so they can make money for their families, but also about making the overall economy and society better off.

We released this collective vision at our annual meeting in April, and have been presenting the ideas when we’ve been on the road. They are being extremely well received, and resonating very strongly with schools. It’s not that these things are new to them, but it’s the direction we want to head and it’s consistent with the direction that they are already going.

On the international front, how has the organization been meeting the growing demand for accreditation from schools outside the U.S.?

AACSB started at the request of business schools to accredit schools outside the U.S. 15 years ago. It has grown today so that there are three regions we work in, America, Canada and Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We’ve definitely seen schools outside of the U.S. embracing AACSB. For example, today 56 percent of AACSB member institutions are located outside of the U.S., and over 80 percent of schools seeking AACSB accreditation are from other world markets. We opened an office in Singapore over seven years ago and we opened a new office in Amsterdam about a year ago. In the last year, we’ve seen an 11 percent increase in our membership in Europe and a 9 percent increase in the Asia Pacific region.

There are a lot of high quality business schools around the world and to them AACSB is relatively new. We’ve been around in the U.S. for 100 years, and we’ve only been in those countries outside the U.S. for less than two decades. There are a lot of schools that are interested in what schools in America are doing. We share the best practices of our business schools at events, conferences and in publications.

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