[VIEWPOINT]Business education's failings

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[VIEWPOINT]Business education's failings

According to one theory of national competition, developing countries are ruled by political leaders and the bureaucracy. Entrepreneurs rule semideveloped countries, and professional managers rule developed countries.

The United States was a developing country in the late 18th century, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as its heroes, and a semideveloped country in the 19th century with entrepreneurs like Rockefeller and Carnegie at the helm. In the 21st century, the United States is being represented by professional managers, like the late Alfred Sloane of General Motors and General Electric's Jack Welch.

Korea had President Park Chung Hee as its leader as a developing country in the 1960s and 1970s. Businessmen, like Lee Byung-chull, Chung Ju-yung and Chey Jong-hyon, followed in his footsteps in the 1980s and 1990s. I do not think a single Korean would object to our country becoming further developed. However, Korea lacks the prerequisite to becoming a developed country ?professional management. More than 160 universities churn out 3,400 graduates with so-called masters of business administration each year but we lag behind in students, professors and curriculum compared with business colleges in more developed countries.

In more advanced countries, MBA programs favor applicants who have a minimum three years work experience to ensure that the graduate has learned both the theory and practice of business administration. In Korea, undergraduate students who have no formal work experience enter MBA programs. The education they get and the MBA degree they receive at the end of two years is nothing more than a continuation of their undergraduate studies.

Business administration programs of the more advanced countries concentrate not only on business management theory but teach how to actually apply the theories to real issues, how to manage human resources more efficiently and how to develop a challenging mind and an active attitude to cope with any situation. That is why the ratio of professors to students seldom exceeds 1:15. Harvard Business School has 220 professors teaching 1,500 students, and the National University of Singapore, which is often compared with Seoul National University, has 180 professors teaching 2,000 students. Korean universities are reluctant to hire professors because they think business can be learned through chalk and chalkboard only. Even in the College of Business Administra-tion at Seoul National University, 32 professors have to teach 1,600 students in undergraduate and graduate studies. The professor/student ratio is 1:50, and in management theory classes, professors have to stand in front of the class with a microphone to teach 300 students.

The curriculum of business administration is different from other fields of study, with heavy concentration on dissertations. MBA programs in the most developed countries usually require 60 academic credits.

Less than half the classes are taught by professors in these countries; the emphasis is on case discussions, role-playing, business games and projects. The classes extend beyond the classroom into discussions and at workplaces. In Korea, students are required to earn only 24 credits for an MBA degree.

Educating professional managers entails difficulties. but there are solutions to the difficulties. We should try to model our MBA programs after those in the most developed countries, where people who already have work experience are encouraged to apply, and the number of faculty members is much bigger. We should come up with business management textbooks that allow students to study in depth the cases of successful managers and establish for themselves a management style that would be appropriate for Korean businesses. We should also invite professional managers to be instructors. There should be internship programs for students to work and interact with managers of companies during vacations.

Leading programs should seek certification by the world-leading authority on business management programs, the Association to Advance Collegi-ate Schools of Business. More interaction and exchange opportunities should be sought with other programs outside Korea to give our students the chance to grow through international experiences and a global way of thinking.

Korea's business management programs still have a long way to go. However, with reform, these programs will become capable of producing professional managers skilled in both theory and practice, and thus contribute to the further development of our country.


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The writer is a professor of business administration at Seoul National University.

by Cho Dong-sung

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