Donald Trump, Brexit and the Impact on Business Schools

bertrand-guillotinOne of the hallmarks of business education is “global”. It would be hard to find a business school that doesn’t highlight this word in its marketing materials. Global often refers to the make-up of the class as well as the content in the classroom. A number of business schools have applied global from a physical perspective by setting up operations in different strategic countries. There is good reason for this, as the world of business is interconnected like never before.

But does anything change on January 20th when Donald Trump, who won on populist and nationalistic rhetoric, is sworn in as President of the United States? Couple this with Brexit in the UK and there is reason to think that business is going to be done in a different way. How does this reconcile with the global DNA that is part of business schools? Also what does a Trump Presidency mean for business schools trying to attract the best and brightest from around the world in light of rhetoric to ban people from certain countries and religious backgrounds?

Bertrand Guillotin (pictured above), a Professor at Temple University and formerly the director of international programs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, has something to say on this topic. He has researched the internationalization of business schools. Among his research questions is how deans perceive their competitive environment and context. He shared some insights in the below Q and A.

1. As the election has demonstrated, there clearly is a backlash by some against globalization. Did any of the deans you interviewed as part of your research share this sentiment and how it might impact operations?

Yes, there is a growing anti-globalization sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic. The irony is that many of the people who voted against globalization are the ones who understand it the least and benefit the most from it.

Business school deans and faculty have intensified their efforts to address crucial misunderstanding by educating others about the benefits of globalization (e.g., cheaper prices though cheaper imports), migrations (e.g., more friends), and international collaboration (e.g., more ideas to solve our common problems around the world).

In terms of direct impact to business school operations: 30-50% of the tuition revenues often come from international students and a lot of research is produced by international faculty.

2. In what ways do you think that business education should adapt to this shift? Should this in any way impact schools’ internationalization strategies? 

Globalization will not go away. Protectionist barriers can be bypassed strategically by investing directly in a foreign country and by leveraging online technologies. As such, business schools should adapt their internationalization strategies and their business models based on their reputation or prestige. My 20 years of international experience and my research have convinced me that internationalization should be a strategic priority, not an afterthought. In my interactions with many deans, I have also learned that they often react rather than strategize and that they imitate leaders in the field (the elite) due to the pressures coming from accreditations and rankings. It does not have to be this way. While business education is a highly formalized field, deans have a high degree of freedom to innovate by crafting differentiation strategies based on authenticity and credibility.

3. For many from around the world, Trump and Brexit have cast a negative light on the US and the UK. I have a young college-aged friend from Germany who visits my family every summer. She is hesitant about visiting the US while Trump is President. It is almost universal that alumni and faculty from major schools are opposed to Trump. How can schools overcome this perception to still attract the best and the brightest from around the world? 

Image and perception are critical to business schools. They rely on their brand and the promise of a better and prosperous future. International trade and international education rely on the principle of reciprocity. If the US takes a protectionist approach towards trade partners (e.g., Mexico and the EU), these partners will reciprocate. Fewer opportunities will be available to US students, faculty and universities. This self-centered strategy does not fit well with today’s inter-dependent global economy.

To counter the negative perceptions associated with protectionism and self-reference, business schools will have to do more outreach and strengthen the look and feel of their community to be more attractive to international students and faculty. In short, they should increase their spending toward a comprehensive and authentic internationalization of their campus and curriculum. If they do not, we might see another wave of international students choosing Canada or Australia over the US as we did after 9/11 and after the US decided to reduce the number of work visas (H1-Bs)

4. Attracting international students in a Trump Presidency is just one part of the equation. On the other side, you have new concerns about getting them in the country.  You have been in charge of international programs before at a business school and dealt with the different hurdles of securing visas for international students. Obviously, without people like you doing this work, it is very difficult to bring together a global cohort. Both Brexit and Trump’s rhetoric calling for a ban on people from certain religions will lead to new challenges. How do you see this playing out? Is there anything that schools can do to prepare for new policies that might be implemented? 

International students are critical in terms of economic impact in the US (approximately $30 billion per year), innovation (most PhDs are earned and patents filed by non-US citizens – think about Russia-born Sergey Brin at Google or the more recent USSR/Ukraine-born billionaire Jan Koum, CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp), and creativity/problem solving since they add value with new perspectives. A protectionist rhetoric might reduce the number of visa applicants to the US. How much US productivity and GDP growth would have been lost if Google and many other startups had been launched in Canada instead of Silicon Valley?

That being said, the US is known as a melting pot and many US citizens have international networks of colleagues and relatives. Leveraging these networks has been done individually but not so much at the institutional level. Business schools have an opportunity to leverage these networks and key assets to further their internationalization. Pursuing sound internationalization strategies will strengthen the market position and relevance of US business schools both at home and overseas.

5. We have seen Trump come out and criticize brands, such as Boeing and HR Block. While Trump is proud of his Wharton credentials, my hunch is that at some point he will come out and attack schools of higher learning for one reason or another. I think communicators and leadership need to be ready for this. Do you agree, and how else do you think a Trump presidency might impact higher education in general?

Great question. If I were to speculate about the next tweet that might come across social media from Mr. Trump, I would say that the criticism could be based on “too much research, not enough action” at top business schools. To address this proactively, I think that deans and communicators should emphasize the impact of their business schools. Europe and the EFMD have been leading the way with their Business School Impact Survey. It is still new for US business schools. However, it may prove to be a very useful and strategic tool for them to prevent criticisms and justify their relevance.

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