Thinkpiece No. 6

A New Paradigm for Business Studies

by Manfred Hoefle


The present financial and economic crisis in Europe and the USA has multiple causes and origins. One cause that is scarcely mentioned, and then only briefly, is the type of education that business managers receive at business schools and universities.

In the USA the financial crisis was seen, but only temporarily, as good reason to reflect on the role of business schools: this resulted in minor additions to the recipe — a sprinkling of business ethics und business risks.

The German-speaking world, with a few exceptions, did not consider itself affected, and therefore failed to reflect on the aims and nature of business schools. However a critical look at business studies reveals serious weaknesses: repeated attempts to turn the subject into a science, a trend toward financial management (or uni-dimensional financial control), the progressive instrumentalization of people together with a denial of personal responsibility, and finally the formalization and spread of passive learning in place of active study, after the Bologna Agreement of 1999: that opened the door to entry-level bachelor degrees at German/Austrian/Swiss universities.

Ever since the 1980s, business studies has suffered from a lack of structure and orientation. Instead of evolving it has merely adapted and adopted mostly US methods, concepts and tools, been uncritical of managerist excesses; and transformed itself into infinite specializations.

As a consequence, business studies needs urgent and far-reaching changes.

This Memorandum suggests how business studies can be reformed. The three main proposals are:

First: to reform the nature of basic and further business education toward wisdom and prudence (deep understanding and circumspection) with the focus on human beings. The fixed purpose is to generate responsible company leadership that disregards modernist trends and a dominant capital market focus.

Second: to promote an understanding of other disciplines and ways of thinking, in particular those of engineers, computer scientists and industrial designers, and of value creation and production.

Third: to divide management studies into a two-year course of general studies (general in the true sense) followed by vocation-oriented studies (optionally completed in several cycles) to obtain higher qualifications. Curricula should be set mainly by universities and open to all — with entry via both vocational and academic routes.