Business Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Business Education

There are more than 200 000 students enrolled in business and management programs offered by Canadian Universities, and more than 130 000 students attending business programs at Community Colleges.
Business Building
At University of Alberta (courtesy U of A)

Business Education

There are more than 200 000 students enrolled in business and management programs offered by Canadian UNIVERSITIES, and more than 130 000 students attending business programs at COMMUNITY COLLEGES. These students comprise about 17% and 19% of their respective student bodies. Annually, some 55 000 degrees in business are awarded by universities, 80% of which are at the undergraduate level. A further 39 000 students graduate in business and management from community colleges.

There is also a vast variety of continuing education and professional development programs in all areas of business, available through post-secondary institutions, professional bodies (eg, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Canadian Bankers' Association), management consulting firms and in-house organizations. These are offered to managers in the private and public sector, many of them online. These offerings continue to grow at a high rate.

Over recent generations, female enrolment in post-secondary business and commerce programs has dramatically changed the composition of classrooms. For example, in the period 1970-71, women represented only 9.5% of total business undergraduate enrolment. By 1981, this figure had increased to 39% and by 1992-93 to 47%. Currently women make up the majority of business students. These figures are indicative of the changes that have occurred, albeit at times slowly, in the gender composition of managerial occupations.

In Canada, university undergraduate degrees in business administration are generally designated as Bachelors of Commerce (B Comm). The first B Comm program in Canada was started by Queen's University in 1919 with the first degrees grated in 1921. More than 75 Canadian universities now offer undergraduate business degrees.

Undergraduate business education prior to the mid-1960s was heavily, though not exclusively, oriented to training people for ACCOUNTING, particularly those intending to become chartered accountants. While substantial numbers of commerce graduates still aspire to professional accountancy, the design of university business programs changed as a result of two 1959 reports (Gordon-Howell and Pierson, sponsored respectively by the Ford and Carnegie foundations). The reports emphasized that the primary objective of higher education in business should be the development of the requisites for managerial competence. The recommendations in these reports dominated curriculum development through the late 1980s as business schools embraced ties with the broader academic community. By the end of the 80s and the 90s, however, major criticisms emerged about the analytic and theoretical focus in business education that resulted from these reports.

In the past 20 years there has been an exponential growth in MBA programs, and indeed this is the dominant source of growth in business school enrolments. The length of the MBA program varies from one to two years (depending on the institution). By establishing strategic partnerships with foreign universities, schools are able to offer enrollees the opportunity to experience other business cultures.

MBA programs include the core foundation and functional areas of managerial training (quantitative reasoning, organizational structure and behaviour, managerial and aggregative economics, accounting, finance and marketing), in addition to strategic thinking, policy formation and execution, and the impact of public policy on business organization. While MBA programs were once general education programs, most institutions now provide the opportunity for specialization within the degree.

Curriculum evolution and challenges

The business curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels has changed to reflect the new realities of the business environment. Companies have had to restructure and adapt to increased competitive pressures and an increasing rate of change and innovation in the marketplace. Questions raised about the adequacy and direction of business education, have created a growing demand for graduates trained in the "softer" skills of leadership. These include communication, network development, teamwork, change management, as well as the ability to function effectively in situations full of ambiguity that demand managerial flexibility and creativity. Further, as middle management positions disappear, there is added emphasis on courses in entrepreneurship and management of new ventures and small businesses.

The globalization of both big and small businesses is also reflected in increasing course offerings in areas such as international business, international marketing, international finance and trans-border management, as well as courses that focus on international comparisons among differing systems of production, human resource management, ethical behavior, or organizational structure. Many of these courses tend to be optional and are offered as electives. Nonetheless, this broadening of the curriculum is reflective of the demands made, both by prospective employers and by students, for increased relevance in business education.

Business schools are recognized for applying the tools of rational analysis to decision making, but receive criticism concerning relevance. In particular, schools have been criticized for their failure to encourage innovative and experimental thinking, to broaden the outlook and perspective of the student, to acknowledge the process of making decisions, and in general for failing to recognize that management is also an art. The result has been the renewal of alternative views about the content and delivery of the curriculum. Underlying these differences is a tension between separate kinds of knowledge - academic knowledge as opposed to experiential knowledge. An emphasis on academic knowledge implies that business education must focus on concepts and analytical tools applicable over a student's lifetime. This approach has been dominant because of the Ford and Carnegie reports, and posits that the training of future managers should be based on a foundation of economics, other behavioral sciences (psychology, sociology and political science) and quantitative analysis. In contrast, a curriculum based on experiential knowledge emphasizes the experience of business management as more immediate and relevant, an approach that acknowledges it to be as much a clinical art as one of science-based professionalism.

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