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From Theory to Reality:

One University Reaches Out

by Jon Franklin Ramsoomair

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Jon Franklin Ramsoomair framsoom@mach1.wlu.ca is on the faculty of the School of Business, Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada.

Internationalization has become a trend of the nineties. The passage of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) bill indicates the imperative toward the opening up of international boundaries. The export of management education is but one outgrowth of the expansionist perspective that is being felt across North America.

Business schools have been slow in responding to the call for internationalization. The idea that world markets have been "tending toward a converging commonality" has not taken root. [Levitt, 1983, p. 12]  Rising to challenges has been, in general, a time-consuming process in which many notions and theories have been proposed, but few are enacted. In the sixties the need to balance liberal and vocational approaches in business education  was realized only well into the decade. [Gordon and Howell, 1959; Pierson, 1959]  It was only until the mid-eighties that the need was discerned for integrating high academic standards while being relevant to the practical solutions demanded in business. [Cheit, 1985] A pattern emerges. First, there is a proliferation of monologue and dialogue based on emergent trends for a given decade. This continues for a number of years, followed by some degree of action which occurs at a period well into the decade.

The relative inertia in responding to current demands may be primarily due to the proposition that business schools tend to be "overly focused on what business did yesterday." [Behrman and Levin, 1984]. Another reason for the imperative to inaction might be the reaction to criticisms levelled against business schools concerning the paucity of research activities. [Dulek and Fielder, 1982; Strait and Bull, 1992] Byrne [1990] puts forward the view that because of pressures arising from the demands of tenure and promotion, "extraneous" activities (including teaching) have taken second place in respect of the rush to research. It is ironic, however, that Porter and McKibbin [1987, 43] hold the view that heightened research activity "will not have any impact anyway."

The lack of quick response over the past decades in terms of active, immediate and direct involvement in societal demands may therefore be the result of research pressures. Yet, Porter and McKibbin [1988] propose that the relevance of business schools lies in their ability to engage in first-hand participation in ongoing economic development. The "economic development" referred to encompasses the delivery of product: that of relevant management education to a community, both local and international that would welcome this move.

The lesson here, if existing demands were to be integrated, are:

a) There is a push for internationalization.

b) Business schools need to respond in a timely manner by sharing their product: that of management education, especially in the context of an international audience.

Internationalization is a worthwhile and essential goal for business schools, and quick response, rather than lethargy, is a more desirable course of action. The question that we now face is how do we internationalize our product, i.e., management education?

Existing Models

Warner [1991] presents three models of internationalization on the part of business schools. They are the:-

1) Market Model: in which there is aggressive research and consulting activities between institutions in the countries

2) Liberal Model: this focuses more on academic exchanges as well as a "global consciousness" that transcends the institution

3) Social Transformation Model (STM): this model is characterized by an active effort to understand and reduce social inequities that may exist. The S.T. model is best suited to a relationship involving a More Developed Country (MDC) like Canada, and an LDC - a Lesser Developed Country.

Fleming, Shooshtari and Wallwork [1993] suggest that business schools have worked primarily on the basis of the market model. Heavy emphasis is placed here on financial considerations, and the bottom line addressing the profitability of a venture is of paramount importance. This model is perhaps the easiest to apply, but it is not necessarily the most productive for mutual benefit. The Social Transformation Model inculcates the outlook that curricula cannot simply be exported, but rather it has to be contextualized to suit the needs of the host organization. [Austin, 1990] This model subsumes the understanding that management education should be indigenized and made relevant to the realities of the local situation. Coupled with this perspective is the proposition that the successful export of management education is more likely to be effective with individuals who have had working experience and who can adequately accomplish the sometimes difficult task inherent in applying theory to practice , especially in an internationalized context. [Mintzberg, 1990]

Existing Practices

The market model for internationalizing management education has been the model of choice for most business schools that have realized the value of this activity. Various configurations of the model have been used by:-

INSEAD in France has opted for a more one-sided model in that it has continued to encourage MBA students from the world into its ranks. The University of Michigan (Business Administration School) has pioneered the Multidisciplinary Action Program (MAP) which brings together students who work as teams and are "guided by faculty, work full-time on a project to analyze and improve a specific process in a sponsoring company." [White, 1992; p. 138]

Existing practices consequently seem to be marked by two primary features, viz., faculty exchanges and importing students from foreign countries. This in itself is a piecemeal approach to the application of the market model. Faculty exchanges alone bring about limited advantages. While foreign students help to diversify the curriculum and bring different viewpoints, it is not a true reflection of internationalization. The process of involvement of a business school in another culture cannot be a limited effort done with minimum of ease. This is why faculty exchange and foreign student import are attractive. Besides holidays for faculty members and ideological dogmatizing of foreign students' minds, the perceived advantages are few.

What Then, is a Beneficial Model?

"Internationalization is the incorporation of international contents, materials, activities and understandings into the teaching, research and public service functions of universities to enhance their relevance in an interdependent world." [Definition adopted at the Conference on Internationalizing U.S. Universities: A Time for Leadership, Spokane, WA, June 5-7, 1990]

Given this definition of internationalization, business schools are far from the stated goals and objectives of this concept. While the crucially important nature of the topic has been realized and acknowledged [Beamish & Calof, 1989], the issue of how to internationalize and more specifically, how to internationalize curricula has not received sufficient attention. [Nehrt, 1987] Perhaps as faculty members of business schools we worry excessively about a definite structure and outcome. Our thinking might be mechanistic and burdened by mental bureaucratic stumbling blocks. Perhaps what is needed at this stage is a move away from mechanical systems thinking to strategic systems thinking. [Othmae, 1982; Senge, 1990] The former concept merely rearranges the various components in a problem situation, while the latter leads to a transformation of the problem itself. Adler (1991) had made use of this in the synergistic approach to management of cultural diversity, moving from an "our/their" way of thinking, which requires the imposition of a paradigmatic shift.

The definition used in the "Time for Leadership" conference cites a number of elements to be considered. They are the incorporation of international:

into the teaching, research and public service functions of universities, combining this approach with the social transformation model in which the primary objective is reducing social inequity. Another model then emerges that proposes that universities and business schools should reach out beyond international boundaries and attempt to spread practical knowledge of management where appropriate. Any venture like this should merely be guided by market forces, and profit should not be a prime motivator. Losses would be a major factor, and at least a break-even position should be sought.

Consequently, a strategic plan should be set in place that seeks primarily to fulfill the real meaning of a business school, which is that of accumulating knowledge and disseminating practical and useful educational tools that advance the tenets of efficient and effective management. In the context of an internationalization situation, a partner should be carefully sought, and the goal of the partnership should be that of providing assistance where relevant as well as obtaining assistance. The concept of obtaining assistance within this strategic plan does not necessarily mean tangible help. Rather, the guiding principles should be those of learning how organizations operate in different parts of the world, expanding cultural understanding and establishing fruitful, in-depth and rewarding relationships.

The primary focus should consequently incorporate the following objectives:

The method I would propose in this regard is referred to as the Partners in Management (PIM) outlook that is illustrated (below) in Table 1.

Application of the Model

This section of the paper will address the application of the PIM model to a particular business school.

The School

Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) is located in Waterloo in the Canadian province of Ontario. This City is approximately one hour's drive Southwest of Toronto and about two hours Northeast of Buffalo. With a full-time enrollment of 5,800 students, WLU primarily serves surrounding communities. The School of Business and Economics (SBE) accounts for approximately 1,000 of the student population

Table 1: PIM - The Partners in Management Model

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The faculty of the SBE are well-qualified and recognized. They have garnered Canadian awards for excellence in teaching, and research is actively carried out. This is attested to by the fact that articles generated tend to be published in Tier One journals. In addition, two faculty members are currently editors of major journals. Members of its faculty have come from diverse cultural backgrounds and can claim birthplaces such as Iran, Austria, Germany, the United States of America, Ghana, France, Switzerland, Trinidad and, of course, Canada. Given the spectrum of cultural antecedents, it indeed appears to be anomalous that the outlook of the SBE would not be more outwardly focused. There was little attempt to internationalize, and apart from a few Chinese foreign exchange students, the SBE student population was overwhelmingly and homogeneously Canadian.

Is There a Desire to Internationalize?

Faculty at the SBE comprise the Business Council (BC) which makes policy-oriented decisions within the School. A proposal was submitted in this forum to become involved in an international venture. Background was provided about the Partnership in Management (PIM) model, and approval was obtained to begin preliminary exploration with the stipulation that BC would require updating and progress reports on a monthly basis.

Choice of Venture

For many agencies and universities, the predominantly selected choice for ventures of this nature tends to be organizations and institutions located in the Northern Hemisphere. [Ramphal 1993] The countries south of the border which are primarily Lesser Developed Countries (LDC) are generally neglected. Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, has itself had an intermittent and perfunctory exchange program with Phillipps University in Germany and the University of Birmingham in England. There is no connection with the LDC's of the Southern Hemisphere.

A faculty member who was born in Trinidad had been carrying out research in his former homeland found that management education there was lacking. The tertiary educational institution there, the University of the Indies (UWI), did offer a degree in Management Studies, but it did not actively involve itself in the dissemination of management education. A need was, therefore, identified.

This faculty member was sent to Trinidad to talk with representatives from UWI and possible partners. The need for practical and up-to-date management education was reinforced. Learned was that:

"We have been looking around for an opportunity like this. So far, we have established some ties with the American Management Association, but we also wish to have a close connection with a recognized business school." (Personal Interview, April 1991).

In addition, it was determined that the choice of Trinidad as a starting point for internationalization made strategic good sense. The economy of the country is based on oil, and 85% of its Gross National Product is dependent on this resource. When, in the 1970s, oil prices were high, the then government instituted bold and forward-looking measures, embarking on an extensive diversification program. This move saw the introduction of industries based on steel production, agriculture, export of manufactured goods, fertilizer manufacturing, natural gas exploration and production, and the establishment of methanol plants. Trinidad, indeed, has become the largest exporter of methanol in the world.

The country is also situated in a unique geographical location. Its placement makes it the hub of a region that spans Jamaica to the North and Argentina to the South. Situated in the middle of this area, Trinidad is often a gathering place for managers from myriad organizations when there are conventions and conferences. Here was a country, then, that provided access to others in the region and which itself was forging ahead with industrial expansion while, at the same time, allowing the pace of management education development to drop behind.

The faculty representative spoke with members of various organizations in Trinidad. After much discussion, it was decided that the most appropriate partner organization would be that of the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT). This organization was unique, in that it had established a separate entity, the Royal Bank Institute of Technology (ROYTEC). ROYTEC had been operating as an in-house training facility, providing for the upgrading of skills, primarily in the area of banking and the training of new employees. The mission statement of this institution states in part

"... ROYTEC's mandate was to provide training for school leavers about to enter the banking world. However, ROYTEC also recognizes the need for training courses which focus on skills critical to successful performance in today's competitive environment... therefore, it wishes to foster employees in the job performance as well as individuals desirous of increasing their knowledge and improving skills in business." [RBTT Organization Profile, 1990, 23]

The implicit objective of ROYTEC was to become a provider of management education for employees of industries in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the rest of the Caribbean.

The founder of ROYTEC, Hubert Alleyne, is a man of foresight. An Executive Director of RBTT, he envisioned formation of an institution that would provide accessible management education to individuals from a wide range of industrial and commercial organizations.

"My aim is to bring together a pooling of people with expertise in management. Well-trained employees are the vehicle for national prosperity and well-being. I don't expect, however, that all the talent to provide training will be found in our country, so I will be actively pursuing international linkages." [Personal Interview, April 1991]

Consequently, the choice of venture seemed to reflect a goodness-of-fit.

Conceptual Strategy: What is Best for Partners

The goal of ROYTEC was to provide in-depth, topical, and timely management training for employees from different organizations. Was the SBE at Wilfrid Laurier University capable of doing this? The answer appeared to lie in the provision of a practically-oriented management training program.

The SBE had been offering to residents of the surrounding communities a Diploma in Business Administration program. It was primarily aimed at working professionals who wished to challenge and upgrade their management skills. The program consisted of twelve half-course in all of the functional areas including Finance, Accounting, Organizational Behaviour, Marketing and Production Operations. It also included courses in Economics.

ROYTEC indicated that the Diploma program would be relevant to its needs and aspirations and would serve its clientele well. The information was taken back to the Council, and approval was obtained to proceed.

The Diploma Program is geared however, to Canadian students. Realizing this, the content of the courses had to be contextualized to suit the Trinidadian environment. Faculty in the various areas set upon the task of researching the history, mores, business and economics of Trinidad. Library searches were carried out and cd-rom drives containing relevant information were scoured. Interviews were carried out with individuals in the community with Trinidadian ties.

Soon, courses destined for Trinidad included many cases set in the country, using local names and industries. Examples and readings from Trinidad were inserted into attendant reading packages. Examinations were set based on actual operating industrial concerns and commercial enterprises.

In the interim, ROYTEC had advertised in the local newspapers, detailing Laurier's entry into Trinidad and providing information about the Diploma program as well as the individual courses. When the registration day arrived, the response was overwhelming. There were two many managers vying for the available places. Within two days, a decision was taken by the SBE to offer two classes instead of the original one that was planned. Still, the program was oversubscribed. Fortunately, the planning that went into the choice of the venture meshed with the exhibited needs. The Diploma Program was underway.

Formalize Partnership

The scene is Grand Ballroom of the Trinidad Hilton Hotel. On this April evening in 1992, there is a gentle zephyr wafting outside. The sun is streaming through the floor-length glass panes and the air-conditioning inside has to work overtime to shield the interior from the twenty-eight degree (Celsius) temperature outside. But the sun is beginning to dip gracefully into the horizon, and the ambient temperature reaches a comfortable twenty-five degrees.

Inside the Ballroom, the comfortable plush chairs have been arranged to transform this multipurpose area to an auditorium-like setting. There is a raised state at the front, bathed by klieg lights and festooned with flowers. The blazing flamboyant, the sedate hibiscus, and the glorious roses capture and reflect the light. Seated on stage are the president of Wilfrid Laurier University, the Managing Director of the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and the President of ROYTEC.

The guests all stand as the Prime Minister of the country enters. They remain standing for the National Anthem. There is a curious air of solemnity that seems to be teased by the shining colours reflected off the stage. With speeches as well as the signing of documents, the partnership is formalized.


The first course was offered soon after. A faculty member from SBE went to Trinidad to teach. His students comprised employees from the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, the National Gas Company, and managerial-level employees from a large hardware chain, among others. While he was there, other companies approached him about training--which in fact ushered in another component of the work in Trinidad --the opportunity provided itself to the delivery customized management education to a range of companies in the country.

To enhance the benefits to both partners, qualified Trinidadian professors were also selected to teach, thus increasing he interaction between the Canadian and Trinidadian faculty. It was inevitable that joint research projects would result.

Ongoing Evaluation

There is always the question of quality control when courses are being offered at a distance. For this reason, course content, examinations, and grades are continually discussed between Canadians and Trinidadians. The fax machine and, of course, the telephone have proven to be valuable tools.

Creating More In-Depth Relationships

The first group of seventy-five students journeyed to Wilfrid Laurier University in May, 1994 to accept their Diplomas. It was an elaborate and momentous event. The SBE continues its relationship with ROYTEC and other companies in Trinidad. Assistance will continue to be given to ROYTEC in establishing their own degree program. Professors at the SBE continue to maintain contact with Trinidad, providing assistance and advice as well as receiving it.

Real Lessons

The experience of internationalization proved to be a value-filled learning experience. The ongoing interaction between a group of people from different cultural backgrounds and geographical regions enhanced the partners in management. Learning was not only one-way. As members of the faculty of the SBE at Laurier, we went to Trinidad to teach and disseminate management education. However, we ended up learning, understanding and appreciating the different cultures. What were some of the lessons? These are addressed below.

Ideological Reproduction

"We are inclined to believe that the most important aspects of business schools, and of management education generally... is their role in reproducing ideology. This ideology is what people do which is to learn the rational science and techniques of modern management. By providing concepts of 'the organization.'   for instance... and by stressing the universal applicability of the 'rational Precepts' (which on closer inspection are not as ideologically pure as they might seem) these schools produce on the whole, sound and reliable ruling-class functionaries who have complex rules built into them." [Clegg and Dunkerley, 1980,  538]

Despite our desire to contextualize the material in the program, our faculty, nevertheless, journeyed to Trinidad imbued with very fixed ideas about the tenets and application of management education. In spite of presumably open minds, there were definitive concepts concerning the way in which management and management education could be put into practice.

Armed with our rules and ideological fixatedness, our first encounter with reality emerged from dealings with ROYTEC. When it was reported back to the Business Council that an alliance with this organization was seen as favourable, there was an abundance of skepticism and raised eyebrows! A Bank? What do bankers know about management education anyway? We business schools are the proud guardians and disseminators of such knowledge! We have numerous examples set in the North American situation that will prove that our alignment should not be with bankers.

Yet, we came to learn that ROYTEC had challenged existing ideologies about who should be involved with management education. The Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has always prided itself on being a socially sensitive institution. ROYTEC had available educators and practitioners and had assembled a wide variety of pertinent curricula for the management education of practicing professionals. Our problem appeared to be that of "getting things to work with strange tools, different types of materials, different working conditions and customs." [MacLeod, 1988, 26] Nothing had prepared us for the notion of a large and profitable bank, whose raison d'Ítre is to maximize profits, that was socially active and aware, and that was seeking not only to upgrade the management skills of its own employees, but those of the country as well.

Cultural Liaisons

Given the initial reaction of the SBE to ROYTEC and dealing with the Royal Bank, some doubts were expressed by senior officials at the Bank. At the outset, our coolness about trying to effect a paradigmatic shift raised apprehension about whether a real cultural understanding could be achieved. The RBTT officials then talked to the faculty member whose birthplace was Trinidad. They sought reassurance from him, reasoning that even though he was Canadian, his birthplace was Trinidad. Maddox and Short [1988] refer to the idea as that of "cultural integrators" or individuals who are "intimately familiar with both cultures and can act as a link between them, representing each to the other." [Furnham & Bochner, 1986, 239]

From Ethnocentrism to Ethnorelativity

The initial reaction to ROYTEC marked the beginning of a number of misinterpretations of actions. In one circumstance, the grade average for a final examination turned out to be higher than Laurier's normally recorded score. The immediate reaction was that the Trinidadian professor involved was being too lenient in marking the examination. Yet, when a Laurier professor went through the papers, he agreed that the standard was indeed high.

Similar misperceptions occurred on the part of the Trinidadians. At one time, a request came from ROYTEC to adjust the schedule for the course. They wished to have some courses offered before others. This was not a problematic issue. However, given that this was our first large scale venture in an international environment, we felt the need to keep the Business Council informed at all times. As it turned out, the Council did not have a meeting scheduled during the next three weeks after the request. This was interpreted by the Trinidadians as a cumbersome, bureaucratic process, given their environment of quick response. Another lighter incident occurred when someone from Trinidad named Chris had called on the telephone to speak to a Laurier professor. The faculty member was not around, so her secretary took the message. It read:

Time: 10:20 a.m.

Message: Return telephone call: Chris Calling.

It turned out that the Trinidadian had said, "Please tell her it's Chris calling". Needless to say, "Chris Calling" never had his message returned, and the Trinidadians perceived this as being very impolite. One more incident involved a Laurier professor asking a Trinidadian counterpart to call back on the telephone "tomorrow at 10:00 a.m." At 10:30 a.m., the Laurier professor became quite agitated, "They have no respect from time!" The call finally came in at 11:00 a.m., which was actually 10:00 a.m. Canadian time!

Such misunderstandings occurred on a number of occasions in the early stages. In each circumstance, the default reaction always seemed to be "those Canadians" or "those Trinidadians". Bennett [1986] refers to this phenomenon and advises a shift from judgements based on one's personal, cultural frame of reference. The issue of ethnocentrism versus ethnorelativity involves the understanding that there are valid centres of the world other than one's own, and is imperative in the content of cross-cultural relations. Batchelder [1977]  and Weathersby [1992] presents the issues in a very eloquent manner:

"The progression to global thinking has to do with promoting the shift from parochialism and ethnocentricity to cultural adaptation and integration. However, the scope of the shift that is needed goes beyond interpersonal adaptation in cross-cultural situations to understanding how one's very thought processes are conditioned by ethnocentricity in one's culture." [Weathersby, 13]

She suggests a number of solutions to this inward-thinking outlook, including:

I would add to this the need for a conscious, paradigmatic shift to be actively learned when embarking on an international venture. This is not an easy task. It involves the maintenance of an open mind that is ready to interpret actions and implicit signals within a bias-free content. Other than keeping it in one's consciousness and reminding oneself of the importance of the precept, there may be very little else that could be done.

Adopting an Empathetic Outlook

Broome's [1991] approach to conceptualizing empathy has been that of adopting a relational perspective. Participants do not sacrifice their own understandings, but attempt to come up with shared meanings within interpersonal encounters. When speaking on the telephone, I make certain judgments about the caller. Is her tone short and curt? Does she not understand what I am trying to say? My initial reaction might be that she is simply uninterested in my point of view. Yet, within her situation, circumstances which I cannot see or understand may exist. Thus, there might be someone at her desk, signaling that there is another call on the line, or that a meeting is about to start. The important fact here is to be open to the fact that tone and curtness may be expressive of her current frame of mind at the time, rather than an ongoing personality trait.


The lessons learnt were real, fundamental and, I hope, lasting on both sides. The journey was not easy, but the consequent arrival has proven to be satisfying and rewarding. Both Laurier and ROYTEC have expressed their sense of learning and fulfillment.

Internationalization is a fact of life. The process of looking inward becomes incestuous. A more turbulent, fast-moving environment, a new awareness of the importance of quality and responsiveness to the market, as well as galloping internationalization have created a different context in which the emphasis is on core competencies and synergy, strategic alliances, flexibility, quality, and globalization. [Tsoukas, 1992]

A strategic alliance has been created with ROYTEC and Trinidad, and we hope it will blossom to the rest of the West Indies and Latin America. We have had a sample of the lessons of flexibility, synergy and empathy. The fruit has been tasted and there is the desire for more. Both parties have gained benefits. More importantly, we have, in each country, looked at ourselves and are not the better for it. We have understood that:

"We cannot gain self knowledge merely by turning our gaze onto ourselves. Because we desire to understand, because we are at bottom systematic understanders, self-understanding must be to some extent indirect. It is by looking out to the world that man's soul maps the structure of the world. Once he has come to understand the world ... he can also look to the world to see the structure of his soul mapped there" [Lear, 1988, 8]

This paper started out by stating a truism: that internationalization is necessary to the global community. More importantly, however, it is a way of trying to understand ourselves. Business schools have been slow in employing this invaluable tool of self understanding through an international perspective. We need to move faster in this milieu than we have in the past. Like the Laurier experience with ROYTEC, there will be problems. It is inevitable that things will not always be smooth and uneventful.

Regardless of the kind of journey, the outcome will undoubtedly leave us more enlightened.


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Ramphal, Sir Shridath S. Addres to the Commonwealth, January, 1993.

(Sir S.S. Ramphal is the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth)


Interview with Mr. Hubert A. Alleyne, President of ROYTEC and Executive Director of the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.

Other Publication

The Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, Organization Profile, 1990.

Graphics by Carole E. Scott