Diversity is Dead. Long Live Diversity!

Ulrich Hommel

Ulrich Hommel is the Director of Business School Development at EFMD Global Network and, in this role, is responsible for professional development activities offered by EFMD GN.

An increasing number of pundits argue that the business school sector has entered a process of homogenisation – that diversity as we know it is dying a slow and inescapable death. Ulrich Hommel examines the evidence and analyses the possible impact it may have on accreditation systems.

Respecting diversity is one of the core values of EFMD; the holistic nature of the EQUIS and EPAS systems reflects this positive predisposition towards diversity.

Business schools are encouraged to produce institution specific responses to the quality challenge.

Indeed, a closer look at the portfolio of EQUIS and EPAS-accredited institutions demonstrates that business schools can travel many different development paths in their quest of achieving excellence.

The relationship between local conditions and the development path chosen can explain the historical persistence of diversity. Distinctive environmental features, socio-economic factors as well as academic values and traditions have led to the conservation or even the amplification of differences across cultural areas, higher education systems and business school types.

A rising number of pundits, however, are arguing that the business school sector has entered a process of homogenisation and that diversity as we know it is dying a slow and inescapable death.

The purpose of this article is to evaluate this claim and, to the extent that it can be upheld, discuss its implications for accreditation. How can accreditation continue to shape quality improvement and innovation in management education? How can accreditation avoid falling into the trap of merely deflecting threats to the business school establishment and invite procrastination where change is needed?

Diversity’s first death: Mimicry

Despite considerable achievements in terms of sectoral growth and broadening the educational mission, the legitimacy of business schools is nowadays severely challenged in academic circles and beyond (Hommel/Thomas, “Research on Business Schools: Themes, Conjectures and Future Directions”, in: Pettigrew et al The Institutional Development of Business Schools, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

One of the most persistent criticisms relates to the detrimental influence of mimetic isomorphism or, as Wilson/McKiernan (“Global Mimicry: Putting Strategic Choice Back on the Business School Agenda”,in the British Journal of Management, 22(3), 2011, 457-469) have termed it, “global mimicry”.

In this context, accreditation and rankings are seen as parts of a constraining process that forces business schools to resemble their immediate competitors. The sector may be characterised as a multi-layered system with considerable diversity across layers, driven above all by the availability of financial resources, and rising homogeneity within each layer.

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