Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries in B-schools

A higher education specialist based out of New York, Dr Choudaha specialises in strategic management of higher education, institution building, collaborations and market development. He holds a PhD in higher education from the University of Denver, an MBA from NITIE, Mumbai and BE from Jabalpur University. He can be reached at

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Added 14th March 2011


Ability to think and work across disciplinary boundaries is becoming more important than ever. A white paper by the Teagle Foundation, US, argues, A successful interdisciplinary programmein addition to focusing on critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills expected of most liberal arts programmes must develop student capacities to integrate or synthesise disciplinary knowledge and modes of thinking.

Interdisciplinary education had been highly valued by liberal arts institutions, especially at undergraduate levels, however, business schools have been slow to move beyond their silo-based learning approach. Warren Bennie and James OToole in their Harvard Business Review articleHow Business Schools Lost Their Waycritiqued the current model of B-schools and argued: The entire MBA curriculum must be infused with multi-disciplinary, practical and ethical questions and analyses reflecting the complex challenges business leaders face.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong in their articleThe End of Business Schools? Less Success Than Meets the Eyeidentified one of the ways B-schools can address the issue of relevance is by offering programmes, which do not restrict themselves to a conventional set of functional courses, but instead recognise the interdisciplinary, inter-related world of modern business. This design element leaves them more veridical with the problems people face in actual management situations, where issues do not arrive to be solved segmented by discipline.

Interdisciplinarity is defined by Salter and Hearn as any challenge to the limitations or premises of the prevailing organisation of knowledge or its representation in an institutionally recognised form.

Thus, interdisciplinary approach builds on the foundations of disciplinary knowledge to create new knowledge and solve complex problems. This approach aims at developing competencies like adaptability, critical thinking and innovation. Charlotte Woods identified three major arguments in favor of interdisciplinary learning and curriculumeducational benefits of critically examining ones own discipline from another disciplinary perspective, the nature of the work is calling for more cross-functional and collaborative approach, and the global challenges require a new comprehensive problem-solving approach.

Interdisciplinary Programmes
In the US, a new interdisciplinary degree called Professional Science Masters (PSM) has been gaining ground. The objective of PSM is to professionalise sciences, social sciences, and humanities degrees to produce graduates with both disciplinary expertise and business skills. Within a decade of its launch, more than 100 universities are offering PSM degree. Dean David King of the State University of New York (Oswego) said, Its interdisciplinary. Its a hybrid, which I think is more agile. Its responsive to rapidly changing needs in terms of the job market, in a recent New York Times article.

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