Embracing true internationalisation in business school education

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Embracing true internationalisation in business school education

A statement from our International Dean, Professor Andrew Godley on embracing internationalisation in business school education

COVID-19 presents an existential threat to many business schools where ‘internationalisation’ strategies are little more than synonyms for increasing fee income from international student recruitment. Business schools at Russell Group universities, for example, increased overseas students by 50% from 2014/5 to 2018/9, and at several recruitment doubled[1]. With the prospect of continued travel restrictions even after mass vaccination, this model of ‘internationalisation’ seems set for dinosaur-land, with all the painful institutional adjustments that implies. So how can business schools evolve and embrace true internationalisation?

Internationalisation agenda

Internationalisation cannot be reduced to crass commercialism. The main purpose of any internationalisation agenda must be an institutional commitment to the underpinning ideals of higher education. This is fundamentally humanitarian and deeply progressive. The concept of the ‘World Citizen’ lies at the heart of the Humboldtian ideal, ensuring that all students leave with more than simply technical training, that they are all better equipped to engage critically and constructively with major global issues. Business school ranking bodies (the Financial Times, Economist, QS) and accreditation authorities (AACSB, AMBA and EFMD) strongly reinforce this progressive view of internationalisation. Moreover, with 30 different measures the new Global Engagement Index (GEI) provides a more comprehensive understanding of different routes to internationalisation than anything else yet published. Its measures range from international graduate success, to institutional infrastructure to support global engagement, to a focus on sustainability, as well as research.[2]

Around a dozen UK universities, including the University of Reading, have been awarded the top accolades by the GEI. Henley Business School has been at the forefront of the University of Reading’s internationalisation agenda. With around half of all its student population from overseas, Henley has one of the largest international student populations of any UK business school. Well over half of all international students at the University of Reading are studying at Henley. But the big difference compared with almost all other leading business schools is that almost two-thirds of Henley’s international students do not study in the UK. Instead, they study overseas. With around 1,900 students studying at one or more of its overseas campuses, Henley is one of the world’s pioneers of delivering transnational business school education.

Our origins and international growth

The origins of Henley’s commitment to internationalisation are embedded in its 1945 foundation. The architects of the Administrative Staff College (now our Greenlands campus) conceived the ‘Henley Approach’ in its early years. In contrast to Harvard and its case method, this focused on helping executives prepare for higher responsibilities through personal development, through the ‘Syndicate Method’, through action learning, and through understanding teams. Such was its impact that policy makers around the world wanted to introduce transplants. In the battle between the two leading contenders for management education in post-colonial India, Henley lost out to Harvard.[3] But elsewhere Henley continued to open offices.[4] At various points there were mini-Henleys in: New Zealand, Australia, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Ghana, Bangladesh, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nepal, East Africa, Trinidad, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Malta, and – of particular significance – in South Africa.[5]

Henley South Africa was established as a small office in 2002. It is now the top business school in South Africa, with an MBA population of almost 1,500, and another 2,000 sub-degree level students. Our strapline in South Africa is, ‘We build the people, who build the businesses that build Africa’. With 81% of Henley’s students in South Africa black, Henley is at the forefront of addressing the deep inequalities in access to higher education there.[6]

International partnerships

There are powerful reverberations from Henley’s past commitments to its current activities. As early as the 1950s the General Management Programme was particularly popular with Scandinavian firms. Now, through Henley’s offices in Denmark and Finland, the Henley MBA retains its position as one of the pre-eminent routes for executive development in northern Europe. Henley’s office in Munich began as a vehicle for teaching the Henley MBA to German soldiers in their army barracks. Henley Germany continues to deliver the MBA and back in the UK with nearly 1,000 officer students, the British Army is one of Henley’s key partners in the delivery of the Army Higher Education Pathway. In Singapore, the Henley MBA was lauded as a route to upward social mobility in the 1970s when university entrance for Singaporeans was restricted to the elite. Today the training of creative industry entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Ghana leads to similar stories of personal liberation. Henley helped Russia’s International Management Institute develop its first MBA during the immediate break-up of the Soviet Union, a relationship that carries echoes in Henley’s partnership with the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) today, with double degrees offered in entrepreneurship, in finance, and for doctoral supervision and joint research. Our engagement with China prioritises knowledge creation with the establishing of the Centre for China Management and Global Business, which builds on our long-standing partnership with the Beijing Institute of Technology.

A truly global business school

Internationalisation for Henley is fundamentally part of our DNA. From day one Henley has being talking about management education and development. With over 80,000 alumni from over 160 countries, many people from across the world have been interested in joining our conversation. But instead of shouting about it, Henley has instead quietly built its presence in different places around the world. This speaks of a deep commitment to helping other people beyond the home country to become better managers and leaders in their cities and nations. It speaks of a fundamental belief that Henley’s approach to management education and research actually transcends cultures and nations and that Henley’s values are commonly held around the world. It speaks of a continuing commitment to have a major societal impact around the world.


[1] HESA data: Enrolment of non-UK domiciled students onto postgraduate course in business and management at Russell Group HEIs.
[4] David Rundle, Henley the Unfinished Management Revolution HMC, 2006, pp. 79-87, 106.
[5] A.T. Cornwall-Jones in Education for Leadership, The International Administrative Staff Colleges 1948-84, Routledge, 1985; Dan Remenyi, Henley Management College: A world class pioneer in management education (ACPI, 2015).

Professor Andrew Godley

Professor Andrew Godley is Associate Dean (International) and Head of Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour at Henley Business School. He is Professor of Management and Business History and the Academic Director of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship.