The real deal

Steinbeis School of International Business and Entrepreneurship offers students real-time projects instead of theoretical case studies – a dose of reality that will give them the edge in the business world

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Tenets of a business education

In recent years, business schools have repeatedly been subject to the criticism that their graduates have no sense of responsibility and only learn to create short-term return on investment. Such critique focuses on the popular educational paradigm at many business schools of having students work on many case studies. Critics object that case studies are too static and far removed from reality. It requires little effort to make a difficult decision on paper – ‘We need higher revenues, so let’s make a virtual deal even if it may be morally questionable. We must reduce costs, so let’s just virtually let several hundred employees go.’ It’s not serious and there are no real repercussions. Case studies turn management into a game. The only winners are those who can stifle their compunction and make decisions that result in short-term success rather than have a sustainable, long-term effect.

For some 20 years, the Steinbeis School of Business and Entrepreneurship has taken another approach to educating managers. Currently, with over 1,000 students in masters’ programmes, the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) is Germany’s largest academic post-graduate business school. Since 1994, over 2,000 graduates have successfully completed SIBE masters’ courses. Over 350 companies have successfully cooperated with the Steinbeis School. SIBE offers programmes in law (LLM in Jurisdiction and LLM in International Business Law) and management. It has programmes for nearly all age groups: graduate students, young professionals, executives and retirees. As an international business school, SIBE offers programmes in Germany as well as in cooperation with renowned universities in other countries.

Dual training
The unique feature of SIBE programmes is that they are all organised according to the Talent Growth Curriculum (TGC) principle. SIBE’s TGC is the logical extension of the German principle of dual vocational training. All SIBE students are employed by a company during their entire programme, they develop a project in cooperation with this company right from the start. For the duration of their studies, this project gives them the opportunity to deal intensively with a real, open-ended problem.

Students must first study on their own before attending classroom events; the university supports them during this self-study period with pre-reading material, web-based training courses etc. They subsequently expand their knowledge through seminars, additional presence-based events, learning tandems, groups and written papers. Students transfer this knowledge to their working situations – independently and in situations that are open-ended and uncertain. The knowledge transfer and reflection that takes place before, during and afterwards is documented by written work as well as a concluding master’s thesis. The measurement and assessment of their educational success thus includes all phases of transferring general knowledge to an authentic, concrete business environment.

During their entire course of study at SIBE, students can rely on the expertise of their professors, whom they can also consult. Students obtain support in their companies from a business mentor who is generally their immediate supervisor.

Core principles
In a narrower sense, a typical programme concentrates above all on theory, i.e. on total knowledge transfer (seminars, self-study periods). The other two core principles of the SIBE TGC are reflection and a project, which are incorporated into the learning. Reflection involves contemplation on development, needs and goals. The project involves the entirety of the project-based work, i.e. the development of solutions for the underlying business problem, implementation of these solutions and project documentation, as well as all practical phases of the programme (colloquia, project days etc.).

The three core principles intersect each other throughout the course. The intersection between theory and reflection is refined by seminars on personality development and other educational events. The intersection between theory and project involves mutual, concrete knowledge exchange between the programme and business practice. This transfer is guaranteed by SIBE through the special content-based and formal integration of the project in the curriculum. The intersection between reflection and project means that students recognise their own personality development as manifested in daily business affairs. This meta-level evolves on the one hand through regular competency assessment; on the other hand through honest consideration of what one can accomplish in the project and what one has accomplished. Reflection also involves examining whether the chosen career path is the right one, i.e. whether it corresponds to one’s own needs and objectives. This can only be done by confronting concrete everyday management tasks. The synergetic interaction of all three elements transforms students into business-minded, responsible people.

Through the curriculum – which is oriented to the logic of a business plan – students become acquainted with the interdisciplinary aspects of a company. Contact with other students from different academic and/or cultural backgrounds increases their general and intercultural knowledge.

During the programme, students are encouraged to continually confront their own beliefs and behaviour and demonstrate their abilities, e.g. by documenting and defending their project performance at the university and company or through the competence assessment procedure. Feedback on their real actions, written work and competency assessments give students two types of objective information about the development of their abilities and what they may need to improve.

Career ladder
Regular feedback from other students, supervisors and teachers concerning their personal development and project supports students in their own self-reflection processes. Students must regularly defend their project in their company as well as to their fellow students, which gives them practice presenting themselves and their work. In addition to their own goals, they must consider the goals and interests of the most varied stakeholders if they are to successfully implement the project.

The result of integrating the project into the course of study is that companies as well as students benefit. Companies can systematically and over a relatively long period of time evaluate a student’s potential and whether he or she is a good match for them. In addition, successful completion of a project secures and develops the company’s success over the long term. Students have relatively protected yet highly real circumstances in which they can test an actual business venture. This gives them the opportunity to (further) develop their potential and thus move (further) up the career ladder.

All in all, the SIBE TGC helps students establish connections in their concrete situations. A deep understanding can develop only under real conditions. Just like archaeologists who learn their profession during excavations or biologists who learn theirs outside in nature, young managers grasp management theories, methods and principles by working on authentic, relevant and concrete challenges and finding out the real consequences of their decisions and actions for themselves.