Towards A Liberal Management Education

Howard Thomas, Singapore Management University
Stephen Matthias Harney, Singapore Management University


Purpose – This paper seeks to outline the element of a liberal management education that would attend to the full human development of undergraduate management students enabling them to exercise the responsibility and leadership that the profession and practice of business and management require. It places such an education in the context of the global university today, and points to the shortcomings in management education as it is currently taught, the challenges facing implementation, and finishes with the example of Singapore Management University. Design/methodology/approach – This is a discursive discussion piece drawing on philosophical texts, contemporary debates on management education, historical perspectives on the University, and the authors’ combined experience in management education and business school leadership. It was written as an argument to be debated by future interlocutors. Findings – The article concludes that liberal management education faces obstacles to implementation. These obstacles are recast as shortcomings in management education itself. It concludes that in part by recognising and overcoming these shortcomings liberal management education holds prospects for improving the full human development of undergraduate management students, and in so doing creating business leaders who have the maturity to take responsible and visionary decisions. Research limitations/implications – The article points to the need to elaborate a concrete curriculum across the spectrum of courses and subjects in management education. Practical implications – The article invites other business schools to enter into a conversation about liberal management education and share experiences of implementing reforms in management education. Social implications – Liberal management education aims to produce citizen-leaders who have the maturity and enlightened perspective to lead in organisations and in society. The intention of the article is to encourage debate and adoption in some form of a liberal management education philosophy and curriculum at other business schools beyond Singapore Management University, with the hope of shifting the emphasis in management education to preparing students as mature citizens as well as business leaders. Originality/value – Many have discussed the problems of the contemporary global university, but few have considered undergraduate management education as a crucible for working out the conflicts and challenges facing today's university.