Technology-Supported Institutional Reflexivity: Do Business Schools Study Higher Education As a Field of Practice?

By Lisa Unangst, Empire State University

In 2023, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are rife with debate around technology’s uses and abuses. Chat GPT, intentional online vs. emergency online learning, and open access publishing are just some of the topics at hand. Whether and how those same HEIs are using technology as a tool for institutional reflexivity and strategic iteration around teaching & learning is another matter. This post asks how extremely well-resourced business schools located in the US center higher education as a field of practice and finds, based on initial, exploratory analysis of website content, that that focus is largely absent. 

Why is it important that business schools focus on higher education as a site for management, finance, ethics, operations, marketing, and the other sub-fields designated by those same institutions? In short, understanding higher education as a public good – which the high profile university recognition of the SDGs including SDG 4 calling for “equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education” – implicitly does, calls for an interrogation of how (neoliberal) higher education as practice contributes to the public good. To put it another way, do the managers, marketers, and policy makers employed by for-profit and not-for-profit higher education institutions innovate in support of accessible, quality education? Finally, the urgency of inquiry in this area is underscored by business school based-research as being itself a contribution to the tertiary sector’s third mission, which includes knowledge transfer, benefit to society, and the acceptance of social responsibility.

Teaching and learning has been defined by Carillo and Assunção Flores as relating to “curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and the nature of interaction among participants” (p. 467). Further, Colbeck has discussed that “faculty teaching and research roles are sometimes integrated” (p. 648) and indeed many faculty conduct research related to the courses/programs they teach. A parallel examination of both faculty research on higher education and curricular offerings on education in the business school setting is, therefore, generative.

What’s the initial evidence for business school omission of higher education as case in focus? First, a review of Forbes’ top ten US business schools, used provisionally as a proxy for well-resourced institutions while problematizing the rankings apparatus per Hazelkorn, indicates that none of those ten schools offer a specialized track in education or designate faculty with an emphasis in education. 

What of publications at the department level? Using ParseHub and Voyant, I analyzed publications associated with current members of the Wharton School’s Finance Department and also searched earlier department publications. That review found that one match for publications with keyword “higher education,” a university-sponsored piece reflecting on the experience of an emeritus professor at the institution. This is a small-scale inquiry that could and should be replicated on a larger scale where dedicated faculty publication search tools are not available. 

A search of Harvard Business School’s website – which features a publications search tool encompassing faculty books, working papers, etc. – produces two books by HBS faculty William Kirby on higher education in the last ten years (Empires of Ideas: Creating the Modern University from Germany to America to China and China and Europe on the New Silk Road: Connecting Universities Across Eurasia, with the latter written alongside colleagues Marijk C. van der Wende, Nian Cai Liu and Simon Marginson).Ten additional books are listed, dating back to 1973, which address higher education in more and less direct ways. These include the quite direct and prescriptive, for example Curriculum Recommendations for Graduate Professional Programs in Information Systems, to the historically focused and moralistic From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. The range of this work is important and reflective of the field’s potential. However, given that there are over 200 faculty at the institution, this is a scant offering indeed, though again one reflective of a school curriculum that does not include a track in higher education itself. What of shorter works by faculty? In the last decade five book chapters were published with keyword “higher education” by HBS affiliates, all including Kuresh or Kirby as author. Further, four articles matching the same criteria were published in the last three years alone. Articles were published in outlets such as The Hill and The Atlantic and in peer-reviewed publications. 

As researchers, teachers, and members of their communities, business school stakeholders have a unique role in supporting their own institutions and the larger field of higher education. An important opportunity is presented for faculty, students, and other affiliates to engage in the reflexivity made possible by technology to evaluate not only whether research and publication is happening in the area of higher education, but also what types of publication – and potential intervention – are taking place. 

That work might well expand upon the research of international business school authors who have explored, for instance, defining good university financial management and the development of mentor competency across the disciplines. Bringing to bear cross-disciplinary perspectives on these topics, which are also addressed in higher education and international education journals, will only strengthen the overall body of work. Further, it may form a basis for ongoing translation to practice via policy iteration, new professional development initiatives, and indeed the continued transformation of the curriculum as related to the preparation of future university presidents.


Carrillo, C., & Assunção Flores, M. (2020). COVID-19 and teacher education: a literature review of online teaching and learning practices. European Journal of Teacher Education43(4), 466-487. https:/

Colbeck, C. L. (1998). Merging in a seamless blend: How faculty integrate teaching and research. The Journal of Higher Education, 69(6), 647-671.

Geber H., & Nyanjom J.A. (2009). Mentor development in higher education in Botswana : how important is reflective practice? South African Journal of Higher Education, 23(5).

Taylor, M.P. (2013) What is good university financial management?, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 17(4), 141-147. https:/