In a previous article, several university administrators argued that business students are overly rational and mainly money- and career-oriented. However, speaking to a variety of students on the Copenhagen Business School campus draws a different picture: the large number of business majors specialized in numerous sub-fields bears quite a variety in different reasoning. And few of them purely evolve around money and influence.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – At first sight, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), housed in modernist concrete palaces and located in Frederiksberg, east of central Copenhagen, seems like a typical business school, largely populated by guys in “business casual”, with great amounts of gel in their hair and perfectly ironed shirts. “In Denmark, we’re looked upon as being very conservative and extreme business focused. It’s a stereotype,” says Sebastian Felician, a CBS student studying Business Administration and Philosophy. Together with his fellow student Jeppe Groot, he is one of the two Bachelor’s level students that participated at a mostly faculty workshop on rethinking management education held at CBS in June.
Students on the CBS campus seem to have clear ideas on why they picked a business school and what they want to do after their studies “I study entrepreneurship because I guess I’m not the kind of guy for working from nine to five for somebody else for the rest of my life,” says Kristian, one of the student we approached on the campus. For Jeppe, he changed his original plan to study just philosophy and decided to combine it with a business administration programme: “I found that, whether you like it or not, business is at the core of what you could say is the language of our time. It’s considered to be very, very important. It’s what it really comes down to in a way. So I thought, if you are to take that seriously, you would need to start it.”
For others, the decision to study business was a matter of practicality. Like most students who mention job opportunities as a motivation, Lina, another CBS student, put aside arts and architecture, which she initially wanted to study, as more of a hobby rather than a profession in order to study business. And Jan, an International Business and Politics student, adds, “If you study business, you can be almost certain that the tools that you learn are going to be the tools that you’ll apply afterwards.”
“We are more than 20.000 students. It would be too easy to say it’s just because we want to make a profit or because we want to die rich,” says Sebastian. So what motivates these students? Jeppe sees applicability of their studies as the main reason for people to study business. “I think the instrumental value is what motivates most business student. It’s my general conception that it is easy to apply and it’s easy to see from the outset how you’re going to benefit from that,” he says.
Jeppe and Sebastian both say they had a lot of prejudice against business schools and doubted whether they would be able to fit in. For them, the biggest surprise about CBS was the way the administration takes their students seriously and encourages them to get involved beyond the classroom. This offer is well received among students as they they are identified and treated as stakeholders. “It prompts the question who are the stakeholders [of education] and how do you take students seriously without just giving them a carte blanche in terms of what their studies should consist of,” says Jeppe. This idea of business school education is very hands-on, whether it means starting a business or discussing university’s matters in the one of the various student boards. And getting involved and thus becoming an active citizen, or student, is what a business school should stand for, according to Ellen O’Connor, an American historian of business education. Students here regard themselves as a vital part of their educational institution.
Just as much as these students want to have a saying in their education, they’re aspiring to influence a future society. And influencing and maybe even changing the society through knowing how to do business seems to be the motivational ground. This applies especially to the small group of CBS students who founded a think tank called Suitable for Business. SfB underlines the importance of humanities and social sciences in studying business and doing business. The idea originally came up when two students of Business Administration & Philosophy “were sitting at the top of a hill in Sweden, overlooking the large Volvo factories and they were just discussing how do we, with our background, get in there and do business,” tells Mathias Munch from SfB. Initially, they set up a conference and case competition, in which they focused on the ethical and philosophical issues of a business case. “It’s all students, who are doing this. We had a lot of fun setting up this conference, but we also, at the same time, addressed some hugely important points. It had to be the students who did it – nobody else did it. And I think this bottom-up movement mightn’t be bad at all! If we succeed we will be the ones showing that we can achieve something in business and that might actually be the right way.”
Right before SfB held its first conference in 2011, the second Carnegie Report was published, promoting similar ideas. “It’s funny that what we came to find in the first conference was a lot on the same notions that the Carnegie Report touches upon, namely introducing humanities in business in order to have a more contemporary view on business,” finds Munch. It seems that teachers and students share the same concern in this matter.
What seems to motivate students is to be taken seriously and to given responsibilities in order to be able to prove one’s capable of performing well, both academically and professionally. This motivation and sense of responsibility can be seen all over campus, whether it’s those forming a student think tank, or those we interviewed around the school, mentioning a desire to find an instrumental value in the society that they want to be a part of. Taking responsibility means being an active citizen. And maybe that’s what most business students, just as much as their fellow students studying other disciplines, aspire to be, in both their education, and the careers they plan to pursue afterwards.
Last names of the students that we approached on campus were withheld as per their request.