Improving global project management education

Abstract

Educational programs and universities in emerging economies in Europe, Africa, Middle East, and around the world are a critical resource for economic, managerial, and social improvement. The rapid growth of project management applications, the exploding interest in project management education, and the expansion of telecommunications and distance education technologies have led to greater opportunities for project management educational programs and universities to innovate and to learn from each other. As educational institutions interact more and learn from each other, the contributions that they can make to their local, regional, national, and international communities will steadily increase by sharing experiences, and applying promising practices.

This paper suggests strategies for improving the global university system. It describes opportunities and barriers to effective cooperation, gives specific examples of improvement and cooperative efforts currently underway among project management educational programs, universities, faculty members, and students, and suggests steps and resources to enhance global project management education. Meaningful cooperation should support improvements in project management knowledge, skill, competency, and performance, and lead to enhancing the quality of life for societies in emerging economies and throughout the world.

Introduction

Interest in education in project management has been growing at an extremely rapid pace. This interest is being propelled by the growing recognition of the important contributions of project management to organizational competitive position, to social economic development, and to individual career progress. Opportunities for delivering this education and availability of academic programs in project management have been steadily increasing through research, applications, and the development of courses, curricula, and programs in the field. Growing interest in education in many economies and expansion of telecommunications and distance education technologies have further strengthened these trends.

The global university system has been transformed by technological and political trends. Opportunities for collaboration on project management research and education among educational institutions have grown rapidly. As a result it is possible to think in terms of a global network of universities rather than of specific physical institutions. The global university system (GUS) includes the universities themselves, their relations with their stakeholder communities, and their relations with other universities at home and abroad. As these institutions interact more and learn from each other, the contributions that they make to their local and international communities will steadily increase by sharing experiences, and adapting practices that have proven to be effective. To improve global education in project management, it is essential to support the global university system by strengthening universities as institutions, and facilitating international interaction among universities, educators, and students.

The University's Mission

The mission of universities, as it relates to project management education, is to conduct research, develop and disseminate knowledge, and educate the next generation of project management practitioners and educators. Universities also provide service to their local, national, and global communities. There are important differences between universities as a result of their different histories. Universities in the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union (NIS) have tended to emphasize more theoretical education, generating graduates who know key concepts but may not fully know how to apply them. There are many highly educated professionals in the NIS, but the quality of education appears to have declined with the economy. In the NIS, State universities must answer to their Ministry of Education, and are generally less flexible and less innovative. There are many new private universities that are generally more flexible and more democratic with varying levels of quality.

To Improve a Specific University

Educators in the NIS and emerging economies have new opportunities for creating autonomous, democratic universities. Based on experiences at universities in the USA and the NIS, we present several suggestions to support educators in improving their universities.

Clarify the vision

It is essential to clarify the strategic role of the university locally and globally. As an example, the School of Business at The George Washington University (GW) conducted several meetings during the spring of 2004 to clarify the interest, opportunities, barriers and sustainability of cooperative educational efforts with various regions of the world. As another example, the higher education system in the State of California includes several universities and colleges that emphasize different levels of education. The system as a whole attempts to meet the needs of the growing population and economy of the state. Now consider the GUS. There are many strong universities in North America and Europe. An ideal GUS could have strong universities providing project management education distributed around the world. The number and types of universities need to fit the population, economy, and budgets. Methods of financing universities could seriously affect their independence and standards (The Economist, 2004).

Have a Strategic Plan

Creating a strategic plan requires defining a competitive advantage. As an example, the University of Illinois wanted to be an outstanding research university. The problem they faced was how to distinguish themselves from other large state universities to attract bright researchers. They decided that they would have the most advanced computers in the world and supportive administrative climate to support research and attract leading researchers in many fields. This strategy has worked very well for several decades.

The majority of NIS universities are known for having a traditional approach, and innovations must go through an extensive approval process. Not all universities have enough resources to develop new programs and curricula, despite the need for new courses in fields such as project management. Some professors believe that no changes are needed, despite their students' demands. Most reforms happen because people at working levels want progressive changes, which have become possible because the society has become more open.

Learn From Benchmarking

Find out about the best universities and competitors, and learn from them. Benchmarking is a well-known approach in quality management that allows a university to compare its practices and plans to those of others. Of course, no two universities are exactly alike. The local context and cultural differences must to be carefully considered in managing projects for improving the university system (Anbari et al., 2003).

As an example, Kirovohrad State Pedagogical University (KSPU) has enriched its academic potential greatly by having faculty members and students participate in exchange programs. It is a member of university networks doing team research, and has cooperative programs with universities in Poland, Austria, Germany, UK, and USA. These programs serve to enrich the education provided at KPSU, which was recently listed among the ten best universities in Ukraine as a result of the progress it has made.

Manage Intellectual Competition Creatively

In pursuit of excellence, academicians are sometimes critical of each other. It is important to make this criticism constructive. Teaching methods that encourage critical thinking, student-centred learning, participation, and independent research are an important part of the improvement of the GUS. As an example, in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, the faculty claimed that there were three approaches to the study of communication: behavioural, cultural, and cybernetic. Graduate students would associate themselves with one of the three approaches and would discuss them among themselves. In this way they learned the strengths and weaknesses of various positions. Faculty and students were comfortable with their discussions and advocates of the minority positions were valued because they brought different perspectives.

Apply Quality Systems Improvement Methods

Quality improvement programs are being used increasingly by educational institutions. One approach is to create a group that introduces continuous quality improvement methods throughout the university (Umpleby, 2002), and to empower teams to make improvements in the processes in which they work.

The Education Criteria for Performance Excellence (Baldrige National Quality Program, 2004) specifies the following seven major categories for performance assessment: 1) Leadership, 2) Strategic planning, 3) Student, stakeholder, and market focus, 4) Measurement, analysis and knowledge management, 5) Faculty and staff focus, 6) Process management, and 7) Organizational performance results.

The EFQM Excellence Model used by the European Quality Award (EFQM 2003) has eight underpinning Fundamental Concepts 1) Results Orientation, 2) Customer Focus, 3) Leadership & Constancy of Purpose, 4) Management by Processes & Facts, 5) People Development & Involvement, 6) Continuous Learning, Innovation and Improvement, 7) Partnership Development, and 8) Corporate Social Responsibility.

Six Sigma is a project-driven method aimed at sustainable performance improvement, and is rapidly becoming a major force driving the strategy of numerous successful organizations (Anbari, 2002). Six Sigma focuses on improving processes throughout the organization, and is used to enhance and sustain the organization's competitive advantage. There could be a potential for using this method in the university.

The Quality Improvement Priority Matrix is a simple survey method that could be used in a university or other organizations to identify the concerns and priorities of customers and employees and focus efforts on the issues where improvement will bring the greatest return (Naoumova & Umpleby, 2002; Umpleby & Melnychenko, 2001). A group of methods for problem-solving and planning called the Technology of Participation requires people to share useful methods and innovations. These group facilitation methods can be used when working with communities, businesses, government, and university departments. People are often surprised by how well these methods work in practice (Medvedeva & Umpleby, 2003).

Encourage Research

Some universities emphasize teaching while others emphasize research. An advantage of research is that it can bring in additional funds that could be used to acquire resources and to support students. As an example, administrators at the University of Illinois continually praised the University's long record of research contributions. This made researchers feel important, told newer faculty members whom to emulate, and told students with which faculty members to study. It told alumni that their university was contributing to society, and they told politicians and the public that the quality of life is improved by supporting research. Project Management Institute (PMI®) research initiatives are helping expand knowledge, disseminate it, solidify, and enhance the field of project management. More and more universities in the NIS are becoming involved in research projects. These efforts help the universities to survive economically, help students to find jobs, and allow them to take courses while working for local firms.

To Contribute to the Local Community

Many talented people are associated with universities, and can be an important resource to local businesses, government, and other organizations. Universities are usually the educational, scientific, and cultural centre of their communities. In the NIS universities and local communities do not cooperate often. Professors' workloads are so heavy that they do not have time for volunteer work. The way courses are often organized and conducted does not permit assigning students to do group projects with local organizations.

Expand Service Learning

One way that universities can contribute to their local communities is through service-learning or having individuals or groups of students gain practical experience by helping local organizations improve their performance. For management classes these projects are similar to the laboratories in science classes.

Service learning is more common in the USA than most other countries. Courses may need to be modified to give students credit for this work, and it may be easier to create new courses in which service-learning activities are conducted. When doing the projects students make use of the ideas and methods discussed in class. For example, a team of graduate management students at GW helped document and systematize the management of the Adult Education Program of a local public school system. Another team worked on the contract closeout process of an agency, reducing the backlog of contracts still open and improving project management. Teams worked on overseas projects via email. A team worked to introduce the United Nations' Global Compact and Learning Forum (www.unglobalcompact.org) to GW faculty members. Teams of students in the M.S. in Project Management analyze various projects. Results of their analysis are presented to their colleagues and faculty, and as appropriate, shared with managers of the studied project. Derivatives of their work are published as learning tools for other professionals, students, and educators. Other universities in the USA have similar programs. At Drexel University (DU) a similar program is called “Learning by DUing.”

Service-learning courses are a growing part of higher education in the USA. To promote such activities a group of university presidents in the USA formed an organization called Campus Compact (www.compact.org). Its purpose is to increase the number of university presidents who are encouraging students, faculty and staff to work as volunteers in the local community, and to share information on innovative programs. In the NIS service learning to local communities is volunteer work which is rarely promoted or organized by the university, but more and more students are involved in such activities through a variety of organizations, usually as a result of their own initiative. Organizations similar to Campus Compact in other countries would help to strengthen civil society organizations and spread useful methods and practices to businesses and government.

Improve Processes in Local Organizations

The quality improvement methods mentioned earlier can be used by all organizations – businesses, government, civil institutions, etc. Ideally professors would first use these methods to improve their universities and then use them with their students to improve other organizations outside the university.

To Strengthen International Academic Cooperation

Recognize the impact of Telecommunications

Telecommunications technologies and the Internet are making faculty communication and collaboration on research, papers, and conferences much easier. The world already has one university system, given the ease of communication among educators around the world. The Internet is a huge transformation of what is possible for education. University faculty and administrators should become familiar with what is already happening and then duplicate and improve the most promising projects and practices.

Increase Faculty and Student Collaboration

Joint faculty research and co-authoring of papers is increasing. This helps in transferring research methods and knowledge of related research. International comparisons or studies of cultural differences can be a part of that research. Students can do projects with students in other countries via the Internet (Umpleby & Makeyenko, 1995). Students in advanced English as a foreign language classes can take part in academic discussions on the Internet (Warschauer, Shelzer, & Meloni, 2000), to improve their English and understanding of the Internet.

Cross-border cooperation in project management education has been particularly evident in Europe. As an example, the European Programme for Project Executives involves eight universities allowing participants to gain exposure to shared experiences of a range of cultures (Turner & Huemann, 2000).

Use and Enhance Existing Opportunities

Universities are working more closely with partners in other countries. As examples, exchange programs are sponsored by the USA Department of State (http://exchanges.state.gov/education/acadexchange) including the Fulbright Program (http://exchanges.state.gov/education/fulbright), and the Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP). The Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning at GW has been hosting visiting professors from the NIS since 1994, particularly under the JFDP (www.gwu.edu/~rpsol/visitsch.html). Visiting faculty members have varying interests including project management. They audit classes, present papers, develop courses, and often continue to work with people they met at GW by co-authoring papers, cooperating on conference presentations, and working together on education or research projects. Faculty members implement enhancements, innovations, and reforms in their universities and improve their communities by introducing new perspectives, visions, and knowledge. The Salzburg Seminar (www.salzburgseminar.org) is an educational institution based in Salzburg, Austria, and holds seminars on a variety of topics. It usually has scholarships to help with the expenses of scholars from the East. It also has a Universities Project for university administrators in the NIS. Probably the most important source of support in the long run, is to develop relationships with businesses, government agencies and foundations in the home country.

Standardize University Procedures, Degree Structure, and Semester Schedules

The Bologna Declaration and process are standardizing course formats in Europe (The European Higher Education Area 1999). The process started with Ministers of Education in Western European countries, and has now moved into Eastern Europe and will probably move into the NIS.

There has been some movement in Europe toward the USA system of having bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees. The “two degree” system (bachelors and masters rather than just magister) is becoming more popular in Europe. This system allows more specialized technical, law, business, and project management education after initial general education. This system may spread around the world.

There are some changes occurring in semester schedules which facilitate faculty and student exchanges. It is easier to transfer credit from one university to another if the number of weeks in a semester and hours in a course are the same. Some universities are setting up overseas campuses to allow their students to spend a semester abroad and to simplify scheduling and transfer of credit. An alternative is to have a cooperative program with a university in the foreign country. Cooperation among students via email on group projects is much easier if the semesters overlapped. Currently most collaboration is conducted by individual faculty members working on research projects. These activities further support sharing of information across borders. These arrangements sometimes evolve into more formal institutional ties. Acceptance of instruction in English provides current means for accessing the wealth of information available through the Internet.

Cooperate in Offering Distance Education

Constant growth in project management applications and increasing demand for highly skilled professionals in the knowledge society are fuelling the demand for degrees, certificate programs, and distance education (DE) which is becoming increasingly attractive as new technologies, media, and experience expand the content that can be offered using this mode, despite a few publicized failures. We provide examples of successful implementation here.

After several years of offering the Master of Project Management degree on-campus, Western Carolina University moved its program to be entirely online. Athabasca University's Online MBA in Project Management has students across Canada and numerous other countries. The DE mode of the M.S. in Project Management at GW and the M.S. in Management with concentration in Project Management at The University of Texas at Dallas (utd) were started about two years after the start of their respective on-campus modes. Enrolment in the DE mode at GW has now surpassed enrolment in the on campus mode, and enrolment in the DE mode at utd has reached about the same enrolment in its on campus mode. Some DE programs, such as the British Open University, claim to be able to provide comparable education to brick and mortar universities, in terms of exam scores, at one-tenth the cost. The Global University Alliance (www.gua.com) makes it possible for students to take distance education courses from several universities. DE will no doubt continue to grow, particularly in developing countries. Web-based software, such as Blackboard (http://www.blackboard.com), helps educators teach and manage their courses. Such software is increasingly used by instructors in the USA to supplement lectures and printed materials, and to teach in the DE mode. Once educational materials are available on the Internet, they can be shared appropriately by on-campus and DE students and with other faculty members.

Manage Barriers and Encourage the Global University System

Universities are the institution in society that acquire and codify knowledge and pass it on to the next generation. Accordingly, capacity enhancement and university development go well together. Reports to the United Nations (Science, 2004) indicate that in some countries the values of universities – openness, accountability, independence of thought, critical thinking, and experimentation with new ideas – are not always welcomed by regimes that do not value oversight. These values are consistent with the values of effective project management.

There are political barriers to expanding universities and to the ability of faculty and students to exercise independent thinking. Different semester structures and different levels of university tuition are other barriers to global cooperation. Challenges to globalization have surfaced recently which may affect global project management education. Appropriate international organizations may need to consider being more active in this area.

The mission of some international organizations is to support global learning. The World Bank Institute (WBI) was established to “help people, institutions, and countries to diagnose problems that keep communities poor, to make informed choices to solve these problems, and to share what they learn with others. Through traditional and distance learning methods, WBI and its partners in many countries deliver knowledge-based options to policymakers, technical expert, business and community leaders, and civil society stakeholders; fostering analytical and networking skills to help them make sound decisions, design effective socioeconomic policies and programs, and unleash the productive potential of their societies.” (World Bank Institute 2003, p1). In 2003, WBI reached 58,400 participants in 200 countries with 236 partner institutions.

Perhaps the World Bank, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and private foundations could directly fund support for universities. It may also be appropriate to encourage multinational corporations to “hire” local professors as observers of their activities. Professors would learn recent methods and teach them to their students, and corporations would have more skilled university graduates to hire. Governments and foundations that support research could give preference to multi-national research projects.

Activities of the Global accreditation Centre for Project Management, sponsored by the PMI® are expected to enhance the quality and recognition of degree programs in project management throughout the world (Project Management Institute, 2002). The International Project Management Association has promoted international cooperation in project management learning. In connection with pm days ‘03 held in Vienna, Austria, several universities from various regions of the world made brief presentations of their project management programs and exchanged thoughts to encourage appropriate benchmarking and collaboration in research and education. The recently established Centre for Program/Project Management Research (CPMR) in support of NASA released its first research announcement in January 2004, and encouraged USA universities to team with non-USA institutions (http://cpmr.usra.edu). Academic conferences could be held more often in developing nations. University facilities in industrialized nations could be used more often between semesters for short courses. Some of the students in these courses could be faculty members from developing countries and scholarships could be provided for them. Some conferences are adopting this practice.

Conclusion

Opportunities for collaboration in project management education among universities, faculty members, and students, are now far greater than just a few years ago. It will take time to learn how to make the best use of these opportunities. Experimenting and sharing the results widely is an approach compatible with the traditions of universities. As universities around the world interact more and learn from each other, the contributions that they can make to their local and national communities will steadily increase. Given current challenges to globalization, cooperation to enhance project management education and competency could be very productive. Meaningful cooperation should support improvements in project management knowledge and performance, and lead to enhancing the quality of life for societies throughout the world.

References

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

® 2004, Stuart A. Umpleby and Frank T. Anbari
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Prague, Czech Republic

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