March 25, 2013, by Mohan Avvari

International projects – a university’s vast untapped potential

This is the second in a series of special blogs about setting up and supervising international and inter-campus projects based on the experiences of staff at the Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) in the UK and Malaysia. In this blog post we look at setting up an international project from a Malaysia perspective based on the experiences of Dr Mohan V Avvari (Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Deputy Dean for Business Engagement and External Relations at the Malaysia campus).

Setting up an international project – a Malaysia perspective

As Dr Duncan Shaw rightly put it in his post on the UK perspective, many MBAs love doing projects with external organisations because it gives them access to the full commercial context of their work, they can see how it helps the firm and they have a much more compelling addition their CVs than a normal thesis. Students in the MBA programme, particularly full-timers, often ask about such options. As Duncan also pointed out, it is sometimes difficult to convince firms that the effort of hosting an MBA project and in cases where firms are willing to host a student for a project – timelines have not matched

At the Malaysia campus, we have always felt that there is a lot of potential to do all kinds of international projects – not just MBA student projects, but also along with colleagues and students from Nottingham’s campuses in UK and China. While such efforts are on amongst colleagues sporadically based on contacts developed individually – when the idea of an international project involving students from two campuses was mooted by Duncan, when he visited Malaysia last year, we were quite glad and got on it immediately and the first and very successful international project has now been completed and here are some of our viewpoints:

Planning Projects – Research, Student or Teaching & Training Projects are International Ones

  • Whether it’s an MBA student project or MSc Dissertation, Research Projects or even Training (and finally Consultancy) – it’s good to develop projects – comparative studies or based on complementary resources (capabilities of colleagues in UK and China campuses). Planning based on complementary resources help also to overcome the fact that our individual objectives may be different.
  • The three locations of campuses offer potential in developing research projects as comparative studies (Ningbo – China perspectives , Malaysia – South East Asian perspectives and UK – Western/EU perspectives) and Industry projects (with MBA or MSc students) for such topics as Market Entry studies, International Business Strategy studies etc.

As colleagues develop research proposals seeking funding or executive education programmes, it would be good to communicate to relevant colleagues across campuses. At Malaysia, we now have a person in charge of ‘external relations’ (myself) to whom colleagues can write to get connected to the correct person. We can identify such a person in Ningbo and in UK also.

Connecting with Colleagues Critical

  • There are several colleagues who have travelled between campuses and it’s good to take their help as intermediaries to connect with relevant colleagues. Starting with email introductions is certainly a useful way to start off the process of getting to know colleagues across campuses –
  • But meeting colleagues is critical – and helps a lot in developing a relationships. This of course requires travelling between campuses – while it would be great to have a fund and opportunity for one and all to visit each other – there is a need for inter-campus visit funds and other funds like the RKTB fund for research project.
  • ICCSR has now held its annual conference in China campus and this year planning it in Malaysia – facilitating meeting of colleagues from all three campuses with CSR interests along with other international colleagues. It would be good if other UK based research centres hold their meetings in Malaysia and China (with Air Asia flights can be reasonable and organising costs in Malaysia can be reasonable). In Malaysia, in addition to working with NUBS colleagues – its quite easy to connect with colleagues in other school in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as we are all in one building (inter-disciplinary project possibilities).

Role of Project Supervisors (for MBA Student Projects or MSc Dissertations)

  • Such projects involve two colleagues – and so additional communication commitments between the two supervisors and then among all involved (in the case of an MBA project it would at least 4 people).
  • Simple project management is needed to get any cross campus projects to go smoothly – supervising students across different time zones can be actually quite comfortable – UK communication is seen first thing in the morning by Malaysian colleagues and Malaysian communications are seen first thing in the morning by UK colleagues (just a matter of understanding a small time lag). Malaysia and China is small difference and so not such an issue. Also IP phone and Skype offer economical communication.

International Students Projects Selecting Candidates

  • It is important to ensure we have a candidate who would commit better to the project – given that they would be working cross culturally and also have to present to the company. We put in place a simple procedure – asked students to submit proposals for the project and selected based on proposal quality and also with some background information of the candidate (class performance and opinions from colleagues).
  • Role of the candidates – communications of progress and getting ready to present – in future we have ensure that students in such projects should be communicating updates/progress for the project. They should also practice presentation (using Skype or any other web tools).

Developing further on this pilot sort of project

  • The first UK – Malaysia MBA student project should lead to more such collaborative projects – students related, comparative research studies and finally training and consultancy projects.
  • Most topics or ideas related to business studies have the potential of being investigated in the three very different locations of the University – I am sure (supporting Duncan’s view), most of us would love to do projects that looks into the potential for a three country approach to research, teaching and business engagement.
  • In Malaysia we are developing Executive Education programmes and if programmes are developed in collaboration with UK and China colleagues there is immense potential.
  • Our China campus colleagues attempted a three campus e-teaching of a module (didn’t take off due to lack of funding at that time). We hope that such efforts will be revived – e.g. modules like methodology related module can be taught with the different expertise available in different location or other module which lend themselves for sessions to develop discussions involving cross cultural perspectives (Business Ethics, Marketing and many other such modules).

So be it in MBA/MSc student projects, in teaching, in training/executive education and finally research projects – look forward to more collaborative project among colleagues in the three campuses.

Future blog posts in this series will examine:

  • Supervising  an international project – a Malaysia perspective
  • Supervising  an international project – a UK perspective

This post is shared with the ‘Talking of teaching’ blog, the University’s blog looking at teaching culture and practice.

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