Companies are training globally based staff to the same standard, without even buying a plane ticket. By Roger Trapp.
Not so long ago, business schools and management development centres adopted the attitude that, if you had chosen to take a course with them you were obviously totally enamoured with what they had to offer. There seemed to be no consideration that it might be possible to supplement or even complement their wonderful teaching or facilities.

Now, though it may linger on in the minds of some faculty, such thinking is essentially a thing of the past. Just as corporations are increasingly prepared to form partnerships with organisations they previously regarded as mortal enemies, so business schools and centres for management training are linking up with counterparts all over the world.

According to Philip Hodgson of Hertfordshire's Ashridge Management College, this geographical separation is essential. If the partners do not compete in each other's patch, they are not seen as threats to each other.

More importantly, the differences between the schools - in terms of location and culture, but not ethos - make such an arrangement attractive to clients. Ashridge, which has previously worked with Michigan University's business school and the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, teamed up with the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University in New York State two years ago to satisfy particular client requirements.

Confidentiality prevents them from naming these, but the two establishments claim they are answering a growing need for multinational companies to have their staff developed to the same standard - all on home ground.

Michael Hostetler, associate dean for executive education at Cornell, says: "So many companies have abandoned the old model of international corporations run by expatriates to global companies that there has been a huge demand to find universities or business schools that will satisfy global needs."

Accordingly, it is typical for the US managers, say, to go to Cornell and the European ones to Ashridge. However, if there is a particular course at one or the other, it can be beamed in using modern technology. If the timing is right it may even be possible that both groups of students get one presentation at the same time - one live and the other by video-conference - with the result that they can share in a debate.

Management centres of all sorts are cottoning on. Earlier this year, for instance, Templeton College, Oxford formed an alliance with the Amnos Tuck business school at the prestigious Dartmouth College in the United States and the HEC School of Management in Paris. Stressing that the idea was not so much commercially driven as prompted by a desire to increase each institutiuon's learning, Rory Knight, dean of Templeton put great store by the technological infrastructure that would allow students, faculty and executive participants in courses to collaborate with their counterparts at the other institutions. But Mr Hodgson and Mr Hostetler stress that it is far easier to announce the aim of creating a partnership than to achieve it.

In their case, the idea had been developed on a case-by-case basis. It started with a multinational with its workforce split between Europe, Asia and the United States that wanted Ashridge to develop its people in the first area and Cornell to work with those in the others. Then Cornell asked people from Ashridge to contribute teaching on strategy and marketing to a public course it was running before the two schools were given the opportunity to design a course just now getting under way.

This involves people attending an initial week's programme at Ashridge and being given a project to work on before gathering at Cornell in March. During this week they will present the project and work with the Cornell staff on the issues raied during the week at Ashridge.

"It seems the obvious way of meeting expanding global needs," says Mr Hodgson. "These big companies don't really think in terms of global boundaries."