Business schools have embraced the idea of corporate social responsibility and there are many courses on offer.

Several years ago, a combination of the Enron scandal and global warming shook up the business environment. Business schools started to introduce modules onto their MBA courses that looked beyond the profit motive – or, at least, recognized fresh dangers to the bottom line. Ethics began to be taken seriously. David Vogel, of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley – where MBA students run their own “socially responsive” investment fund – has called this the “market for virtue”. For the ethically-minded prospective student, it can be more like a maze. The London-based Association of MBAs (AMBA) now insists that accredited MBA programmes address social and ethical issues, but does not specify how.

MBAs with Corporate Social Responsibilty

Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) modules come under a range of different names. Some are core courses, though most remain electives. Students, therefore, must decide what approach they feel comfortable with. How strongly does your chosen school feel about ethics? Michelle Akande, 27, had no doubts. She worked for Sightsavers International, which combats blindness and promotes the rights of disabled people in developing countries, before deciding on an MBA. She opted for the MBA in corporate social responsibility at Nottingham University Business School. “I wanted something that gave me a better understanding of how business can better relate to the external environment,” she says.

“I’m very interested in going back to Nigeria, where I come from, to work in the oil and gas sector. “What swung Nottingham for me was the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, which has a diverse range of well-known people and knowledge. The course has given me the theoretical and practical framework and the arguments to convince people that there are different ways of doing business – like more sustainable energy production.” In fact, all seven core MBA courses at Nottingham have ethics embedded into them, says Bob Berry, the programme director.

The elective in CSR goes deeper into the issues at the module stage and that is reflected in the name of the degree. Three years ago, Lancaster University Management School went a little further, converting a CSR elective into a global society and responsible management module, which all MBA students must take in the second term. At Warwick Business School, on the other hand, the Corporate Citizenship module is still an elective – but lectures are always packed, says Professor David Wilson, deputy dean. Manchester Business School also teaches CSR as an elective.

“You can’t force ethics down the throats of mature students, so you have to create an environment where all students have tothink about what stance they’ll take,” says Professor Rosa Chun. At Oxford, the Saïd Business School runs an MBA elective on CSR and ethical marketing, which looks at the complexities of balancing stakeholder interests while protecting reputations. And at the Judge Business School in Cambridge, where the subject previously came under corporate governance, a new CSR elective is being introduced.

Henley Management College takes a different approach. “We’ve baked CSR into the MBA,” says Marc Day, director of studies for the full-time executive course. “For example, I teach supply chain management, where food miles are an issue. Both CSR and lean management involve reducing waste and the impact on the planet.”

World wide trend

The message has spread across Europe. The SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan has just introduced a corporate citizenship course in response to demand from both employers and students. Reims Management School in France has a new chair in management for non-profit organisations and social business. In the US, and now also in London, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business offers an ethics module taught by the controversial Nobel laureate, Robert Fogel.

At Nottingham, Akande accepts that there is a certain amount of scepticism about CSR among her peers. “But I think that’s because they don’t understand the bottom-line business case for it. They see it as some sort of philanthropy. Part of the problem with business is that it’s very short-termist – but CSR is fundamental these days.” Some commentators believe that with the downturn in the markets after the credit crunch companies might simply drop CSR. But Henley’s Marc Day sounds a warning. “In the short term they may think they can drop ethical responsibility. It might come back to bite them.”