Posted by: Alison Damast on September 26, 2011
The Thunderbird School of Global Management will be planting its flag in Kazakhstan this fall, hoping to tap a growing market of oil and gas executives in need of more sophisticated business training. A new satellite office, opening this Friday, is part of Thunderbird Worldwide, a new for-profit executive training division of the Glendale, Arizona-based business school. The Kazakhstan office is considered a pilot project and is part of the school’s new strategy to expand the school’s impact in emerging markets, said Karl Theisen, Thunderbird’s director of global expansion.
With this venture, the school hopes to build upon its familiarity with the region and carve out a niche for itself in a booming market, Theisen said. For the last 15 years, the school has been running an executive education training center in Russia, Thunderbird Russia, where it provides a mix of custom and open-enrollment classes that teach business skills, management and leadership. Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, is still primarily a Russian-speaking country, and the school will be able to use much of the same content and even some of the same instructors in this new outpost, said Theisen. The school expects to enroll between 2,500 and 3,000 students annually within the next one to two years, and almost all of the classes will feature face-to-face instruction. If this pilot goes well, the school hopes to set up similar training centers in the Middle East and South Asia in the coming years, the school said.
As part of the new Thunderbird Worldwide venture, the school has also launched a revamped online executive-education program. We first wrote about this last November, after Thunderbird President Angel Cabrera visited our office to talk about the school's new online education plans. At the time, the school was planning to form a partnership with a private investor to launch a new online division, which would have been one of the first educational partnerships between an independent nonprofit business school and private capital. That collaboration plan has since fallen through, and Thunderbird has - for now - rejected the idea of taking on a private partner for non-degree online offerings, said Joe Patterson, Thunderbird's assistant vice president and head of Thunderbird Online.
"When we were discussing opportunities for online partnerships, they almost always wanted more control than we wanted to give up immediately, so we have chosen to go down our own road," Patterson said.
The school also decided to break off its partnership with its education technology partner, BISK Education, and relaunched its online operations this January, using money from the school's operating budget. The non-degree online division now offers executive and professional development courses, and the school has made an effort to make the online program a more "engaging model," Patterson said. Instead of students listening to video lectures, there are now multimedia learning activities, tools to monitor students' progress and more robust discussion boards. So far, students from 23 countries are participating in the program, and the school is exploring partnerships with corporations, he said.