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Evolving the business school model – a way forward

By Dean Carroll

British business schools – the leading lights in world rankings behind the United States – must quickly adapt to the challenges of globalisation and technology or risk decline, a prominent academic has warned. Professor Angus Laing, chairman of the Association of Business Schools, told delegates at the ABS annual conference that the number of United Kingdom business schools inside the global top 50 had dropped from 11 in 2011 to eight in 2013 – due to international competition.

“Business schools from emerging countries are starting to colonise London,” he said at the event organised by Policy Review partners Policy Review TV and Neil Stewart Associates. Laing added that the UK could “lose the lead’ if the sector “took an insular view” and failed to evolve a model better suited to the globalised technological age. Although, he acknowledged that this was beginning to happen through ‘impact assessments’ in academia and online innovation.

Speaking exclusively to this website, Laing elaborated on the international players moving into the London market – including institutions from China, North America and Australia which were setting up their own campuses in the UK’s capital city. “They might well be competition for the domestic market,” he said. “They will pose real challenges.”

Many commentators have voiced concerns that Britain, despite its status as Europe’s premier business school destination, is too focused on basic research rather than the more industry-friendly applied research carried out in America. Indeed, Laing admitted “the metrics with which we have operated have meant engagement with practice has been secondary”.

He told Policy Review “the US has a much better balance; a good American academic will do their best work post-tenure whereas we have a very different model in the UK based on publication in top-end journals”. He added: “There has just not been the culture of engagement on both sides – between business and business schools. There is a risk of an international squeeze on UK schools so we must be as competitive as possible.”

Such introspection had resulted in “behaviour which distanced business schools from the business community over the last four decades,” Laing explained, adding: “We have to actively engage with the small and medium-sized enterprises’ sector so that business schools are fit for the 21st century.” His speech, at the Bloomberg headquarters in London, formed part of a clarion call for critical thinking capacity to be married with competency-based skills within British and European institutions.

But in Britain, scholars were indeed more focused on publication of papers in top-end journals rather than real-world impact and practical applications – the conference heard. However, the combined threat of international competition and internet-based courses meant European institutions would need to refocus their business models to stay ahead of the curve, insisted Professor Nora Colton – Dean of the Royal Docks Business School.

“Business schools are supposed to mirror business,” she said. “We need to think about dynamic processes that adapt to a world moving at a very fast pace. People are now adept at being self-learners with Massive Online Open Courses and YouTube tutorials.”

Meanwhile, 10 Downing Street enterprise adviser Lord Young spoke of the need for improved coordination involving local employers within the vicinity of business schools – in order to bring about a culture change that would nurture budding entrepreneurs. Addressing the conference, he said business schools could unofficially take on some of the duties previously performed by regional development agencies. “I hope you will find ways to get your students to go and spend time in local businesses.

“You actually learn a lot more by going out and doing it than you do from sitting in a lecture room. The output of today’s business schools shouldn’t be focused on creating executives for McKinsey but to prepare people for working in small firms, where there are actually more jobs.”

An interactive poll during the conference showed that 22 per cent of delegates believed the UK Borders Agency’s stringent immigration policies to be the biggest threat to British business schools while 17 per cent highlighted the shifting international market as key, and 16 per cent pointed to ‘disruptive technologies’ being the major concern.

Watch broadcast-standard video of the Association of Business Schools annual conference 2013 in full here – courtesy of Policy Review partners Policy Review TV and Neil Stewart Associates. To find out more about our conference production service, please contact Dean Carroll via email at or by telephone on +44 (0)20 7324 4330

  1. Some interesting points in this post. However, I guess some business schools have been more practice focused than others. Here at Salford we have a long tradition of working with the industry on both regional and international levels.

    See our collaboration with eight organisations, three of which are SMEs and are based around Europe. This project was also a great opportunity for our students to get involved and learn from a real life case study examining international business culture.

    Comment by Aleksej Heinze on December 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm
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