Ian Kirkpatrick, Andrew Sturdy, and Gianluca Veronesi
A recent study on the impact of management consultants on public service efficiency, published in Policy & Politics, prompted this letter from the authors calling for a moratorium on their use until effective governance is established.
Open letter to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
2nd July, 2018
Dear Mr Hunt,
Re Calling for a moratorium on the use of external management consultants in the NHS until effective governance is established
We recently conducted independent research on the use of external management consultants in the NHS in England. This was subjected to peer review to establish the rigour of its analysis and published in an academic journal (Policy & Politics). Since then, it was mentioned in a parliamentary debate (23rd April, 2018, Hansard Volume 639) and widely reported in the media (21st February, 2018), including in The Times, which has also seen this letter. Continue reading →
After 20 years of working in UK business schools, Martin Parker, professor of organisation studies at Bristol University, calls for them to be shut down in a new book. His views have caused some lively debate and here, he makes his case. Ken Starkey, professor of management at Nottingham University, disagrees. He offers an alternative.
One of the features of today’s universities is just how much money they now spend on marketing. Websites are slick and use contemporary typefaces, billboards show laughing diverse customers, and strap lines promise success. “Achieve your dreams!” “Find the real you!” “The knowledge to succeed!” Apart from the word “university”, it’s hard to tell whether they are selling mobile phones, a yoga retreat, or a degree.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the publicity for business schools – perhaps the most marketised part of the contemporary university and now teaching one in seven higher education students in the UK. The prospective customer is addressed as someone who is wide-eyed and grasping for the stars, is sold high salaries, brand name employers and images of people walking with determination.
As any marketing professional would tell you, you want to get the punters imagining who they will be if they have your product. It’s a lifestyle thing.
The problem is that the lifestyle being sold by most universities, much of the time, is a fiction. There are too many graduates chasing too few graduate jobs, and plenty of Deliveroo cyclists with master’s degrees. But then universities don’t want to advertise graduates stuck in damp flats paying off debt, always imagining that they could have been somebody. Realism isn’t what we are after here because that won’t pay the university’s bills.
As if these promises weren’t bad enough, the marketing of the business school has some even more damaging consequences. It sells thrilling careers in high finance, global logistics and marketing. Lots of jumping on planes and making customers happy, computer screens showing shares on the rise and smiling people sitting in front of laptops.
See anything wrong with this picture? There is virtually no consideration of the damage that business is doing to us and the planet.
‘The hidden curriculum of the business school remains any form of business that isn’t the capitalist corporation’
In the 1960s, sociologists of education used to talk about the idea of the “hidden curriculum”. Because schools didn’t teach about women, people of colour, working class experience, they effectively sent the message that it was only white middle-class men’s knowledge that really mattered. What they didn’t teach was a lesson too. That’s changed now, but the hidden curriculum of the business school remains any form of business that isn’t the capitalist corporation.
That’s why, in my new book Shut Down the Business School I suggest that business schools are teaching politics without admitting it. They rarely engage with the challenges of a low-carbon economy, of the shorter supply chains that we need to encourage localisation, and the need to address social justice and inclusion.
Business schools don’t teach about co-operatives, mutuals, local money, community shares or social enterprise. They don’t mention transition towns, intentional communities, recuperated factories, works councils or the social economy. Ideas about degrowth, the beauty of small, worker decision making and the circular economy are absent. It’s as if there is no alternative. And because of all this, we should recognise that their time has come.
Let’s imagine a world without business schools. What would we do without the hundreds of thousands of MBAs who have graduated from business schools and gone to work on Wall Street, in the City, in management consulting, in business and in the public sector? Where would we be without the managerial knowledge they have absorbed based on cutting edge faculty research? Where would the world be without the two US presidents educated in the world’s leading business schools, George W Bush (Harvard) and Donald J Trump (Wharton)?
‘Business and finance are crucial to a healthy economy and society’
Business schools also work at a local level to good effect. Their researchers work on the big social issues – environmental, social justice, social enterprise, eradicating slavery in supply chains, developing work opportunities for refugees – not as many as Martin and I would like perhaps, but more than he is making out.
Around 25% of postgraduates in UK universities are studying business and management. Where would be without all these budding entrepreneurs energised to create the companies of the future? Where would all those sociologists and geographers and refugees from other disciplines employed in business schools to teach business and management students find work?
I agree with Martin that there is a pressing need to consider alternatives to the current dominant business philosophy, a hangover from looking to the US as the fount of management knowledge and the power of US corporations. We desperately need new models of business, society and business schools.
The major barrier to change, though, in the UK at least, is the disingenuous (some would say cynical) use made of business schools by universities over the last 20 years. In response to the financial pressures on the system many universities have developed the knee-jerk reaction of turning to the business school for income. Too many business schools are little more than cash cows, with international students desperately recruited to fill funding gaps.
The problem with this strategy is that it is unlikely to be sustainable. In many business schools international students number more than 80% (even 90% in some cases) of postgraduate entry, with students from China making up the large majority of this number in a growing number of institutions.
While I agree with some of Martin’s criticisms, the answer is not to close business schools but for business school deans and university management to engage in a real dialogue about the kind of business schools the world needs. This requires an overhaul of both business school curricula and university recruitment policies.
I assume that Ken’s argument is, in part, ironic. The fact that business school graduates go to work in high finance, management consulting and become dubious US presidents is hardly grounds for celebration. Neither is that lots of students study business degrees, or that armies of staff are employed to teach them. The bloated nature of global business school education is no grounds for its continuation.
‘Business schools need to begin again, which justifies talk of bulldozers’
I have no problem with the assertion that business and finance matter, the question is just how they should be organised. Ken mentions the importance of “alternatives”, and I assume this means that he would also be keen on the development of teaching and research that addresses carbon emissions through localisation and degrowth, which addresses inequalities of income and wealth, and encourages democratic workplaces that treat employees with dignity.
Now, in order for this to happen, business schools need to stop teaching most of the standard curriculum. This isn’t minor tinkering, it’s a radical change in the way that they imagine themselves. It won’t be enough to introduce a business ethics course, or sign up for the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education. Business schools need to begin again, which seems to me to justify talk of bulldozers.
While I accept that we need to radically reform the curriculum, I remain convinced that the business school has a key role to play in today’s university. Business schools are too often dismissed, except in financial terms, as little more than mass production teaching factories.
‘Business schools have a key role to play in today’s university’
The problem is that universities have used and abused business schools as an easy source of income, while collectively failing to articulate a convincing narrative of higher education for the 21st century. The rising pressure bearing down on universities is only likely to be exacerbated when for-profits, with the support of Ayn Rand admirers, enter the sector and target the lucrative business school “market”, competing on value-for-money with strong financial and possibly corporate backing.
University leaders need to articulate a more convincing narrative of what universities, including business schools, can offer. This must be based on more than a simplistic economic argument. It needs to reaffirm the core purpose and competence of a university: deep scholarship that allows us to understand better the complex social and economic challenges we face and to educate our students more effectively to resolve them.
“We need a new gender contract for the UK.” Thus surmised Professor Yvonne Galligan Queens University Belfast at the end of the WIDEN symposium that took place in the University of Bristol in May 2018. With the 4 UK nations represented, the 3 sponsoring universities of Bristol, West of England and Bath, and 16 speakers from women’s and anti-discrimination organisations, universities, and trade unions, this was a day of knowledge sharing from practitioner, activist and interdisciplinary research perspectives. Continue reading →
Don Lane’s employment contract for his work as a courier described him as an “independent contractor”. This meant he was neither an “employee” nor a “worker”, so not entitled to legal rights such as protection against dismissal, paid holidays, or statutory sick pay.
The 53-year-old also suffered from diabetes, and had previously been fined £150 by the delivery firm he worked for for missing work to attend a hospital appointment. He died in January 2018 after working through the Christmas season despite his illness. Continue reading →
Few topics in the NHS have provoked as much controversy as the use of external management consultants. They provide advice on strategy, organisation and financial planning, and help implement new IT systems and other changes.
While some claim that this brings much needed improvements, critics question their value – particularly at a time when the NHS is strapped for cash. Even Patrick Carter, recently charged with reviewing NHS efficiency, admits that he has “a bugbear with employing management consultants”. Continue reading →
Cranes stand on a Carillion construction site in central London, Britain January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
The story that was developing over the weekend finally broke as Carillion plc has gone into compulsory liquidation. Carillion is one of the largest contractors of the UK public sector and holds a very large number of contracts for a range of infrastructure and services projects. The immediate concern of the UK government will now be how to ensure continuous provision of those services (which include catering and cleaning services for schools and hospitals), and finding ways to ensure completion of the ongoing infrastructure projects, possibly through ‘bringing them in-house’ or re-nationalising the contracts–although it seems a reasonable to question whether there is capacity in the civil service and in local government to manage such a volume of complex outsourced contracts. Continue reading →
Have the Conservatives fulfilled Theresa May’s pledge to become Britain’s workers’ party? Not as it currently stands, writes Tonia Novitz. She explains what the actual plight of British workers is, what steps have been taken by May’s government to address it, and why they fall short of what is needed.
Can the Tories can become ‘the workers’ party’? This was the latest ambition of Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP. Observing the decline in support from women and those under 30, he sought a rebranding to revitalize Conservative popularity. His pitch for a ‘workers’ charter’ might be equated with what is currently envisaged in the Taylor Review initiated by the government, but if so such a charter would be hollow and inadequate. Much more would need to be done. Continue reading →
Eight months ago, by giving formal notice under Article 50 TEU, the United Kingdom formally started the process of leaving the European Union (so called Brexit). This has immersed the UK Government and EU Institutions in a two-year period of negotiations to disentangle the UK from EU law by the end of March 2019, and to devise a new legal framework for UK-EU trade afterwards. The UK will thereafter be adjusting its trading arrangements with the rest of the world, and the Government has recently stated its intention for the UK to remain a member of the World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). Continue reading →
At the University of Bristol Law School, we are investigating the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.
The following is a record of the findings of the panels speaking at an event held on 4 October 2017. The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU.
EU policy relating to North-South trade agreements
Clair Gammage (Bristol) discussed the transformation of the EU’s relationship with its trade partners across the African, Caribbean, and Pacific regions and was able to point to the surprising small victories that low-income countries in the Global South had achieved when negotiating trade agreements with the EU. Continue reading →
Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.
However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.
What is administrative data?
Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.
For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.
Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.
Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading →