Perhaps the central policy question for those of us studying education is: how can we raise levels of attainment? For long, the focus was almost solely on cognitive skills, but a line of recent research has looked at the interaction between such skills and non-cognitive factors (also called psychological traits), motivations, and culture in generating higher student achievement. 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.
One of the toughest subjects in classrooms at the moment is the recruitment and retention of teachers. Their level of pay is often cited as a problem – and possibly part of a solution.
In England, the public sector pay freeze of recent years has meant real terms pay cuts for many teachers. But another part of the picture is the procedure which decides how much an individual teacher gets. Until recently this has been the pervasive public sector approach under which pay has generally increased automatically over time. Continue reading →
“It’s good to be back home” said one of my friends after we had come back from a two-week holiday abroad. I looked at her not knowing how to respond and just smiled reluctantly. Before Brexit I would have said it too without hesitation, having lived in the UK for over ten years. But I could not share my friend’s excitement. It was three months after the vote.
A couple of days earlier, a Polish man had been killed in, what was believed to be, a hate crime attack. I found out about it from my parents who called me from Poland to check how I was doing and to ask if Bristol was a safe place for me to live. It was the first time they asked me this question since I moved to the UK in 2005. I couldn’t help but feel worried and upset upon my return rather than relieved and happy as my British friends did. Unfortunately, for me it was not so good to be back at not so home anymore.
Brexit questioned my feeling of belonging to British society. I started having doubts if British people had ever accepted me and other EU citizens. Not everyone voted to leave. And of course, not everyone who voted leave is racist or xenophobic. The hate crimes, even though rapidly increased following the EU referendum, are still relatively low in numbers. However, this is not to say that they are insignificant. The death of the Polish migrant was not an isolated incident. Continue reading →
Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University
There are many bright young people who come from disadvantaged family or school contexts where university attendance is not the norm.
As part of the High-Potential Learners Project, we investigated how these young people could be supported in making decisions about university. In particular, we wanted to know how to encourage high-achieving young people to consider the highly-selective, research-intensive, Russell Group universities as an option.
Over a period of two years, we worked with a group of 44 sixth-form students from schools across Bristol, to understand how and why they made decisions about university. We also analysed a large-scale, nationally-representative dataset of 2290 high-attaining learners who had turned 18 in 2009/10.
Our project found that school context was highly important with regards to subsequent university attendance, and identified some of the ways in which schools and universities can work together to support students’ decision-making.
What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy.
This ignorance is a spectre precisely because it is invisible to us. You might, for example, not know how a microwave works. But you know you do not know that. Now imagine there are purple aliens growing yellow mushrooms on the other side of the moon. In this case you are unaware that you unaware of them.
The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.
As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.
Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.
Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.
David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the School for Policy Studies, considers the process of making an impact on policy and practice by discussing his research on children in care.
It is interesting, and advisable, at the completion of a research project to reflect on how it went. There can be a tendency to delay this process, encouraged by feelings of relief as well as driven, no doubt, by the need to catch-up with other, overdue responsibilities.
These thoughts were with me at the end of 2015 on the conclusion of our research on the Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England. Many challenges arose, including: obtaining and analysing large government databases; negotiating access to six contrasting local authorities; contacting groups of older teenagers in care, their social workers, carers and teachers; obtaining and analysing large amounts of qualitative data; and writing-up the results.
British society is in serious need of higher levels of religious literacy. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge – and schools have a big part to play in putting this right.
Religion has dramatically changed in Britain. Fewer people profess Christianity, more profess a post-Christian spirituality, humanism or atheism, while Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities assert themselves in public and seek to play a role in shaping policies.
Yet the degree of understanding of these faith actors and of religion in general is low. The need for investment in religious literacy is one of the main themes of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB), which has just published a report called Living With Difference – in which I was involved as a member of the steering group. As religious literacy and experience of diversity begins at school, we have recommended some changes to the place of religion in state education.
Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education
Ed Miliband’s pledge that Labour, if elected, would limit school classes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 pupils reignites a core question about how best to spend money to improve education.
In making this a plank of Labour’s emerging manifesto, Miliband blames the coalition government and, in particular, the former education secretary Michael Gove, for a trebling of the number of primary pupils in classes with more than 30 children from 31,265 in 2010 to 93,345 in 2014.
Labour’s policy – which echoes a pledge by Tony Blair in 1997 – might appeal to parents and teachers, but it is also backed by evidence that smaller class sizes do help push up attainment in the first years of primary school.