A cult fond of red tape

Managing Britannia
April 30, 2004

The title of this book should be Mismanaging Britannia . Its theme is that a "cult of managerialism" has grown up that is strangling organisations with bureaucracy, spurious target setting and crude attempts at performance measurement. The high priests of the cult are management consultants and its temples are business schools. The authors question the notion that management is a suitable subject for a university course. They are particularly critical of the application of management methods and techniques to the arts, education and religion.

The chapter most likely to be of interest to readers of The Times Higher is on management as an academic subject. The authors point to "the piecemeal nature of what passes for management education" and suggest that in the 1960s, when the London and Manchester business schools were established, "at no stage did any agreed thinking emerge beyond vague generalities to suggest precisely what knowledge base the emerging 'discipline' should have".

They criticise management education's effectiveness, citing a number of sources. But their evidence is largely anecdotal and no reference is made to studies that have validated management courses. The MBA comes in for scathing comment. They question its claims to be a postgraduate degree since many of those who gain it have no first degree. They challenge the high salaries paid to business school professors. Most seriously, they claim that as business school courses become more popular, so the climate in universities is in danger of becoming increasingly non-intellectual, discouraging interest in the theoretical sciences and the liberal arts.

The history of management education in the UK is well documented but the authors have done only half their homework. They do not refer to the 1960s Franks report and the case it presented for adopting the US model of management education. And they do not appear to know that before the establishment of university schools, management education was carried out by independent, non-profit schools, two of which still exist. These omissions weaken their case.

The authors' jaundiced view of management education seems to be based on public and non-profit-sector experience. But managers of Britain's most respected companies do not doubt that years of investment in education have contributed to their success.

The authors are on stronger ground when critical of attempts by the government to impose management techniques on the public sector and the arts.

Philip Sadler is vice-president, Ashridge Business School.

Managing Britannia

Author - Robert Protherough and John Pick
Publisher - Imprint Academic
Pages - 212
Price - £12.95
ISBN - 0 907845 53 3

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