Big bangers theory

Producing the highest-quality MBAs is the unabashed aim of 'sausage factory' BPP. Katie Best is proud to see it deliver

May 6, 2010

My employer, BPP Business School, has been characterised by a number of critics as a "sausage factory". It is believed that BPP represents the ultimate expression of the industrialisation of higher education. We are treated by critics as a smear on the face of UK higher education, encouraging the rationalisation of degree-level education and framing the student as merely a consumer. We are thought to make the student journey a little bit poorer because of it.

Actually, I take the "BPP is a sausage factory" criticism as a compliment - and not just because it reveals the nervousness of the establishment about the shake-ups in the sector we may prompt. Last time I looked, sausage factories were highly efficient, rational places that make money by providing consumers with a product they desire. Only a very small proportion of sausage factories make their money from churning out products of dubious quality; the rest focus their attention on making affordable, high-quality products that ensure repeat purchase.

It is a shame that the same cannot be said of higher education. In this sector, a wide variety of suppliers provide a multitude of products targeting an enormous number of markets. The problem is that most providers are so fixated on their own research output that they are unable to pay enough attention to the quality of their products. Doesn't this turn them into the worst kind of sausage factory - the ones that do churn out products of dubious quality?

Instead, BPP is committed to designing and delivering quality products. We take an approach to the design of programmes that is akin to scientific management; we have process documents and Gantt charts guiding us through a complex validation process and beyond, all the way to in-class or online teaching.

It is because of this approach that my lean team has designed, successfully validated and is now preparing to deliver an MBA, both online and face-to-face, within a 10-month period. It is a challenging working environment, certainly, but as academics face job losses and accusations of inefficiency, perhaps the approach doesn't look so ugly after all. In fact, for anyone who has ever worked outside the sector, as many of our MBA lecturers have, it just looks normal.

BPP makes routine not only the design but also the delivery of the MBA. Because modules are shared between programmes and programme teams, materials need to be designed in such a way that they can be taught by more than one person.

Moreover, because students prefer to have clear workloads and expectations, their personal study time is guided to ensure that they use it as efficiently as possible. Staff and student time is freed up to focus on the more spectacular parts of the module. For staff, this is a development that ensures that, pedagogically, the module is innovative and that the content is relevant and up to date. What's more, we make "exceptional teaching" the rule by employing only those who are passionate about this task. Student-feedback forms, designed sensibly, are taken very seriously indeed and are, as they should be, a key indicator of professional advancement.

Good-quality sausages can come only from good-quality sausage factories. Just as a real sausage factory's licence to operate depends on hygiene standards that are zealously guarded, BPP has hygiene standards of its own: degree-awarding powers. And in a mission to have our MBA accredited within three years, we will ensure that we operate in ways that will not compromise our ability in this regard.

Degree-awarding powers are assured for the long term through detailed quality assurance processes - there is a form for just about everything. Tedious, perhaps, but it means that we take such a careful look at everything we produce that our professional reputation and quality standards are very high and never neglected. There are no shortcuts or half-hearted approaches to teaching and learning at BPP; we are rigorous and thorough in our approaches and in our respect for degree-awarding powers.

So is BPP a sausage factory? Certainly. And I, for one, am proud of it.

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