Business PhDs shun academic careers

January 20, 2006

Business schools in the UK are suffering from a shortage of staff with a background in academic research, the Association of Business Schools (ABS) warned, as figures show that just a quarter of MBA and business PhD students move into academic careers.

Figures recently released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 46 per cent of business school staff are from outside the education sector, usually coming directly from business careers.

"There is a growing concern about the number of students doing PhDs and staying in higher education. Who will replace us when we retire?" asked Arthur Francis, ABS chairman and dean of Bradford University School of Management.

He said: "It's appropriate that staff come from a mixture of backgrounds, but in the current situation research suffers in terms of volume. We need to determine the right percentage of staff coming from business and industry."

Professor Francis, who recently completed an ABS discussion paper on the recruitment and development of business school faculty, said that the increasing reliance on overseas students could leave UK schools in a vulnerable position.

"Less than 100 ex-students enter the profession each year, a proportion of whom will be international students from UK graduate schools," he said.

But while there are concerns about a lack of staff with PhDs, questions have arisen over the suitability of staff recruited directly from doctoral programmes and whether their lack of professional experience is an obstacle in such a vocational field.

Michael Osbaldeston, director of Cranfield School of Management, believes there is a strong case for drawing on the resources of industry. He said that the challenge is in incorporating business and management expertise from outside industry and academia.

"It's sad that the argument has split people into one camp or the other - we need people to combine both. We've been trying to ensure we recruit non-PhD people and then invest in doctoral training. We need people who understand what goes on in business to conduct rigorous research."

Professor Francis questioned whether there was a need for movement of staff between business schools and business, or whether business staff should engage in practice in a similar way to doctors in teaching hospitals.

"To the extent that management is a profession rather than an academic discipline, staff must keep in touch with developments in the profession,"

he said.

He pointed out the relatively low pay in academe compared with the earnings of those with business qualifications outside. "The prospect of a PhD is not hugely enticing to a young graduate. Salaries have been depressed over a long period," he said.

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