Business plan for year 2000

January 3, 1997

So how was it for you? Departments, assessors and subject associations give their views on the 1996 research assessment exercise to THES reporters

BUSINESS: MANCHESTER BUSINESS SCHOOL 1992 rating: 3 1996 rating: 4

A BELOW average rating for the elite Manchester Business School in the first research assessment exercise in 1986 came as a devastating shock. The University of Manchester school has never, until this year, scored higher than a 3.

But this year's marginal improvement will be scant reward for the school's director, John Arnold, who has spent the two-and-a-half years since joining the school trying to change the institution's research culture to impress the RAE team.

He said: "When I was appointed it was clear that as a school of a research-led university the situation was not acceptable. We had to change the culture. Being a business school doesn't mean research is not important."

Professor Arnold was hoping that his efforts would reap the top mark this time, but accepts that the fruits of his restructuring could not come overnight and is already looking towards the next exercise in 2000. "This year's result is water under the bridge now - the submission was made back in April. The 4 ranking reflects steady improvement and we are confident we'll get a 5 next time round," he said.

Professor Arnold can afford to be confident - in the next submission MBS will be in partnership with the 5-star rated UMIST business school. The Manchester Federal School of Business and Management, as the partnership is provisionally to be called, will be launched in September 1998 after a Pounds 12 million investment by both institutions.

But MBS is not resting on UMIST's laurels. Professor Arnold has compiled his own internal research league table. Mirroring the terms of the RAE, he is piloting a points system to monitor and reward the research performance of his individual staff. The highest scores are awarded for research "of international excellence," he explains, down a scale to the lowest level, research of mere "national prominence". High scorers have their teaching obligations reduced, while the real high flyers are given a "financial bonus" at the end of the year.

To entrench the new culture, and to provide the breadth of study so desired in the RAE, Professor Arnold has set up five newly focused "mini-departments" for research - accounting and finance; business economics; operations and information; marketing and strategy; and organisational behaviour. Four new professors of research have been employed, including the newly-created position of director of research, which was filled by Peter Swann, freshly poached from the London Business School this summer.

The cash rewards, of course, have been the major driving force. "The full financial implications of the RAE score are rather difficult to judge," he says. "The actual grants we get from the funding council will never be an enormous part of our total revenue. We have a total turnover of about Pounds 10 million, and on the basis of our last score of 3, we got about Pounds 500,000 from HEFCE. With a score of 5, that would be doubled to about Pounds 1 million, but it would still be just a small part of our total income."

The big cash issue is what Professor Arnold describes as the "halo effect". "Wider financial benefits can come from having a reputation as a top quality research school, which attracts more students and more private money," he points out.

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