Business schools: thinkers v doers

Apprentice interviewer Claude Littner offers UK business schools advice on balancing the practical and the theoretical

October 16, 2014

Source: Rex

Acumen: graduates are ‘very theoretical’, according to Claude Littner (right)

A business executive known for his terrifying interviews with candidates on BBC One’s The Apprentice has called on UK business schools to “come into the real world”, complaining that some graduates are too “theoretical” for the workplace.

Claude Littner, who spent much of his career running Apprentice star Lord Sugar’s trading empire, said that business schools could be an asset to the economy, but only if they forged closer links with industry.

Mr Littner hopes to put this theory into practice at the business school he attended at the University of West London, which has now been renamed in his honour.

Among those who may need to be convinced is Lord Sugar, who told an event to relaunch the school that entrepreneurs needed “some inbuilt acumen” that “you can’t learn”.

Mr Littner told Times Higher Education that he had benefited from being sponsored through his education in the 1960s by an employer and from spending time on extended placements with different firms during his degree – and argued that business schools needed to return to this model.

“There is a challenge and an opportunity for bringing business education a little bit more into the real world, to try and combine the academic stuff with the practical,” he said. As well as more sponsorship and placements, Mr Littner’s plans include the creation of an advisory board of business leaders, and using entrepreneurs as guest lecturers.

Partnerships with companies would offer a contrast to existing practice, where some graduates are “very theoretical”, argued Mr Littner – a former chief executive of Amstrad and Tottenham Hotspur FC, and the former chairman of Viglen, the computing firm.

“There are, no doubt, students who are very focused on the academic part of things and don’t then have the common-sense practical ability to transfer that into the real world,” he said.

Lord Sugar backed the business school but hinted at universities’ limitations when he warned that you couldn’t simply buy a book called “how to be an entrepreneur” – arguing that lecturers would be better off repeating what he said.

He added that business schools did have a role to play in “bringing some of the young people down to earth a bit” when they dreamed of being the next Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook co-founder).

Mr Littner told THE that, while the “sixth sense” of entrepreneurialism could perhaps not be taught, the increasing complexity of companies meant many were simply looking for reliable managers, for whom an academic qualification was the “starter for 10”.

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