Exeter means business with rich pickings for City types

REF and students' desire for insider insights spur career-switch scheme. David Matthews reports

May 3, 2012

Businesspeople will be offered £40,000 a year in combined salary and PhD fee waivers, as well as a £5,000 bonus for completing their doctorates, under a new scheme aimed at attracting successful capitalists into academia.

The University of Exeter Business School said that it decided to start the scheme because its students were demanding lecturers with real-world experience and because it hoped to attract staff keen to use their research to help businesses seeking advice.

Under the Practitioner Research Fellow Scheme, successful applicants will start as research fellows with the intention that they will progress to senior lectureships within six years.

Robin Mason, dean of the school, said that one factor driving the decision was "demonstrating relevance and impact" in research.

Proving that academic research had made an impact on business and policy would receive a "significant weighting" in the impending research excellence framework, he said.

Although the school would continue to employ scholars who produced world-class research, Professor Mason said, academics who joined from the world of business could use their findings in consultancies with industry and in knowledge-transfer projects.

Professor Mason acknowledged that businesspeople, some of whom command seven-figure salaries, would have to take a significant pay cut to accept a post.

Exeter's recruits could include City workers who have made enough money to leave their jobs in their forties and were looking for a new career involving "knowledge, ideas and research", although Professor Mason stressed that applicants could come from other areas of business.

"There are plenty of retired City people who saw what went wrong [in the financial crisis]" and wanted to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation, he said.

Professor Mason added that he planned to recruit one person via the scheme in July, two more in October and then another one or two each year after that.

The school will not be allowed to increase salaries during the six-year period, he explained, so the £5,000 bonus was a "sleight of hand" to bolster wages during the scheme.

"These people won't need a cash incentive to finish their PhD," he predicted.

The need for business schools' scholars to have real-world experience was a theme of a round-table discussion on boosting economic growth hosted last week by the Association of Business Schools.

Angus Laing, dean of the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University, said business schools were "far less engaged with industry than our engineering schools are".

He argued that business academics were incentivised to publish journal articles rather than solve problems for local businesses.

Mike Jones, director of the Foundation for Management Education, said "businesses will only engage with people who can speak their language. They don't want to engage with the blue-skies researcher."


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