Managers get down to business

Oxford course aims to put entrepreneurs in the senior common room. Hannah Fearn reports

November 26, 2009

Senior academics are to be taught to run their universities like entrepreneurs on a new higher education management course targeting future leaders of the academy.

The Entrepreneurial University Leadership Programme at the University of Oxford's Said Business School is aimed at pro vice-chancellors and deans of school, and is due to start in February 2010.

The year-long course, which costs £13,500 for four modules and a study visit, will be taught at Oxford and the University of Nottingham. If the first student cohort deems it a success, it will run annually.

Allan Gibb, emeritus professor at Durham University and co-director of the course, said the programme would help budding leaders think like entrepreneurs, preparing them to steer their universities through the turbulent waters ahead.

"When you look at what's happening internationally, universities are changing dramatically," he said. "What we want to do is give the leaders a clear notion of the concept (of entrepreneurship), how it's working around the world and develop them ... to lead on this at their universities."

A paper drawn up by the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship to guide the development of the course says the conflicting challenges facing higher education - including internationalisation, massification and a shortage of funds - require an entrepreneurial approach.

"A key challenge will be to create entrepreneurial role models within departments," it adds.

Ewart Wooldridge, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, welcomed the programme, describing it as "very timely". He said its content would be very different from the "generic" training provided by the Leadership Foundation's management programme, which 70 per cent of newly appointed vice-chancellors complete.

However, others were more sceptical. Sir David Watson, professor of higher education management at the Institute of Education, University of London, said: "I have some fears about the entrepreneurial bubble bursting in relation to higher education management, unless it's given a very generous definition and one that's sympathetic to the irreducible public purposes of higher education."

Lewis Elton, honorary professor of higher education at University College London and visiting professor of higher education at the University of Gloucestershire, was more forthright. He said it was "absurd" that business methods of any kind should be applied to the academy. "Universities are not there to make money ... Academic activities require an academic approach, not a business approach."

He described the role of the vice-chancellor, the post that participants of the course will be aiming to fill, as "the first servant of a university, not its master. Improving efficiency is not the same as changing higher education. They should be more businesslike, not more like business."

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