Oxford enters business class

February 2, 1996

Better late than never. The best part of a decade since it was first proposed, the Oxford Master in Business Administration course will become a reality next autumn with the arrival of the first students.

About 40 students will pay Pounds 12,000 fees plus college and subsistence costs. Plans visualise eventual growth to between 150 and 200, making Oxford significant providers in a still fiercely-competitive market. And where earlier plans looked relatively unimaginative compared to the other conspicuous MBA latecomer - Cambridge's innovative three-year, term-a-year programme - Oxford thinks that it will add diversity to the market as well as earn income.

Driving the programme is Anthony Hopwood, MBA director and previously professor of international accounting and finance management at the London School of Economics and holder of a doctorate and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

The Oxford Centre for Management Studies, now within Templeton College, was opened in 1965, the same year as the Manchester and London business schools. Professor Hopwood argues that Oxford's slow build-up to the course may well be advantageous in developing a distinctive MBA.

He said: "An engineering and management degree was offered from the late 1970s and last year saw the first economics and management course, which attracted huge numbers of applications. Without doing so consciously, the university developed more in line with the north European model used by the Germans, Dutch and Swedes, where management is linked to disciplines, than the American model used by most United Kingdom institutions. There is a very firm base of links to other disciplines and fellows in several colleges."

He believes this will help develop an "intelligent MBA", drawing on the intellectual resources of the rest of the university. "We can call upon top-class specialists in economics, sociology, political science, engineering and other disciplines and on the regional expertise of the Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies and other similar bodies."

Both of his previous institutions have influenced him - he points to Chicago's interdisciplinary system of "committees" linking common interests in faculties and he attempted while at LSE to develop an interdisciplinary management course, which was torpedoed by the school's academic board.

In selecting students, Oxford will be looking for academic quality. "We want people with firsts or 2:1s," he says. They expect many to be in the 24-25 age-range, a little younger than their counterparts in other business schools and would like a mix of 40 per cent British, 30 per cent European and 30 per cent rest of the world.

He hopes that the final product will be: "A knowledge-informed business person, an informed and reflective practitioner whose understanding of and ability to interpret and analyse the wider context in which business operates will enable them, for instance, to distinguish between what is usefully innovative and what is merelyfashionable."

He argues that longer-established MBAs have had less impact than anticipated on UK senior management. "After 30 years the schools set up following the Franks report can claim an immense impact on either the performance or the composition of that management elite. There are people with MBAs at the top of British business, but there is still a strong tendency to draw that elite from people who were undergraduates at Oxford or Cambridge."

The hope is to produce a better-equipped manager. One question is whether the means to do so will exist. Professor Hopwood hopes to find a benefactor like food millionaire and Conservative party director-general Paul Judge, whose Pounds 8m gift put his name on Cambridge's management institute.

Professorial salaries will always have an element of controversy about them. Traditional academics argue that there is no reason why a newly-established chair in some business discipline should command a higher salary than the Regius professor of classics while the business school quotes market forces. "It is a problem, but the university is well aware of it," says Professor Hopwood, whose own move from LSE shows that top-class staff can be attracted.

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