Business schools are to be assessed on how well they work with small businesses, in a bid to encourage them to focus on making an impact on the UK economy rather than on chasing publication in high-ranking journals.
The Association of Business Schools has launched a set of awards that will recognise schools that offer advice and set up student placements with small businesses, instead of just focusing on larger recruiters.
This move follows criticism that business schools have failed to help their local economies. They have been successful in attracting thousands of students and had “shiny new buildings”, said Paul Marshall, chief executive of the ABS, “but where is the impact they are having on business?”
So far about 30 schools have applied to be considered for the Small Business Charter Awards, Mr Marshall said, and the first recipients will be awarded in May.
Entrants will be visited by a team composed of a business academic, a businessperson from a small company and a representative of Enterprise Educators UK, an organisation that supports entrepreneurship in universities. “This isn’t about academics awarding academics,” Mr Marshall said.
The assessors will look at, for example, whether small businesses are able to get useful advice from the schools; if a school offers incubation units for graduates to start up new firms; and whether they offer all their students a placement in smaller firms.
Concerns have been voiced that business academics achieve promotion and research income by researching topics largely irrelevant to the local economy.
In a speech in 2012, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, argued that business academics were incentivised to advance their careers by applying “innovative statistical techniques to large historical data sets from American industrial sectors”.
Mr Marshall said that advice to small businesses need not necessarily come from academics. Final-year undergraduates or MBA students could explain to a one-person firm how to take on additional staff, he suggested.
Depending on how well they meet a list of 30 criteria, schools will be awarded a gold, silver or bronze Small Business Charter Award.
On 14 March, the government published its response to a report released last October by Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, into universities and growth.
The response says that business schools that receive an award should “gain a role” in giving out state support for small firms, such as start-up loans or growth vouchers, which small businesses can use to buy advice.