The UK’s business schools risk becoming embroiled in a “race to the bottom”, which not all of them will survive, unless they reimagine their mission, a new paper warns.
Ken Starkey, of Nottingham University Business School, and Christophe Lejeune, of the European Foundation for Management Development, argue that business schools have historically fared well because they have faced little “disruptive” competition and have attracted growing numbers of international students. They say this has allowed UK universities to use business schools as “cash cows” and to rely on imitating leading institutions’ emphasis on research, doctoral programmes and MBAs.
However, in their paper, “Back down to earth? Business school leadership in a time of disruption”, Professor Starkey and Dr Lejeune identify the emergence of cheaper international and private providers and increasing online provision as a significant threat to the sector.
They suggest that in this scenario, UK business schools are likely to become “less competitive and less interesting to better informed students with a proliferation of choice and delivery models”. While leading schools will survive, they say, the sector as a whole may face a “period of stagnation and inevitable shakeout”.
Writing in Building the Leadership Capacity of UK Business Schools, a publication produced by the Association of Business Schools for its annual conference earlier this month, the pair suggest that institutions could survive if they stop trying to recruit unsustainably large numbers of students and focus instead on engaging with regional economies.
Priorities should include supporting local entrepreneurs and researching regional economic development, they write. Funding for such activities is emerging, through initiatives such as the Small Business Charter.
Professor Starkey told Times Higher Education that he believed the UK had the capacity to sustain “six or seven” world-class business schools. “If all of them try to do the same thing in a world which is changing fast, it is very difficult to imagine they can all sustain the current traditional ways of doing things,” he said.