Caroline Davis assesses the boom in business and management studies.
UK business schools seem to have no trouble putting theory into practice for they are thriving in a highly competitive sector.
Growth in the number of business students has outstripped the average for all higher education subjects in recent years, making it the most popular subject at undergraduate and masters level.
Business schools already score well with overseas students - 46,000 of the 5,000 foreign students studying in the UK are on business courses - and many are investing in facilities to improve their global competitiveness.
The Association of Business Schools, which will hold its annual conference next week, has studied data from 1994 to 2002 and found that the number of students in business studies and related subjects rose by 35 per cent over this period. This compares with an overall growth of 25 per cent for all higher education. Postgraduate numbers have increased by 60 per cent, compared with 44 per cent for the sector as a whole.
Jonathan Slack, ABS chief executive, said: "The general health of UK business and management education is good. It remains the most popular subject to study at undergraduate and masters levels and is attracting record numbers of overseas students."
Manchester Business School, the UK's newest and biggest campus-based business school, opened its doors to students this month. The institution - which has more than 250 academic staff, almost 6,000 students and is about the size of a small university - Jwas formed when four business departments were combined after the merger of the former Manchester University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
John Arnold, director of the school, said his vision was to have the school among the top 25 business schools in the world by 2015. "To achieve this, we will have to pay more competitive salaries. In the longer term, given the state of the business school market, we need to recruit more people rather than get rid of them," he said.
League tables are foremost in the minds of deans. The London Business School seems unassailable in the UK's top spot, but just below it schools at City, Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge universities are fighting to claim the number two position.
Schools, especially those attached to universities, are keen to increase their autonomy. Business schools believe it is crucial that they have not only freedom over appointments and salaries, but also their own offices to deal with human resources, alumni relations and public relations.
Because fees are generally high - top MBA students can pay annual fees of more than £20,000 - business schools feel their services must be superior to any the central university can offer. Although they tend to be profitable parts of a university, they do not like being treated as cash cows.
Most argue that they need to reinvest the money they generate to maintain their status. To attract full-fee paying students from abroad, schools must attract overseas staff, which means they must be able to pay competitive salaries.
Although being part of a university brings vital credibility to many schools, growing numbers are playing down the connection. Some are taking the names of benefactors (Imperial College Business School became the Tanaka Business School when alumnus Gary Tanaka donated £25 million in 2000), others are dropping "university" from their title.
Durham University Business School became plain Durham Business School last year. Antonios Antoniou, its director and professor of finance, said the school was still attached to the university, but, he added: "We see ourselves as a global provider. Retaining the name Durham University Business School gives the impression that we're just another academic department."
For schools that are not aiming for world-class status, the future is in diversification into niche specialisms and regional agendas.
Bournemouth University recently merged its business and finance school with the law school to create the Institute of Business and Law. Colin Armistead, its deputy director, said the merger allowed the cross-pollination of different areas of expertise. The overall focus is to deliver undergraduate and foundation-degree courses to students from the surrounding areas and to work with local businesses and agencies.
The Bottom line
- Number of students (2002): 215,715 (12 per cent of total students)
- Number of academics (2002): 10,010 (7 per cent of all HE staff)
- Number of departments: 143
- Number of departments with more than 3,000 students: 20
THE BUILDING SAYS 'TAKE US SERIOUSLY'
Caroline Wiertz from the Netherlands started lecturing in marketing at Cass in September. It is her first academic job. She looked at several business schools in London but chose Cass because it seemed to be on the move and supportive of young academics.
"Cass gave me a good deal. After a PhD, my mind is focused on research and publishing. I teach just one course - which is better than at other London schools. The rest of the time I can do research," she said.
She felt the school gave a lot of support for things such as attending conferences and visiting colleagues overseas but was taken aback by what she calls "English bureaucracy".
"I haven't started teaching, but compared with the Netherlands, where there is a very liberal system, there seems to be a lot of paperwork attached to external reviewers," she said.
Andrew Clare , professor of asset management, joined Cass in September after leaving an investment job at insurance firm Legal & General, for which he still does consultancy work.
"They're clearly moving forward at Cass. The (new) building is a statement. It says: 'Take us seriously.' It would be very hard to find its equal in and around London except for the London Business School."
He said that money was not what motivated him. "There's no pressure from the top levels to do things I'm not comfortable with. This is a university as far as I'm concerned - a university with a business focus."