The bottom line

November 16, 2017

Although I agree with the overall argument in the article “The role of business schools within universities” (Opinion, 6 November) – that the role of business schools must be viewed through a wider lens and not seen as mere cash cows for universities – I do not think that business schools should focus extensively on practice and industry-relevant research. Even assuming that such simplistic quantification is possible, statements such as “society does not require the same amount of investment in research in accounting as it does in medicine” merit critique and reflection.

Such statements fail to reflect adequately on the powerful role that business schools can – and must – play in critiquing and rethinking the role of business and professions in society, state regulation in industry and the part that public policies relating to industry, economics and business need to play if we are to conceive of a sustainable future. Rather than become handmaids to industry, business schools must partner closely with social institutions, regulatory and policy bodies and with responsible corporations and professional leaders to research and develop a critical body of knowledge that helps re-regulation of business practices in the service of society. If this involves conducting high-quality scholarship that speaks to other academics in philosophising alternatives, so be it. The alternative runs the risk of business schools being reduced to mere research and recruitment back offices of business. 

At a time when the relevance of the MBA is being questioned, enlightened and critical scholarship should constitute the path to future relevance for business schools, rather than merely instrumental conceptions of commercial viability or impactful practice-oriented research.



Business schools are essential, but they should be no more “for” business than politics departments are “for” politicians or political parties.

A particular scandal yet to be publicly addressed is that business and management faculty comprise about 20 per cent of all social scientists, yet the Economic and Social Research Council gives about 2 per cent of its grants – if that – to business schools. It quite suits the other social sciences that skim off the top like this to frame business and management research in a simplistic “service to business” way. We need to consider how much of the country’s problems result from bad business institutions and practices, and recognise that the “winners” in this elite rake-off are, institutionally, complicit in the problems caused by untrammelled and unexamined business practices.

Bill Cooke

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