Business school performance culture. Are we targeting the right things?

cover pic publish or perish

Those of us working in higher education at the moment must recognise that some of the targets to which are business schools work are leading to dysfunctional outcomes, for example staff being taken away from front line teaching and student support duties so that they can write articles for obscure academic journals.

A target driven culture

nhs final

Consequences of management failings at a NHS hospital in Mid Staffordshire were severe.

At the start of February a report was published on a series of terrible management failings at a National Health Service hospital in Mid Staffordshire in England.  The report’s conclusion was that the hospital’s management board and all the senior staff were focussed on managerial targets (relating to financial performance and the number of waiting to be treated).  As a result they lost site of the primary aim of the hospital, to treat and care for sick people.  Over the few years that this culture continued, hundreds of patients died unnecessarily.

Hopefully no one will die as a result of Business Schools being focussed on managerially imposed targets, but I believe there are some questions to ask about whether Schools are focussing on appropriate targets.  Given that many are spending funding it might be better to ask these questions now rather than waiting for a public outcry.

Martin parker

Martin Parker: ranking of business schools by the amount of academic publishing is dysfunctional.

At the end of February I attended a seminar given by Professor Martin Parker of the University of Leicester Management School.  He argued that the ranking of Business Schools by the number of articles that their academics published in prestigious peer reviewed academic journals was dysfunctional.  It was putting too much pressure on management academics to publish in these journals (as their main and sometimes only task).  This was diverting business schools away from their primary task of teaching and disseminating knowledge.   As Professor Parker pointed out – who actually reads these articles?


Most academic journals are in the hands of a very small number of publishers.

He also took aim at the publishing industry which perpetuates this system.  A handful of large publishing houses have acquired most of the smaller publishers and in so doing have created an unwelcome standardisation of academic output and have concentrated the ownership of most academic journals in the hands of a very small number of publishers.  At the same time they are making significant profits (and depleting higher education budgets) by charging university and business school libraries inflated prices for online subscription packages.  It was powerful stuff!


Global businesses need to recruit flexible managers rather than rigorous academics.

Similar arguments have been made in the past about the gap between what global business wants and what MBA and other business school programmes deliver.  For example, Warren Bennis and James O’Toole wrote about How Business Schools Lost Their Way in the Harvard Business Review in May 2005.  They complained that the model of academic excellence in Business Schools is based on the academic rigour of the research, rather than on understanding how businesses work.  They argued that global businesses need to recruit flexible managers who are comfortable working in international and cross-cultural teams in a range of geographical and cultural settings.  These managers need to be culturally aware and culturally tolerant, skills that cannot be obtained by reading academic journals or listening to an academic who has hardly ever stepped into a real world organisation.


It won´t take long until business schools´ stakeholders start to question the scope of academic research.

At some stage, in the near or medium term future, funding bodies and other stakeholders are going to take a look at the way business schools are operating.  It is to be expected they will be concerned by the apparent focus on academic rigour rather than the applicability of their research.  I imagine they will also question a target orientated culture that values academic publications over teaching competence; a track record of research publications over business competence over experience and the study of management over study for management.  This will be particularly the case where it can be seen that academics have been encouraged to write papers rather than teach undergraduate students, where teaching staff with business experience and/or good student feedback have been placed on short term contracts while academics with limited teaching ability but a long list of publications have been awarded permanent contracts or if the curriculum fails to equip students with the skills for working in the global business environment as a result of a lack of staff expertise.

Publish or perish

Management target for research output does little for the quality of teaching.

By requiring business school academics to publish or perish we are detracting from the primary goals of business schools which must be to prepare our students for the world of work and to help our MBAs to become better managers.  The consequences will not be as dire as they were for the patients of the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital but there are bound to be some students that have been disadvantaged by a management target for research output that does little if anything for the quality of teaching.


PhilipWarwickPhilip Warwick

Senior Teaching Fellow
Durham University Business School

Prior to entering academic life Philip spent 17 years working as a manager in the National Health Service (NHS) in Yorkshire and the north east of England. While still a manager in the NHS he studied for a part-time MBA at Durham Business School. In 2000, he joined the University of York, where he stayed until moving to Durham in autumn 2012.

Philip has two main areas of research interest and activity, public sector strategy and internationalisation and the scholarship of teaching and learning. His public sector strategy interest encompasses health service management and university management, in particular the international business in higher education, which is the subject of his doctoral research. Much of his work in the field of teaching and learning also relates to internationalising teaching and learning, making teaching and learning more appropriate and relevant to an international audience.


See also:

The Internationalisation of UK Universities – a progress report

Cover picThis week, Philip Warwick, Senior Teaching Fellow at Durham University Business School, UK, writes at guest blog on the state of internationalisation in British universities. Professor Warwick has been studying the international strategies of a number of universities in the UK and in other countries. He has found that approaches vary across countries. Within the UK he has identified four specific strategies to international development within the group of universities he studied.

Does management work and does it have a future?

Cover pictureI recently completed some research on the management and organisation of British universities, which concluded that despite being full of good intentions (in this case to internationalise their offering) they lacked the management experience and know-how to implement the changes necessary to implement their strategies.  Whilst it seemed fairly clear to me that what they needed to do was improve their management knowledge and know-how, it did not feel entirely comfortable for me to be saying this. After all I work at a Business School, one of whose primary functions is to provide management education to help managers develop their knowledge and know-how.

AACSB Associate Deans Conference: Leadership Skills and Strategies (David Logan: CultureSync & USC Marshall School of Business)

David Logan CultureSync and Senior Partner, USCAt the AACSB Associate Deans Conference 2012 David Logan, Senior Partner, CultureSync and Lecturer, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, gave a highly entertaining talk about dealing with ‘tribes’ in organizations. The title of the talk was “Leadership Skills and Strategies: Techniques and Tools on Leveraging Group Dynamics” and it gave some useful advice on how we can teach groups to develop a more positive attitude to their work.

From Harvard to GEM: Co-teaching on Strategic Management and Leadership

2012-11-30 14.02.39It was a great pleasure during the last semester to share a class at Grenoble EM with Dr. Gregg Glover. Gregg has been a good friend for many years (though he might deny this!) and I am delighted he accepted our invitation.

He did his doctorate in organization change at Harvard University and has worked there for over 25 years. He was able to bring his vast teaching and professional experience to the class and share some of the things he has learned and studied while working for the world’s most known university. Read more…

AACSB Associate Deans Conference 2012: Lessons from Change in Business Schools

MainOne of the opening sessions of the AACSB Conference for Associate Deans Conference brought together panelists from 4  business schools; Latha Ramchand, Dean at the University of Houston, Lynne Richardson, Dean at the University of Mary Washington, Deborah Spake, Associate Dean at the University of Alabama and Kristie Oglivie, Interim Associate Dean at California State University. The Panel was chaired by Susan McTiernan, Associate Dean at Quinnipiac University and Vice Chair of the Associate Deans Affinity Group.

Higher education facts and figures 2012

Universities UK Blog: “Every year, Universities UK produces an annual collection of facts and figures on UK higher education institutions. This publication always proves very popular, as it presents a vast range of information in bite size chunks, providing readers with an overview of higher education in the UK, covering the student population, staff population and finances.”

Are home students being rejected in place of wealthy international students?

Universities UK Blog: “It is true that higher education is becoming increasingly global; there are growing numbers of overseas students who choose to study in the UK. This is hardly surprising given the UK’s leading reputation for higher education and the global rise in the numbers of tertiary students wanting to study outside of their home nation.”

Rising student expectations? University international offices know all about it.

UniversitiesUK: “Don’t you just hate it when university and student leaders say: ‘Now that students are paying high fees…’? Where have these people been for the last 30 years? It seems too easy to forget that international students studying in British universities have been paying fees since the 1980s.”

Cause for concern? The Bologna Process and the UK’s international student market

GlobalHigherEd: “A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) questioning the implications of the Bologna Process on the UK’s international student market set of alarm bells in the UK media last week. For example, the Guardian (May 22) declared, “UK universities at risk of losing foreign students as a result of the Bologna process.”

How dependent on foreign (non-EU) student fees is the UK (2010-2011)?

GlobalHigherEd: Income from HE course fees by country of HE institution 2010/11 – table


Cover hbr cover
Sets out some of the challenges and external pressures on business schools today and the impact that may have for the coming years. Great book. Advocates the creation of a learning organization as a way of achieving sustainable competitive advantage over your competitors.
A collection of the ten most read articles that have been published by HBR on strategy.


Filed under Business Schools, Great Britain, Guest Authors, Higher Education, Management, MBA, Research, Strategy

11 responses to “Business school performance culture. Are we targeting the right things?

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