Manchester Business School has forged a new link with IBM. Roger Trapp reports
Manchester Business School has always been proud of its wide international links. Now it has the opportunity to put them to practical use.

In keeping with the growing trend for academics to forge closer links with big business, the institution - one of Britain's longest-standing business schools, with roots in the Sixties - has announced a joint venture with IBM UK. The project will develop a range of marketing and management development courses for employees and customers of the computer company around the world as well as the 10,000-strong UK workforce.

MBS has had a relationship with IBM for some time. In 1987, the company awarded the school pounds 2.5m to fund a joint project aimed at developing innovative approaches to management education using computer technology. They have also collaborated in a series of marketing courses for employees.

But next year will see the launch of a specially designed modular MBA programme, to be developed by MBS and IBM's own business school.

The partners say the initiative - designed to equip managers with the skills needed to gain competitive advantage through an integrated business and information technology strategy - draws on their "complementary strengths" in marketing, IT strategy and management development. It includes a variety of courses, curriculum development, applied research, projects and consultancy, and follows a policy of making courses accredited so that employees can gain points towards qualifications.

Peter Jones, IBM's international marketing business manager, says: "The partnership with Manchester represents a natural choice, combining IBM's global expertise in IT strategy with Manchester's global expertise in business strategy, provided through its international connections. We see this as a 'multiversity', bringing together the best of business and academic thinking worldwide."

Geoff Berridge, manager of IBM's business school, sees the latest development as a key part of the attempt to steer the UK and mainland European operations of IBM through what he admits has been a difficult period for the company. He claims that the school, which costs about pounds 7m a year to operate in the UK, is proving particularly helpful in converting the company from a product-led organisation to one focused on customers. Moreover, the marketing courses already run in association with MBS had helped the organisation to develop its sales approach.

MBS says IBM was drawn to it because it needed a partner with global reach. As one of a handful of schools set up in the Sixties as part of an initiative to put British management training on the same basis as that in the United States, Manchester has a strong international reputation.

In recent years it has become particularly noted for its exchange schemes, with more than 40 international business schools and universities - a facet that was clearly attractive to a worldwide company such as IBM.

In common with other business schools, Manchester has run tailored programmes - aimed at meeting the requirements of specific companies - beside the more usual open courses, in which people from a variety of backgrounds study together for MBAs and other qualifications.

The school says the announcement, made last week, marks "an important new phase" in Manchester's relationship with IBM. It is also a significant step in more general terms, since it has in recent years sought to overcome the setback to its standing caused by disagreements over its relationship with Manchester University.

Professor John Arnold, director of MBS, says it is delighted that IBM is looking to form a long-standing relationship with it. "We believe that increasing alliances between business and academia represent the way forward - to our mutual benefit."