MBAs: Is the quality of staff falling?

A recent survey suggests that recruitment problems lie ahead. Steve McCormack reports
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The Independent Online

Embarking on an MBA is a big investment. You're devoting money, time and bucket loads of energy into something that should be life changing. In return, you expect high quality education, led by top-drawer faculty.

But how certain can you be that the teachers you'll encounter will match that expectation? Stirrings from within the business education world suggest there may be grounds for future concern. A survey of members conducted by the Association of Business Schools (ABS) in the UK has shown that recruiting experienced and competent faculty is becoming more difficult.

Traditionally, teachers come from two sources: PhD students and practitioners from industry. "There's a dearth of business PhD students in general and a bigger dearth of British ones," says Professor Arthur Francis, Dean of Bradford University's School of Management and current chairman of the ABS.

"And we feel more could be done to help businessmen and women with experience make the move into higher education."

The ABS have had two meetings with senior DfES officials to flag-up the situation, and discussions continue on ways to address the problem.

On the ground, some schools are already finding that the mix of commercial experience and teaching aptitude is a rare one.

"Finding people capable of making the conversion from business to higher education is a tough deal," says Michael Osbaldeston, Director of Cranfield School of Management. "Having experience of business doesn't mean you can teach, write, research and support learning."

Malcolm Kirkup, director of the full time MBA at Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) tells a similar story: "It is becoming progressively more difficult to recruit high-quality faculty, particularly in specific subject areas, such as marketing."

This means that, on occasions, he has to buy in a professor from another university, or someone from industry, to fill a gap.

At Tanaka Business school, part of Imperial College, the Principal, Professor David Begg, also recognises the tightening of the market. "Business schools are getting more like football clubs," he explains. "Global competition has driven up prices."

In this environment, Tanaka has decided to narrow its focus, and recruit teaching staff with specific business specialisms, related to Imperial's world-renowned strengths of engineering, medicine and mathematics.

So, at the moment, schools are coping. But, if concern is not to become crisis, the supply of PhD students will have to increase, and the passage from boardroom to lecture theatre made a little smoother.

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