Director, Nottingham University Business School

The global economy may be experiencing a period of relative calm after the recent storms of the banking crisis and subsequent economic downturn, but we are not out of trouble yet. There is still the possibility of a double-dip recession in the UK and US, and any growth in 2011 is likely to be minimal at best.

It is at difficult times like these that business schools have an important role to play in supporting organisations, large and small, private and public sector. At Nottingham University Business School, for example, where I became the new director this autumn, we do this in terms of our involvement in research and the learning experience we provide.

In the current economic climate, business schools have a role to play in encouraging innovation, opportunity recognition and entrepreneurial creativity capabilities. Innovation allows firms to get more from less, a valuable attribute in difficult markets, and to preserve competitive advantage, a fragile commodity in our fast- paced world.

This means that an entrepreneurial mindset needs to permeate business school activities. We run a specialist MBA entrepreneurship programme at Nottingham University Business School, for example, while the Institute for Enterprise and Innovation facilitates important links between MBAs and the business community.

Business schools also need to be more engaged across disciplines and across sectors instead of maintaining an inward-looking focus. Too many discoveries are missed because we don't look up and around enough. Academics need pushing beyond the comfort zone of their specialist subject. As many of our students and the organisations we work with have discovered, when you bring together clever people from different disciplines, great things can happen.

This multidisciplinary approach can also be reflected in research. As well as new areas of "blue-skies" research, collaboration between a variety of experts can produce research that has real impact and relevance for the user. For this to happen, though, the outcomes of that research must be assessed and, where appropriate, translated into clear practical application using non-academic language that the business community can understand.

At Nottingham University Business School, as at other business schools, it is essential that we continue to strengthen our multidisciplinary links with the university's areas of expertise such as in chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, crop biotechnology, sustainable energy, cultural studies, and so on. We are also building connections internationally across our campuses in China and Malaysia, and through our links in India, Europe and the US.

There is also a growing awareness among business education providers that sustainability issues are going to have a massive impact on the way organisations are structured and operate. Business schools are even being rated on how well they prepare students for the environmental, social and ethical complexities of modern-day business, by rankings such as the Aspen Institute's Beyond Grey Pinstripes assessment.

And this is not just about sustainability in terms of organisational practices, resource usage, and so on. The business education community has a responsibility to promote sustainable leadership, and to equip MBAs with the skills and knowledge needed to deal with the highly volatile and complex business environment.

In short, the research and the learning experience that takes place in business schools must translate into improvements in the real world. The true power in business schools lies in their networks. It is by harnessing the energy and intellect of a diverse network of academics, students, entrepreneurs, businesses and public sector organisations to address burning, real-life business questions that we can really make a difference.

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