The Independent MBA: How City is realising a dream

A new home, a new name and a new start for London's business school in the heart of the City.
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The Independent Online

Professor David Currie is explaining that London's City Business School needs to be absolutely first rate to compete in an international market still dominated by US business schools. "Do I need to say more?" asks Professor Currie, with a theatrical glance at his surroundings.

The point has already been eloquently made by what ought to be a simple enough task – finding the school. City is tucked away on the sixth and seventh floors somewhere within the labyrinthine, concrete complex that is the Barbican. "There are 36 ways to get in and you need a degree in urban geography to find the place," says Professor Currie, who became school dean last year.

When you do find the school, by a lift that insists on stopping at every floor, it is obvious why City has been dreaming for some time of new purpose-built premises. City is currently a series of adjacent classrooms along a crescent-shaped curve. Professor Currie is not among the large army of people who hate the Barbican's design. "But it was designed as residential flats, not a business school," he says. The school currently lacks heart and hub, to say nothing of space, polish and sophistication. Professor Currie, an economist ennobled by Tony Blair, has found it particularly frustrating that the school does not have its own front door.

But by September, City will have its own doors – and very impressive ones at that. A few minutes walk from the Barbican, on Bunhill Row, construction workers are busy finishing the large atrium entrance to Currie's impressive new £40m business school, which spreads luxuriously over six floors and is four times larger than the school's present premises.

The carpenters are already creating the seating tiers in a clutch of spanking new horseshoe-shaped lecture theatres and putting the finishing touches to a restaurant, a café, a real-time dealing room and several open recreational spaces where students can meet. There is also a state-of-the-art, 200-seat lecture theatre, expected to be a major asset not just to the business school but to the City of London.

It is the school's continuing proximity and close links with London's financial heart that it is keen to exploit as it moves to a new building and changes its name to the Sir John Cass Business School. In fact "City of London" is included in the school's full new title. Currie is promising to turn Cass into "the intellectual hub of this great international trading centre".

"We have always seen ourselves as the business school of the City of London and this allows us to fulfil our mission," says Currie, adding that the London Corporation originally helped set up the business school in the Sixties and that the new facilities allow the school to serve and collaborate much better with the City.

Currie also has £10m to invest in staff. He sees higher, performance-related salaries as the key to raising the school's ratings. City's executive MBA is currently ranked 10th in the world, and second in Britain, and its standing may well be strengthened by its decision to teach a new Executive MBA in Shanghai.

But City still has a way to go before its full-time MBA reaches the dizzy level of that offered by the London Business School, the only school in Britain to be rated in the FT's international MBA top 10. City's full-time MBA is currently ranked 8th in Britain and 81st in the world. The LBS, where Currie was deputy dean until he moved to City, also understands the value of highly-rated staff, and the fierce international competition for the best people. It recently pulled off a coup by luring Laura D'Andrea Tyson, former chief economic adviser to Bill Clinton, from the Haas Business School in California to be its dean.

City Business School says its full-time MBA is in a healthy condition and its part-time MBA is, of course, very popular with City employees, who value the short walk from work to attend evening classes. You can expect the cost of City's MBAs – the full-time is currently £20,000 – to rise. "It's cheap at the moment," says Currie, eyes twinkling, arguing that the school will soon be offering better facilities, better teaching and better staff.

Of the £40m invested in the new building, £20m comes from the reserves of City University. A campaign has been launched to raise the other £20m and it still has a way to go. So far £7.5m has been gathered.

As part of the fund-raising effort, donors can pay to give their names to various parts of the new building. A one-off gift of £5m and ongoing support of £15m came from the Sir John Cass Foundation – founded in 1748 by a former sheriff of the City of London to educate children in the Square Mile. The school's new computer teaching room is already poised to be named after a £200,000 donor, along with some professorial chairs (£500,000 each for five years), some classrooms (£500,000 each) and the executive development suite (£500,000). The identities of the donors will be announced later.

The new Cass school is expected to open to students in September 2002, and its official opening will be in the spring.