The Society for Research into Higher Education

Fear and Loathing in the Business School

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By Jacqueline Aldridge

We all enjoy grumbling about the business schools in our institutions.  How their multi-million pound buildings swallow resources. How students are lured from other disciplines with shallow promises of employability. How the serious financial clout of business schools allows them to trample less worldly academic departments.

But what about the intellectual place of the academics and academic disciplines housed within their shiny and expensive walls? My doctoral research examines business schools as university departments that are staffed by conventionally-trained career academics, and considers them in this light. I suggest that there are at least three good reasons why we might pity the poor business school and the academics who work within them.

Business is a dirty word

The University does not have a happy relationship with ‘business’ and this antipathy has long roots.  The nineteenth-century’s gentlemanly distaste for the grubby world of trade morphed into activist opposition to industrial interference by the early 1970s. More recently, discourses of managerialism and marketisation raise the spectre of universities as businesses. All this fuels an innate academic mistrust of departments or disciplines branded with ‘business’. However rigorous or critical their research, business schools seem doomed to the eternal distrust of academic peers.

Cash cows are exploited

Business schools experience the same pressures to perform for the REF, NSS or TEF as any other academic department.  However, their academics jump through all these hoops while keeping the rest of the university afloat financially and competing in an idiosyncratic global marketplace for university business education. This can skew and compromise their ability to carry out worthwhile intellectual work. Academic life in the university cash cow milking parlour can be tough and dispiriting.

The academic scapegoat

The sheer number of UK business school academics and the quantity of associated research dominates the UK academic community. Business schools are always included in figures that demonstrate the growth and vigour of the social sciences. They are simultaneously ignored, marginalised, caricatured or disparaged by thinkers on higher education and the academic disciplines.

What does this marginal intellectual place mean for the 7,000 academics who work for business schools in the UK? Can we argue that their intellectual and societal contribution is inherently inferior?  However we choose to answer this question has serious implications for the identity or relative status of different groups within the academy – both within business schools and beyond.

SRHE member Jacqueline Aldridge ( is a Research and Enterprise Associate in the School of Psychology and a PhD student in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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