Business Schools facing staffing crisis

Aug 11 2005 by Print This Article

Academia and Business Schools in Britain are facing a staffing crisis as the number of students going into higher education threatens to outstrip the rate at which new teaching staff can be recruited.

The pool of potential academic talent that exists in the UK business sector could help to avert the shortfall, but making the transition from the corporate environment into academia is proving difficult.

"The government's target of getting 50 per cent of school leavers into higher education, coupled with the rising number of overseas students, is putting enormous pressure on the academic sector's ability to deliver the teaching," says Mike Jones, director of the Foundation for Management Education, an organisation which helps business people make such a career transition

The FME recently commissioned the University of Lancaster School of Management to undertake research into the supply and demand of Business School Faculty numbers in the light of the increasing student demand for Business and Management degree courses.

The results indicated a substantial shortfall in the number of faculty required to meet growing demand, particularly of those who have had relevant business experience. It also highlighted the fact that many current faculty members would have reached retirement age by 2010.

"There are many experienced business people who are tired of the corporate rat race, want a better work life balance, and would consider a move into an academic role,' says Jones.

"Now is the time to encourage more of them to do so."

But there are also hurdles, including the significant drop in pay they would have to take, and the question of whether they are sufficiently academically qualified.

"It can be very difficult to make the move, as not everyone has done post graduate training, " says Jones. "You need a PhD to even be considered for an interview with one of the top business schools. " The FME, which was at the forefront of the business school movement in the UK 40 years ago, is today focused on encouraging more business leaders to make the move from the mainstream into business school academia by funding training fellowships, and development programmes.

Many current and past Deans of business schools were original FME fellows, including Howard Thomas the Dean of Warwick, Michael Osbaldeston of Cranfield School of Management, and John Arnold at Manchester Business School.

Earlier this year the FME awarded a two-year Management Teaching Fellowship to Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

Roger Ramshaw, a broad-based senior manager with 31 years domestic and international experience of operations, project and commercial activity in the petroleum industry, joined the business school to become the latest in a line of FME Teaching Fellows.

He represents another success story for the FME, but says the challenge of making the transition should not be underestimated.

"I was in my mid fifties, and increasingly finding that the mentoring and development of people coming up through the company was much more enjoyable than the business itself," he says.

When the company he was with went through a reorganisation, he saw an opportunity to leave and start afresh.

Having had some previous teaching experience at Heriot-Watt University during the 1970s, he approached Aberdeen Business School to see what they were looking for and what he could offer them in terms of his business experience.

"That was when I first encountered the major differences between businesses and universities," says Ramshaw. "Perhaps the most significant was the difficulty in getting a clear decision Ė academia doesn't appear to give accountability to individuals to make decisions."

Eventually the possibility of the FME funding the transition arose, which led to his appointment as a Teaching Fellow.

"It is a major culture change in terms of the working environment," he says.

"A university is not an organisation in the way you would normally think. It is a collection of individuals but without the aligning impact of a vision towards which they are working collectively, as they would do in a business organisation. But it is early days and learning is not a one way street."

As business schools are increasingly encouraged to bring more industry experience into their teaching, and the numbers of students enrolling on business and management courses continues to grow, the demand for faculty with extensive business organisation experience becomes more pronounced.

"The FME Fellowship scheme is highly competitive," adds Jones.

"The FME has been lobbying extensively at both the DfES and DTI to raise the awareness of the situation, but unless more is done to facilitate the transition of experienced business people into faculty roles, business schools could be facing a real crisis."