The History of UK Business and Management Education

Laurence Robinson (University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 27 September 2011



Robinson, L. (2011), "The History of UK Business and Management Education", Journal of Management History, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 471-472.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

There is much about this book that is admirable.

To begin, with it provides a meticulously researched, authoritative account of the development of business and management education in the UK. In addition, it is written by a distinguished author, who is Emeritus Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at Cass Business School and the Chair of the Management History Research Group at the University of Liverpool.

The book was commissioned by the Association of Business Schools (ABS) and as Huw Morris and Howard Thomas explain in their foreword, “after 60 years of relentless development and growth, there are over 250,000 full‐time equivalent students studying business and management in the UK”. This is 15 percent of all the higher education students in the UK. Such exponential growth in the number of business and management students has been genuinely remarkable.

In the pursuit of its objective, of writing the definitive history of business and management education in the UK, the book has sought to “identify the main institutions and individuals” who were involved. However, the book does not attempt to track the history of the development of academic thought regarding the practice of management. In this regard, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”.

In the process of reconstructing the historical, institutional record, the book identifies a very large number of universities, government agencies, professional bodies, regulators, learned societies, grant awarding foundations, academic journals and eminent academics. As a result, the impression that is created, at least for this reader, is that of a narrative that is strong on “the who” and “the when” and less strong on “the how” and “the why”. Indeed, it strikes this reader as slightly surprising, that a book dealing with this kind of subject matter should have such a strong emphasis upon facts, data and dates and so little emphasis upon analysis, interpretation and explanation.

For this non‐historian, the overall effect was to stir distant memories of rather too many history lessons, in which there was far too much emphasis upon the learning of the dates during which various monarchs reigned and rather too little emphasis upon “tales of daring do”.

Despite these largely taste‐based, personal reservations, I did learn some very interesting facts. High on the list of these was the “virtual invisibility of academia” in the development of management education in the UK and the fact that the “leadership” of this was provided by “industrialists and professional associations”. Similarly, I found the growth in the number of citizens who apparently regard themselves as a “manager”, genuinely astounding. To be factual, it would appear that this number grew from 629,000 in the census of 1911, to 4,676,000 by the census of 2001. In addition, it was good to be reminded of some of our, all too easily forgotten, pioneer management scholars such as Mary Parker Follet, Tom Burns and Rosemary Stewart.

As a committed qualitative researcher, I should wish to identify with those who assert that whilst a research account may be “truthful”, it may not be the only “truthful” account that could be obtained from the data. On this basis, I was left pondering two issues. The first of these was the role played by “the many business school academics who have built a great industry” in less than 50 years. As the book points out, there was nothing about this outcome that was “inevitable” and doing so has been a genuinely impressive achievement. However, I was also left pondering a far less palatable issue. This was that some of the graduates and postgraduates from the UK's most prestigious business schools have held positions of responsibility, in many of the corporations that have so spectacularly failed in the last few years. In the light of the attendant consequences for our society, it seems strange that any history of business and management education in the UK should omit to mention this fact.

Overall, I suspect that this book is one that the majority of readers will choose to “dip into” whilst searching for interesting “snippets” of historical information. However, it would also serve as an introduction to the institutional history of business and management education in the UK.

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