BAM Chair Professor Abby Ghobadian responds to David Willett’s remarks on RAE and REF (FT 8th April)

Response by Professor Abby Ghobadian to ‘Business schools urged to do more teaching and less research’ (Financial Times, 8 April):

Mr Willetts suggested that Britain’s business schools should offer more practical help to companies and spend less time on academic research ((‘Business schools urged to do more teaching and less research’, FT 8 April). The British Academy of Management (BAM) has for many years championed the concept of a double hurdle of relevance - research that addresses problems faced by practising managers - and rigour, because only research which draws on evidence systematically -collected and properly analysed is likely to offer the worthwhile practical help called for by Mr Willetts.

Mr Willetts alludes to the unintended consequence of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and its successor REF, upon which a substantial part of research funding to universities and business schools is based. This funding and kudos resulting from a high assessment score is heavily influenced by publications in journals aimed at other academics; but the decision to weight such outputs highly is that of the funders. It is a fallacy to think of research and excellent teaching as two mutually exclusive activities. Teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level is enriched by research; researchers have an in-depth understanding of their subjects and are enthusiastic about what they do. Both result in an inspirational teaching and learning environment.

The RAE and REF processes have encouraged the production of ‘journal league tables’ in which the majority of highly ranked peer-reviewed academic journals are based in the United States, an obvious downside being the encouragement of research more appealing to the American model of scholarship rather than the European tradition. European research tends to be more discursive and qualitative and aligned more closely with needs of managers.

Academics at business schools take their teaching seriously. Business schools have large numbers of students and high staff-student ratios. Faculty not only have high teaching loads but supervise many under- and post-graduate dissertations, mark large numbers of exam scripts and yet despite all these pressures UK schools are amongst the best in the world.

Abby Ghobadian, Professor of Organisational Performance, Henley Business School, and Chair of the British Academy of Management



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