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Did poor teaching lead to crash?

Business academics are accused of ignoring social and political questions. Zoe Corbyn reports

Business academics should take some blame for the global financial crisis because they have ignored fundamental social and political questions in favour of "narrow" teaching and scholarship.

This is the view of Stefano Harney, a reader in strategy and director of global learning at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London, who has completed a study of more than 2,300 leading research papers in the field.

This week, he criticised leading business and management researchers, saying their work tended to focus on solving "small technical problems" such as product placement and supply chains. He said they had failed to examine the larger social and political questions that could provide fundamental answers on how to create a better world.

He also hit out at teaching in business schools for failing to deliver a cadre of professionals who cared about ethical and social issues.

"The best business schools should be questioning themselves as to what part they might be playing in the current (financial) crisis," Dr Harney said. "The business schools did very, very little to educate and challenge the so-called culture of greed and of bonuses that seem to have dominated the City ... We have failed to teach our students the kind of social conscience and ethics and concern for the world and the environment and the poor that might have had an effect on the selfish exuberance of the finance markets."

He called on academics and business schools to "consider their responsibility". "Maybe a broader education would have helped people to have a slightly less narrow, focused and selfish view of how to make money," he said.

Dr Harney's work is published in the current issue of the journal Organization. The study, "The responsibilities of management intellectuals: a survey", undertaken with researchers at the University of Leicester, examined the "best" of the scholarship in the discipline by looking at 2,331 articles published in top business and management journals during 2003 and 2004.

It concluded that scholars paid "little attention" to pressing social issues of broader relevance to the business world, including areas such as the distribution of wealth, the environment, war, workers' rights and equality issues.

In 85 per cent of papers, scholars failed to examine issues of business ethics, and in 87 per cent of cases they ignored the relationship between business practice and wealth distribution, the study found.

"It is disturbing to discover how the most important issues facing our world were entirely marginal," Dr Harney said.

But Kevin Orr, a research director at Hull University Business School, said that while Dr Harney had started an important debate, he "did not necessarily" recognise the picture being painted.

Some of most innovative and challenging work that business schools do came not from research papers but from consultancy and advice, he said. He added that the research examined was old and scholarship did not stand still.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Universities are much to be blame for churning out unethical graduates as their mode of operation is also to fleece and extort students. I was one such student when a university in Australia kept on extorting monies from its DBA candidates. One gets the impression that this is perfectly acceptable.

    I did not agree on paying any more in extending the program further and had gone to all avenues including the right authorities to get a hearing on this matter. The appeal fell on deaf ears. It only teaches the candidate that such immoral actions pay and that being innocent and fair does not.

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  • Given that a very large proportion of economic activity takes place in illegal organisational/managerial/economic contexts which is almost wholly ignored by formal management studies, Harney understates the situation. The current crisis is the tip of the iceberg. In a situation where the Mafia in Italy is bigger than Fiat, pornography is bigger than the "normal" arts, media and theatre in the USA, and drug trafficking, money laundering and people trafficking dwarfs most legal activities in most countries, and none of this can take place without the active participation, if not tacit encouragement, of professional managers of one sort or another, the focus of much management studies would seem to be sadly misdirected.

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