Feature of the Week

February 24, 2013 11:46 pm

From analyst and banker to teacher and researcher

Stuart Robinson and Bill Russell, (pale blue tie) who are Phd students at University of Exeter business school©Jim Wileman

Learning curve: Stuart Robinson and Bill Russell

A forlorn appeal for money on The Big Give, a crowd funding website, probably says it all. The Foundation for Management Education has run out of money and Mike Jones, director of the FME has just been overseeing the completion of its last funded practitioner fellowship.

Since it branched out from helping build business schools to helping people from industry to join faculty, the FME has funded between 50 and 60 fellowships. The scheme designed by Prof Jones ensured pay of about £40,000 per annum – more than double the usual PhD stipend – enabling FME fellows to pursue their own education and gain doctorates.

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But despite what Prof Jones sees as an “acute shortage of business school faculty” and the huge academic success of some former FME fellows he has been unable to raise further funds. He thinks the University of Exeter Business School is now the only institution in the UK offering a similar programme to the one designed by the FME.

Robin Mason, dean of the Exeter school, said his team consulted extensively with Prof Jones before setting up its Practitioner Research Fellowship scheme which started last year. Crucial to the package is the decent wage of £40,000 per year, which is a massive pay cut for the fellows but is at least on the lecturer scale.

There is also a programme of instruction that ensures the PRFs learn how to teach and give pastoral support, and reasonable time given for their own research requirements. Prof Mason has, for example, made sure they have five years, rather than the usual four, in which to complete their PhDs.

Being able to secure a proper funded teaching post was part of what attracted Stuart Robinson to Exeter’s PRF scheme.

“We’re essentially paid as lecturers, but with that comes responsibility for teaching,” he says.

Mr Robinson, who is now 50, has a background in engineering but prior to his move to Exeter last year was a senior research analyst with Alliance Bernstein in London. His remuneration in his previous employment has helped make it possible for him to make the move.

“I made a business plan – it’s not too bad. After 30 years in industry I’m not without personal resources.”

He says having a faculty that combines people from a range of backgrounds is positive and points out that he can offer something very different to colleagues who had only had a background in academia.

“Students, in fact, want both,” he says.

Bill Russell, another of the four practitioner research fellows taken on by Exeter last year, also feels valued. “I will be teaching marketing to our MBA students next year, bringing 27 years of international business-to-business marketing experience into the classroom.”

Some business schools have always favoured a large contribution from practitioners. “My view is that we need a mixed group in the faculty,” says Steven Haberman, dean of Cass Business School at City University in London.

“If you added up the bodies, we have probably as many visiting lecturers as full time,” Prof Haberman adds. Cass has two members of staff who were originally FME fellows as well as others with an industry background such as Scott Moeller, professor in the practice of finance at Cass Business School and director of the Cass M&A Research Centre.

Prof Moeller recalls that his own early lectures had elements of the “old war stories” approach that he says inevitably creeps in to practitioner teaching. And he had many old war stories to tell after 24 years notched up in banking and related industries, but he says that after dozen years of association with Cass he can now rely on a body of his own academic research.

“There’s a chance that people will think of teaching as the easy way out, but this is not an easy job. The rewards are substantially non-financial.”

Despite the popularity of the FME fellowship programme, Prof Jones sees little chance of it ever getting off the ground again. “In these difficult economic times business schools and in particular their parent universities have been reaching out for philanthropic giving by their alumni and from the corporate world.This has made it even more difficult for the FME to undertake a successful fundraising campaign amongst corporate organisations who have traditionally supported the foundation in its endeavours.”

Instead he is focusing on the newest initiative to bring practitioner teaching to business education in the UK. This is a programme of one week’s intensive teaching instruction which will be delivered by AACSB, the US-based business school accreditation agency, in partnership with the FME and the Association of Business Schools.

The Bridge Programme pilot will launch in June at Cranfield School of Management. The AACSB has been running a similar programme in the US since 2006.

For Prof Jones it will be better than nothing. He remains strongly committed to the aim of bringing practitioners into business education. He says he cannot remember the crowd funding site bearing any fruit but says the FME still exists and if it were to receive fresh funding it would be able to put candidates in business schools almost immediately.

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