When is a business school not a business school? The question could be put to the London School of Economics and Political Science, long-regarded as one of the great brands of UK higher education. Last month it established a department that looks set to become a cornerstone of UK management education.

Sir Howard Davies, director of the LSE, is adamant: “We wouldn’t want to call it a business school. We are in the pre-experience market,” he says. “If you call yourself a business school most people would say it offers an MBA programme, the average student is 28 years old and it charges £25,000 a year. We’ve never really been in that territory and therefore we don’t think it would be sensible to move into it.”

Nonetheless it has long recognised a need to co-ordinate better the expertise from departments. LSE has operated, says Sir Howard, at “less than the sum of its parts”.

The department of management was set up to conquer this, bringing together the interdisciplinary institute of management, the informations systems group, the industrial relations group and the operations research group. This gave the unit more than 60 faculty. Negotiations are underway to include accountancy although the accounting and finance professors are still outside the department.

Although Sir Howard insists this is not a business school, LSE is attracting professors groomed in the business school world. Top of the list is economist Saul Estrin, who has moved from London Business School to head up the new LSE department. Other hires include Luis Garicano from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and Paul Willman from Oxford’s Saïd business school, where he was director of the doctoral programme. Prof Willman was a colleague of Prof Estrin at LBS.

Prof Estrin, a privatisation specialist, has huge plans for the department, which will move into the refurbished Public Records Office, next to LSE’s central London site.

This means an expansion in programmes and students. First for Prof Estrin is to increase the number of students in masters degrees in management, intended for students with little or no work experience. Second is a joint masters degree in management and economics, which will probably be launched in 2008. Other joint degrees will follow.

Prof Estrin stresses these are not “mini-MBA” programmes. “In business schools you teach from the specific to the general. In pre-experience programmes you go the other way round.”

He says a full-time MBA is not on the cards. “Executive education is more of a twinkle in my eye than an MBA,” he says. In customised executive education, LSE has signed up with Duke Corporate Education to offer client programmes in Europe and Africa.

Prof Estrin’s estimates his plans will take eight years to implement. “The plan is about leveraging LSE’s strengths without lowering academic standards, without lowering student quality.” Many business schools in the UK and Europe will be watching LSE very closely.

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