Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Life is full of surprises. Back in 1976 when Anthony Hopwood and Michael Earl taught at the Oxford Centre for Management Studies in the UK, they could not have known that the New Zealand student on their MPhil programme in management would return to Oxford in October 2004 to be their boss. But when John Hood took over as vice-chancellor of Oxford university last year, it was to find that his two former teachers were the deans of Saïd ­Business School and nearby Templeton College respectively.

Perhaps just as surprising, given the in-fighting and acrimony that dogged the foundation of Saïd Business School nine years ago, is that business school, college and university have now reached a remarkably amicable agreement to create one central source of management education in Oxford. The deal will give the Saïd school the potential to become a world-class business school, with undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA degrees, as well as a full portfolio of executive ­programmes.

At the heart of the tensions to date has been the idiosyncratic Oxford system of running subject departments (such as business, French or philosophy) and colleges, which cater for the social life of students. Templeton College, situated a few miles from the centre of Oxford, acted as a college but also developed a niche in running management programmes before the creation of the Saïd school.

In the new deal, all executive short programmes will be transferred from Templeton College to the Saïd Business School and the faculty at the college – Templeton fellows – will change employer, from the college to the school. Those outside the university might characterise the deal as a takeover bid by the Saïd school of Templeton, but those on the inside prefer to describe it insteadas a “reconfiguration”.

“We have all recognised that dual branding was not necessarily helpful,” says Mr Hood. “[We] have recognised that a full-service business school is desirable in competing in an international arena.”

He has put his money where his mouth is. At the end of the day, The negotiations did not focus on issues of principle or pedagogy, but on finances. In the final complicated deal, which comes into effect on November 14, Templeton College will hand overits expansivebuilding to the university. In return, Templeton will be given two sets of buildings in central Oxford. The first is an office block, the commercial rents from which will replace the income the college currently earns from teaching executive short courses. Templeton has a current teaching income of about £5m ($8.9m) a year and lists companies such as BMW, O2 and PwC among its top clients.

Second, Templeton will be given further buildings close to the Saïd school in the centre of Oxford to use as its college buildings. The move will involve additional cash, which Templeton will raise through a fundraising campaign.

At the end of the day The deal represents a huge investment in management education by Oxford, increasing the number of buildings dedicated to the school and college from two to four. In addition, Prof Hopwood is talking about expanding the Saïd school through additional accommodation on the existing site, directly opposite Oxford’s railway station.

“The really important thing is that we have options for growth and a platform for growth that we’ve never had before,” says Prof Hopwood. “This is something Oxford had to do for everyone’s benefit.”

The Saïd school has been extraordinarily successful in attracting students. This year it has bucked the downward trend in MBA applications, which has affected almost every other UK school. This month Saïd enrolled 225 students on its one-year MBA programme, up from 174 last year.

In addition, Saïd’s newly launched Masters in Financial Economics, run jointly with Oxford’s economics department, has enrolled 74 students – the plan was for just 40 students in this its first year. The undergraduate degree in economics and business, also run jointly with the department of economics, is the most oversubscribed undergraduate programme in the university.

These links with other departments are one of the reasons Prof Hopwood believes the business school has been so successful in selling itself inside and outside the university. Top US business schools such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT are only now considering closer links with other departments in their respective universities. Standalone business schools may not be able to react quickly enough in a world where knowledge is changing so quickly, he argues. “Modern business schools have to have access to new areas such as regulation, science and technology.” Oxford can field world experts in nanotechnology or modern political history, he points out.

A second reason that the original animosity to the business school has subsided is that rebellious dons have conceded that the quality of students and teaching is high, adds Prof Hopwood. “Once they saw the calibre of thestudents and thefaculty thenthere was no argument.”

The new contracts took nearly two years to thrash out – negotiations began in December 2003. They were complex, The reason that it was so complex was that involving property, personnel and commercial contracts, says Sue Ashtiany, a partner at law firm Nabarro Nathanson, which acted for the university.

“They wanted to meld the old and new, the innovative and the traditional. For us it was about capturing that spirit.” Throughout the process,Lawyers and players were sensitive to the fact that, on conclusion, all the participants had to work together, she says. “We had to make sure everyone was happy where they were.”

In particular, the 10 fellows at Templeton will soon be employed by the business school, increasing Saïd’s faculty from 50 to 60 – London Business School by comparison has 82 full-time faculty.

The university hopes that bringing all the management teaching into a single entity, under the Saïd Business School Executive Education brand, will create a virtuous circle for Oxford. Companies that use Oxford for executive education will also recruit MBAs, contribute to case studies and so on.

Businesses will applaud the move, says Prof Earl, who from November will add the title of director of executive education at Saïd to his existing title of dean of Templeton College. “The business community will say . . . ‘Why did it take you so long?’ ”

Templeton College, too, has benefited from the growth of the Saïd’s growth. Four years ago the college had just 35 graduate students; today it has 150, says Prof Earl. “It has become the graduate college of choice for management students.” His remit now is to increase the number of students at the graduate college, as well as promoting executive education at the business school.

The move of the college to a location close to the business school will also alleviate one of the concerns expressed by visiting faculty to the business school in recent years – that the business school is empty in the evening as students leave the town for the college.

Prof Earl acknowledges that logically the new arrangements should have been implemented when the Saïd school was initially proposed in 1996. “Rationally we should have done it then, politically we could not. Now we are much stronger, a business school with a college to support it.”

Any fears that rebellious dons of the 1990s would object to the reorganisation of Oxford’s business education portfolio were quickly dispelled when Mr Hood announced the plans to the university last week in his 2005 Oration. By all accounts, they were as quiet as church mice. What a difference nine years makes.

Get alerts on Work & Careers when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article