Ashridge Business School, the UK executive education specialist, and Pearson, the education and publishing company that owns the Financial Times, are jointly to offer undergraduate business degrees in the UK from 2014.

The partnership is the latest in a number of alliances formed between non-profit business schools and for-profit companies. These include several deals struck by Pearson in the US to deliver online MBA programmes in conjunction with business schools such as the Smith school of business at the University of Maryland.

Perhaps the most controversial alliance to date has been between non-profit business school Thunderbird, in Glendale Arizona, and Laureate, the for-profit education provider, which enraged many alumni at the school and, like the Ashridge and Pearson deal, included undergraduate education.

Kai Peters, chief executive of Ashridge, says there is a clear rationale behind such partnerships. “From the business school side we just don’t have the resources and the reach [of Pearson],” he says. “There’s such a lot of changes with education and publishing crashing into each other.”

Although the details of the curriculum are still being determined, the undergraduate business degree is likely to include webinars from Ashridge professors and summer schools on the Ashridge site as well as work experience both within Pearson and other companies.

Prof Peters says that the undergraduate degree is the first step in the partnership between the two organisations with conversations continuing about further potential collaboration. This could involve teaching certificated programmes for corporations or online modules of degrees.

Nevertheless, undergraduate degrees hold a strong appeal for all graduate business schools as they enable the school to predict income for several years in advance - unlike executive programmes, the income from which is largely unpredictable from year to year. Prof Peters says that up to 70 per cent of Ashridge’s annual income comes from short course executive programmes, but he is hoping in future to earn 50 per cent of revenues from longer programmes that can be taught at scale.

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