On many levels Susan Hart is a surprising business school dean. She is one of the few women to have made it to the top of a business school, to be sure, but the dean of the University of Strathclyde Business School, in Glasgow, also unashamedly pursues the practical alongside the academic.
“We have a very clear policy that everything has to link with the world of practice,” says the ebullient marketing professor, now six years a dean. “If you are not connecting your students to the world of practice, you are doing something wrong.”
The approach is perhaps unsurprising for a university in Scotland’s industrial heartland that has built its reputation on strengths in technology as well as entrepreneurship, and which also espouses the notion of “useful learning”.
In practical terms this means Prof Hart spends time courting the support of a cadre of business executives to be academic fellows at the school. “We can’t make it the way business wants it to be unless they come and help us,” she reasons.
Given that Prof Hart’s education and career have taken place almost entirely within the Scottish higher education system, she has an additional role that is perhaps unusual too – she is leader of international activities for the whole of Strathclyde University.
However, even a rudimentary perusal of the business school’s teaching and research shows why. To begin with, the school runs programmes in nine countries. But more significantly, everything taught there is designed around an international agenda. This is as much a necessity for those entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses in Scotland’s largest city as is it for those who join the corporate world, says the garrulous dean.
“We have students who have gone on to create small businesses, but the market is global, especially if the company is selling luxury and niche products,” she says. “If you’re a fashion designer, where do your fabrics come from? Even local companies will have influences and dependencies internationally.”
When quizzed about what she would nominate as the school’s flagship programme, the dean is pensive and equivocal. Certainly the school has a strong undergraduate programme, she says, and it is increasingly successful in introducing specialised master’s degrees – Strathclyde will launch a global energy management degree in Abu Dhabi in 2015, and an MSc in leadership in sustainable cities next year as well.
The MBA has also been revamped and has changed dramatically in the past four years, according to the dean. General management has been updated with a technology focus and the careers office has moved up a gear.
But the biggest change has been the increased flexibility that has enabled MBA students to study in any of the nine countries where the school operates. The school is particularly strong in the Middle East, teaching in Bahrain, Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but also has facilities in Greece, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
“A part-time student in Glasgow can study a module in any of the other centres,” says Prof Hart – for example, learning about logistics in Dubai or Singapore. Online learning is also being introduced on all campuses.
This increased flexibility has been one of the hallmarks of Prof Hart’s tenure as dean, but she is swift to point out that an increased focus on research has also been central to her development of the school. Indeed, she was appointed dean in 2008 following a very successful stint as vice-dean for research at the business school. She insists, though, that it is academic research with a practical application.