Revalidating the MBA Programme

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

The University of Suffolk ‘revalidates’ its degrees periodically. On a year-to-year basis we review the modules that we teach to ensure that these remain both useful and current. Every five years however we pause to engage in a root-and-branch review that, in effect, re-imagines our degrees. This process the University terms ‘revalidation’ and at present we are preparing for the revalidation of our MBA (Master of Business Administration ). What are we doing to re-imagine our MBA? I am glad you asked…

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University of Suffolk Waterfront Building. Photo (C) University of Suffolk

We are making a number of changes designed to ensure that our MBA continues to prepare participants for leadership and executive positions. In a blog I can only highlight a few of these changes so I will pause to pinpoint the following developments:

We have reviewed the content of our modules to ensure that, as far as possible, students work on ‘live’ (you will note I refuse to say ‘real world’) problems. In addition we have added more formative assessments to ensure that, as our students learn to become the ‘practical theorists’ that modern organizations need, they receive timely feedback on their ideas and plans.

Finally (within the confines of this brief account) it is also worth noting that we have changed the titles of our modules. This apparently cosmetic change is, for me, perhaps the most significant development, because it is designed to remind staff and students alike that although we generally refer to ‘management’ and ‘organizations’ as nouns; as things they are in truth more usefully constructed as verbs. And if you hope to make a difference in the (real) world you might do well to recall that managing and organizing are processes that we enact between us…

What is a ‘real job’?

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

As someone who has devoted his adult life to teaching and researching the business of management I am, routinely, challenged by journalists and by management executives as to my experience of the ‘real world’ and whether I have ever held down ‘a proper job’. These days I meet this sort of challenge head-on. If I am honest I am altogether too old and just too Scottish to indulge this sort of question. So I now respond to this inquiry by asking another question, ‘How might we know if something is real?’

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And when this is greeted by a quizzical look I add, ‘If I had spent the last 27 years working within a large corporate concern such as, say, Coca Cola you would be impressed and would not trouble yourself to ask such a question. You would readily acknowledge that I had, indeed, held down ‘a proper job’ in the ‘real world’. But what makes the production of a syrupy carbonated liquid somehow more real; more useful; indeed more noble than a career devoted to researching and teaching within Universities which are, after all, large, complex and often highly politicised organizations?’

As I’ve said before: you don’t looks sideways at your GP and say, ‘So you’ve never been anything apart from a doctor!’ I’ve dedicated my adult like to researching business, to understanding the complex problems that managers face every day – last I checked, Universities, too, had managers; struggled with strategic change; had to think about policy and profit. It takes a long time to become an expert… and I’m still working on it.

Teaching Business Ethics Through Sportsmanship

Dr Tom Vine presented at the Ensors sponsored Quay To Growth Business Breakfast at the University of Suffolk on Thursday 2 March. He discussed some new research taking place in the Suffolk Business School, on teaching Business Ethics using the principles of sportsmanship:

Business Ethics is traditionally taught through philosophy, and is often driven by the same key, Western philosophers: Kant, Aristotle, Marx, Nietzsche, to name a few. The biased is on abstract philosopher, and irrespective of the level of study (undergraduate or postgraduate), teaching falls back on a classical philosophical framework.

But here we have a problem – business students have not enrolled on a philosophy degree, and they can struggle with the material. Students may recognise that there is value to the reading and engagement with the module, but they are often looking for practical nuggets that will help them in their future careers – how can they be a better business person?

Here at the Suffolk Business School, we decided to start exploring alternatives to this traditional method of teaching, and have realised that we can supplement this with a different perspective – the idea of sportsmanship. Solomon (2004) even argues that good sportsmanship and fair play are essential obligations to business ethics, although he makes this statement free from further research or investigation. We decided to delve deeper, to take advantage of the connections between sportsmanship and businessmanship in a pedagogical sense.

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We know that there is a language of sportsmanship in business – considering the ‘ballcourt figure’, or to ‘get the ball rolling’. We ‘keep our eye on the ball’, or we have to ‘take it on the chin’. Clients ‘move the goalposts’, and competitors ‘play hardball’. Where has this linguistic connection between sports and business come from?

As in sports, there are competitors in business; there are rules by which we must play and conduct business; there are parallels in respect to betrayal. There is an sense of ‘fair play’ and behaviour that is driven by a moral reasoning.

So why do we think this approach works? Well, we know that sport has wide appeal – there is an already well established cultural understanding of what it means to be a good sportsman, even if a student does not follow a particular sport or team avidly. This allows our students to engage immediately, with something they can relate to on a fundamental level. Sportsmanship is learned at an early age – unlike philosophy. It is also inherently personal – learning of sportsmanship is experiential, much like how it is to be a good business person. These things make learning business ethics through sportsmanship intellectually accessible to students, who perhaps did not realise they would be embarking on philosophy as part of their business degree.

This is part of an ongoing research project by Dr Tom Vine and Dr Will Thomas. If you are interested in this research, please contact talkbusiness@uos.ac.uk