A mission for Public Good: the new University of York academic school

With the launch of our new academic school, formed of the University of York’s Management School and Department of Social Policy and Social Work, on the horizon, we wanted to share with colleagues across the sector our approach and vision that led us to this endeavour.

This new school will create a ground-breaking combination of academic departments; one that we believe puts us in a unique position to address the current grand challenges facing businesses and society.  The two departments have, within the last month, moved into the new Church Lane building together to start working on this new collaboration.


The intellectual vision for the new School, builds on the University of York’s purpose to exist for public good.  The new School will take two broad approaches to contribute to this mission, and these will be undertaken with academic theory and rigour, and non-academic relevance, at the fore.

First, we will work with a range of partners to look into a variety of private, public and third sector organisations to ensure that they are managed in ways that will make them sustainable, successful and financially secure in their own rights.  UYMS has extensive experience of working with businesses and has over recent years significantly invested in healthcare, and other non-commercial, management expertise.  Over the last half-century, SPSW has built deep international links with governmental bodies, public and third sector organisations.  By working together, we will have the joint experience to consider how best practices in management can be developed and shared both within and across sectors.

Secondly, we will work with managers and policy makers to look out from these organisations to see how they can help build more sustainable communities, fairer societies, and a cleaner environment.  This recognises that no one sector can address grand societal challenges on its own, but instead that a holistic understanding of the role all sectors play, both working separately and in partnership is required.  Effectively dealing with the threat from climate change, for example, will demand a mix of strong regulatory changes in policy and investment from governments, alongside significant innovation by businesses and changes in consumer behaviour.  The UK Social Policy Association’s recent definition of its own discipline reflects this cross-sectoral approach: “… how governments, families, companies and organisations in different sectors affect the distribution of resources and opportunities...”. To deliver real social impact through excellent fundamental research and scholarship will require us to take a highly interdisciplinary approach, collaborating with academic colleagues from an array of other fields as well as a variety of non-academic partners.

In short, by increasingly working in diverse teams, we will help a wide range of organisations to become more successful in their own right.  We will also help them become better at delivering public good individually and collectively.  Our emphasis on integrating cutting edge academic research and scholarship with non-academic impact will drive this endeavour.

Our graduates will reflect our values.  We will provide them with the academic and personal skills needed so that they can make a positive contribution from the first day that they join their employer, whatever sector that might be in.  We will also help them develop  as socially responsible individuals, and we will endeavour to inspire them to make ongoing contributions to their communities as well as their employers.  Over time, we will further develop a distinctive portfolio of programmes, from undergraduate to post-experience levels, that reflect our expertise and commitment to play our part in delivering economic and social change.

Through this new collaboration, York Management School colleagues will have the opportunity to work closely with many of the other strongest applied social scientists at the University of York.  SPSW was ranked in the QS Global Top 10 in Social Policy and Administration in both 2019 and 2020.  In REF2014 it came nationally joint top in its discipline for impact and third overall for its research.  The combined school will have almost 200 members of academic staff, including 30 faculty on full research contracts from SPSW alone.  By many metrics, this will make the new school the largest academic unit at the University of York, with a crucial role to play in helping the overall institution deliver on its mission.

Commercially successful business with a strong social purpose has a long tradition within the City of York.  Seebohm Rowntree made hugely significant early contributions to business and management theory.  For example, The Human Factor in Business (1921) was important in making the case for decent wages, occupational pensions, shorter working hours and good working conditions.  He was credited with being “the first person to succeed in developing the co-ordination of management knowledge in this country” (Briggs, 1961), through the influential Rowntree lecture conferences and Management Research Groups that fed into the creation of the British Institute of Management.  Urwick described Seebohm Rowntree as “the British management movement’s greatest pioneer” (Veit Wilson, 1984).  It has also been suggested that his study Poverty: A study of town life (1901), in which he systematically mapped living standards in York, was the first quasi-scientific empirical study of the subject of poverty and arguably established the “tradition of social research designed to inform policy” (Bradshaw, 2001).  His Rowntree & Co colleague, Oliver Sheldon’s book The Philosophy of Management (1924), further emphasised to managers their social responsibilities.  Sheldon went on to play a prominent role in the founding of the University of York and the public good mission that underpins our work.  Our new School will build on this distinctive York legacy.

We hope that you will share our excitement for the future of this ambitious new school, and the contribution that it will make to the Chartered Association of Business Schools’ recent commitment to Business Schools and the Public Good.  We greatly look forward to building collaborations with you all.

Mark Freeman is Dean at the University of York Management School

John Hudson is Head of the Department of Social Policy & Social Work at the University of York.