Advisory Boards: A personal perspective


By Ann Francke

The 21st Century Leaders report by CMI and the Chartered ABS underscored that boosting the interaction between businesses and business schools benefits both parties.

There are many different ways business leaders can interact with Universities, one of the easiest and most enjoyable is to join a University Advisory Board. The positions are unpaid and typically meet three to four times a year. I sit on two advisory boards, the Open University Business School and the Lancaster University School of Management, I enjoy both enormously and highly recommend this form of engagement to colleagues.

Advisory boards do just that. They advise the Dean of the business school, the leaders of the business school departments and programmes, on strategy and operations. They give inputs into new undertakings or challenges the University is facing. They are not held accountable for decisions made, but their role, insights and advice are taken very seriously and are highly valued.

This is especially true in light of today’s challenging and changing conditions. No longer are these ‘ivory tower’ institutions cut off from the outside world. Increasingly, business schools are being run commercially and with modern governance, which means they must take into account the views, needs and values from a wide variety of stakeholders both here and abroad.

Education is one of Britain’s top 5 exports, 36% of international students studying at British schools choose business, and is also the most popular University course for British students. The market has grown considerably since 2000 to almost over 250,000 students. So having well-run business schools is a vital part of boosting the British economy and creating future business leaders.

Business schools are typically the largest revenue and profit producers for universities, therefore, financial requirements to fund less profitable University departments, reductions in government funding, tougher immigration, greater student demands due to tuition fees, greater diversity of programmes offered, increased domestic and global competition are all high on the agenda. Add to that: international expansion; MOOCS; capital spending programmes; the rigors of maintaining up to three global accreditations and you have a truly complex mix of issues. Dealing with these successfully requires lots of different perspectives, Advisory board members will find their experience and views greatly appreciated.

Within the Advisory Board meetings, the topics I’ve considered range from strategy in China, fundraising and design for a new building, plugging a budget hole, and crafting a new marketing strategy. These are all examples that many of the issues businesses face in their own day to day operations.

But there are also sector-specific areas you will gain insight into that are less well understood by most business professionals such as: online learning challenges and opportunities; the Research Excellence Framework programme that awards business schools their research stature and funding; the extensive process that business schools must undergo every three to five years to maintain their AACSB, EQUIS or AMBA accreditations. These are unique to academic institutions, but again advisory boards play a role in shaping how Deans approach these as well as in the processes itself. As a business professional, it’s also fascinating to gain insights into how these areas are run. Some could benefit from reform, and increasingly business schools are recognising this and becoming more externally focused in how they approach these areas.

I am lucky to sit on two advisory boards which are global and have very diverse members, ranging from Professors at other leading institutions, CEOs of FTSE 100 companies and charities, founders of family businesses, successful independent consultants, and members of international firms. It’s a myth that you must have attended the business school to sit on the advisory board, or that you have to donate large amounts of money! Indeed impartial and objective perspectives are welcomed. An added benefit is the opportunity to address students and exchange views with the local community that often gathers at the University for events.

I gain a huge amount from participating in advisory boards. They provide food for thought for my own organisation. I meet and interact with a range of fascinating, accomplished individuals and get to contribute in some small but highly appreciated way to shaping institutions that are a vital part of making Britain great both now and in the future.

Ann Francke
Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute