Becoming anchor institutions: embedding business schools in regional economies

Fiona Devine cropped

By Professor Fiona Devine, Dean, Alliance Manchester Business School


The 25th anniversary of the Chartered Association of Business Schools is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the past and, more significantly, to consider the future. With rapid change in technological innovation, demographics and geopolitics, it is especially important to explore how business schools can shape this new world, both internationally and closer to home.

The publication earlier this year of the UK government’s Green Paper, ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’, is the perfect time to consider the role of business schools as anchor institutions in UK regions, helping to develop a stronger economy and a more equitable society.

The strategy identifies 10 pillars that build on the strengths of the UK economy and address its weaknesses and I would like to focus on how business schools can help deliver two of those.

The first of the pillars is about `driving growth across the whole country’. Wide regional disparities, laid bare by the 2008 financial crisis, are the roots of our seriously-imbalanced economy. The regions need strong companies and innovative start-ups and the conditions that facilitate inclusive growth. These include better infrastructure, inward investment and a skilled workforce, one area where business schools can clearly help.

The second pillar acknowledges the importance of the right institutions `to bring together sectors and places’ for long-term development. Without doubt, business schools can and should be key players collaborating with organisations such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Chambers of Commerce, local government and Mayors to bring together these clusters for growth. They should work with businesses of all sizes and sectors across the increasingly blurred public and private sector divide.

This is not to say that business schools should suddenly become more parochial. In spite of the anti-globalisation rhetoric of the moment, we live in a global world, with regional economies operating in the context of the national and global economy. Large local large companies have international supply chains; inward investment comes from national and international sources. They are all interconnected and business schools understand this complexity well.

So, what do business schools bring to the table? Our core activities are in business and management, but business schools are especially strong at interdisciplinary research – working with scientists, engineers and medics. For example, colleagues in the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIoIR), which is based in Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS), collaborate with colleagues at two research institutes in the university, the National Graphene Centre and the Sir Henry Royce Institute – the latter is at the heart of the UK’s academic endeavours in advanced materials.

Such teamwork is incredibly important to our understanding of innovation, the barriers to developing new products and services, and the key to successful commercialisation. Research that engages businesses from the start in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), for example, can support businesses to scale up to be important employers while enhancing world-leading sectors.

Moving away from a centralised state to move devolved city regions in England is a huge, exciting experiment in which business schools should play a pivotal role. In Manchester, for example, the devolution of the health and social care budget will require new ways of managing and delivering integrated services, with the well-being of a region’s population dependant on success.

AMBS is one of several business schools around the country that are involved in regional initiatives to bring leadership to local health services through the Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care programme, a partnership between the National Health Service (via the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), industry, the third sector and the University of Manchester.

Educating future leaders – most notably through the MBA – remains a key marker of the success of a business school. It is imperative, therefore, that this talent is attuned to the place in which they are studying and contributes to its economic and social well-being. So at AMBS, our MBA students’ first task is a consultancy project for a local not-for-profit organisation.

Finally, in a world where life-long learning is ever more important, it is critical that business schools offer executive short courses that address the needs of local businesses. Technological advances, through all forms of blended and distance learning, will enable us to embed life-long learning into people’s busy lives.

Business schools have so much to offer regional economies in the research that they undertake and the education they offer to national and international students in readiness for high-level professional and managerial employment. There can be no doubt that they are becoming anchor institutions deeply embedded in the regional economies of the world.


This article is from ‘Rethinking Business Education’, a collection of thought pieces produced to celebrate 25 years of the Chartered Association of Business Schools