ABS Manifesto for Growth

We want an incoming government to recognise business and management education and research in STEMM. Professor Angus Laing makes the case to widen investment in STEM to include Management.


Article by: Professor Angus Laing
                 Chair, Association of Business Schools

In seeking to rebalance the economy, to enhance Britain’s competitiveness and to provide a platform for sustainable development, policy makers across the political spectrum have elevated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to virtually totemic status as the key academic bases through which to achieve such objectives. The emphasis on STEM is part of a global trend across both developed economies and the rapidly emerging economic powerhouses of Asia. Investment in STEM capacity has been one of the outstanding features of the efforts of many of these emerging economic powers to develop their universities.

There is no doubt that developing STEM capacity is an important element of providing countries with the type of skilled workforce required in advanced knowledge intensive economies. Similarly, STEM capacity plays a highly significant role in generating the discoveries and inventions that can radically alter the world in which we live. However, while these disciplines are necessary preconditions for innovation, for a flourishing knowledge based economy, they are in themselves far from sufficient preconditions for innovation. Britain has a proud research tradition in STEM disciplines and we unquestionably punch above our weight in terms of scientific breakthroughs and inventions. Yet in terms of commercialising inventions, in business development, in building global scale industry leaders and brands we lag behind rivals.

Addressing this issue in an American context, the Association for the Advancement of the Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – the largest business school accrediting organisation globally – in their Innovation Report published in 2011 argued that the focus on STEM represented:
“… a new form of techno-nationalism in which policy makers compare innovative capacity based on input measures, such as the number of scientists and patents generated, without accounting for the ability to convert invention into value”

Ultimately innovation, and in turn business development and economic growth, is as much about enterprise, finance, leadership and management as it is about science and technology. Enterprise, finance, leadership and management are the natural domain of business schools.

Realising the goals of rebalancing the British economy, of enhancing our competitiveness requires investment in STEM. But it also requires investing in that capacity which translates invention into innovation, which transforms a groundbreaking discovery into a world-beating business. There is a need to move from investment narrowly focused on STEM to being about investment in STEMM where Management is as core to the policy discourse as Science and Engineering. Rebalancing this discourse is critical to rebalancing the economy of the future.

Britain’s business schools offer an outstanding resource to support innovation and economic growth. Our best business schools compare with the best in the world. We draw outstanding academics and students from around the world to create business schools which are at the cutting edge of thinking and practice. We have more internationally accredited and recognised business schools than anywhere outside of the United States and develop business leaders from across the globe. Yet we can do more, far more, to enhance Britain’s competitiveness and lay the foundations for Britain’s economic success in the 21st century.

To realise this potential it is critical that the role of business schools as translators of invention, as societal innovation generators, is recognised and that the incoming government takes steps to invest in the necessary capability. That requires investment in research, both blue-sky and applied research. That requires investment in developing the business academics of the future. The narrow focus on STEM has witnessed a decline in the funding available through the Economic and Social Research Council. Whilst research funding for IT-related subject areas has grown by 26.1% since 2007-2008, business and management research funding fell by 4.7% over the same period. If the trend of declining funding continues, the forthcoming academic year may be the first in over a decade that UK government sources will contribute less than 50% of total research income for business and management studies. Competition with our international rivals is also hampered by our inability to compete on the salaries available to the best talent.

That the business school community is committed to enhancing Britain’s economic performance is unquestionable. Initiatives in conjunction with the government such as the Small Business Charter as well as the work of the Association of Business Schools recent Innovation Taskforce highlight such commitment. To take this further, to realise the latent potential requires that the strategic place of business schools in delivering those key translators of innovation, enterprise, leadership and management is recognised and appropriately supported.