UPFRONT Poor marks for business schools

New Zealand’s tertiary business colleges and schools are not as active in their research efforts as academic colleagues in non-business disciplines.
This shows up in the recent NZ Government Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) rankings and, as researchers from Massey University’s Centre of Corporate and Institutional Governance point out, it is weakness that needs to be addressed if we’re to foster the level of innovation needed to help lift this country’s economic performance.
Peter Cleland and James Lockhart note that up till now New Zealand business schools have been “sheltered from detailed assessment of their business performance”. Focus has instead been on the drive to increase enrolments and revenue, and the use of international accreditation and percent of market share to compare the respective worth of MBA programmes.
“Public perception is also strongly influenced by the marketing of brand and institutional prestige which, to date, have been established in the absence of research performance.”
More recently, say Cleland and Lockhart, rapid influx of international students has diverted attention onto completion rates and pastoral care.
“While these and other measures of quality are important, little critical attention has been paid to the quality and value of research undertaken.”
So the TEC rankings represent an interesting benchmark and as Cleland and Lockhart highlight, it is set rather low. Using hybrid model partly based on UK and Australian versions and using the skills of 12 peer review panels, individual academics were evaluated on combination of research output, peer esteem and contribution to research environment. When aggregated at departmental or institutional level, these individual results show two things.
“The first is low quality score, the second high level (46 percent) of research inactive academics within New Zealand tertiary sector business schools.”
That nearly half the academics in business schools are rated as research inactive is not exactly encouraging – especially when that figure is compared with other disciplines. In the physical sciences, for instance, mere 13 percent are classified as research inactive, in the biosciences just 18 percent. Other disciplines also boast more highly rated academic scholars and therefore higher overall research quality scores.
There will be number of arguments for the lower quality scores of business, say Cleland and Lockhart. These include high teaching loadings (in some departments as much as three times greater than non-business disciplines), low government funding, and higher degree of consultancy projects.
“These do not in any way mitigate the evidence that New Zealand tertiary business colleges and schools are not as ‘research active’ as their academic colleagues in other discipline areas.”
When reflecting on some of this country’s recent business failures, the two researchers suggest there is another aspect of the knowledge debate that requires airing.
“By strengthening the level of business research activity in New Zealand, the performance in New Zealand business can also be strengthened as can our place within the global knowledge economy.”
The research weakness that has shown up needs, they suggest, to be overcome in partnership with both Government and the business sector.

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