Professor Abby Ghobadian is the head of Middlesex University Business School and is also a Director at the University. Over the years he has offered consultancy to many multi-national companies and governmental bodies. We asked his opinion about the changes occurring in the education systems today.
Changes in the Academic World -
(BIBN) How has the state of further education changed over the last 20 years?
(AG) I believe that it has changed quite significantly in a number of different ways. First of all, there has been a policy to expand the rate of participation in higher education. The decision was made by the last Conservative government, and that has made a large impact. At the same time there has been a reduction in units of funding, so effectively universities these days receive half of what they used to for each student. I think that the unit of resource was around £7000 in 1979 and we get around £3500 now. Furthermore, there has been the introduction of the audit mentality; university research is being run by FC for research assessment exercises. Next year it will be the fourth research assessment exercise. Its purpose is to distribute the money that the government allocates annually for research, which is around £700 million per annum. There is also another audit now, QAA, Quality Assurance Agency, which is fundamentally looking at the quality of different departments in teaching. Business and management is scheduled to be QAA'd again in the year 2001. So to sum up, the changes are to do with the significant increase in the level and rate of participation (prior to 1979 only 15% of the under 18 to 18 year old participated in higher education. Now it is about 32-33%). There has a been a significant reduction in unit of resource, and there is a much greater degree of audit, both in terms of research and in terms of quality of teaching.
Professor Abby Ghobadian (far right) of Middlesex University
(BIBN) What about the syllabus, how has that changed?
(AG) I do not know a great deal about other subjects, but in business schools there has been a significant change in what we teach, and more importantly how we teach. Learning strategies have had to change quite significantly because now we are dealing with much larger numbers in class. We have had to rely more on using technology on the delivery of our programmes. Concepts such as computer aided learning, resource base learning, which are fundamentally about providing facilities for students to become self-learning, are more common now. So there have been changes in terms of the strategy, the way that we teach. There have been changes in the syllabus also.
In business, for example, a couple of years ago we re-engineered our MBA programme. The first MBA was in Harvard in 1906, and it was designed to be delivered for people who were working in a very stable environment, and was designed to help people manage stable organisations. The environment has completely changed these days.
It is extremely volatile, and is continuously changing radically. So instead of teaching people how to manage the status quo, what you really need to do is to teach people how to manage change. Change is something that is bound to happen, so you either manage it or it ends up managing you. Also there is the issue of term management. Today, at middle and senior level, organisations do not need managers as such because the pressure is on making the workforce much smaller, and the traditional management which was about control, and making sure that people are performing up to standard is no longer a valid concept.
Today managers need to provide leadership rather than provide management. Leadership is about motivating people, driving people, providing a vision for the future and uniting the workforce around that vision. It is no longer about making sure that people come in at the right time, do their work properly, and leave at the right time. To be a leader one has to possess certain qualities, and although there is an overlap with what a good manager needs, there are differences as well, so our courses are trying to create future leaders.
(BIBN) What about the academics in charge of teaching? How have their methods changed?
(AG) Academics have had to change their methods for a number of reasons. Business schools are a special case as they are different to many other departments. Academics have had to become more commercially aware, and to adapt and understand that there is a market for their services, and unless they can match their expertise and abilities to the requirements of that market, then there is no future for them. They now understand that students are customers for them. This has been a significant change. Obviously, as in other professions, the stress level has risen as well, with departments having to teach a larger number of students with a smaller number of staff. Moreover, nowadays academics no longer sit in "Ivory Towers", in that they are much more in touch with reality. They understand that they need to adapt to meet the needs of the market.
Business and the Academic Community -
(BIBN) How are they making the link between the academic world and the business community?
(AG) There is no single answer to that question. Again, I can relate that back to what happens in business departments compared to other departments. In business schools, you need to be in touch with industry and commerce, simply because that is our laboratory. We need to learn from it. We establish links to a number of different avenues. For example we place 600 students every year in sandwich courses, so that is one source of contact with business and industry. Each of these students is visited once, sometimes twice by an academic. When the academic visits the organisation, he will sometimes meet with the senior managers, and that is where contact is established.
We also run a number of short courses for commerce and industry, and obviously that puts us in contact. We run desktop programmes for a number of different organisations, we provide consultancy, we have about 600 students in part-time programmes, and these are practising managers, so you can see that we have a lot of contact with commerce and industry. When these senior professionals meet the academics then that opens up the way for them to come back at a later date to request consultancy, or whatever else they may need. Three times a year we run an open forum and we invite academics and businessmen, identify their individual needs and try to accommodate them. A large number of our Masters students do their disitations at large companies.
(BIBN) How do businesses approach universities, and how do universities help them research their own field?
(AG) It is not easy. Universities are not very user friendly. But most universities these days have press offices. They list the expertise of their academics. So you can always approach the press officer of the university to ask if they have any publications which lists them. That is one way. The other way, if you are interested in a specific topic, is to read the relevant journal to see who published it. There might be a professional journal regarding that topic. The third, and easiest way, is to look at the web-sites of the universities, which by and large give a list of the academics. So if you are interested in marketing, you can find the marketing faculty, and often there is a short CV explaining what their interests are. These are the methods that I know of of locating somebody who might be in the field that you are interested in.
Academic Marketing -
(BIBN) How can individual academics try to raise their profiles?
(AG) Generally, academics build their reputation on their research, and good researchers provide quality through rigour and relevance. Most managers have difficulty in the sense that they would not be inclined to read academic papers, but one can publish in professional journals which they would be interested in. I meet a lot of managers and I find that most of them have professional journals amongst their books. Therefore if one is really interested in building a reputation then one has to try to publish in professional journals as well as academic journals. Quite clearly, writing books is another way of building a reputation.
(BIBN) What does one need to do to give more exposure to their research?
(AG) One needs to not only publish their work in academic journals, but also in professional ones like Management Today, which is widely read and respected. Another way is, if one has the right contacts, to organise seminars for industry and commerce, and those professionals will come to listen to the findings of your research. You get invited to conferences, and very often those conferences are not academic conferences. For example, last year I was invited to a conference by the Bahrain management society to give a paper on the future of management. In that particular conference there were more than 300 practising managers.
I was invited because they knew me, and they had got to know me through my articles and publications. Going to somewhere like Bahrain and delvering a speech in front of 300 delegates, many of them industrialists, has created further enquiries, more interest. People have called me asking for help with a variety of different problems and so on. To give another example, last year I was also invited to give a lecture in Hungary, and as a result of that I had a lot of people coming to me for help with a number of different issues.
(BIBN) Does association with celebrities and politicians help at all?
(AG) I am not quite sure how that would help. I believe it is interesting to be able to supply ideas to politicians, because sometimes some of those ideas find a way into policies, maybe in a different form. It can give you a higher profile if
you are an economic guru for example, and you are chosen by the Prime Minister to advise him on economic policy. It is more fruitful for academics to publish in trade journals, and to attend conferences where there are actual industrialists, and project themselves through those routes rather than through association with academics. However, there are those, for example in the House of Lords, who have been successful academics and have acted as advisors to one or the other of the parties. So it does help in that respect.
(BIBN) Do you think that an academic could ever become a celebrity like a movie star or a pop star?
(AG) Not in the same way, but yes, there are academics who are celebrities. They command large fees and huge audiences. Michael Porter, for example, has influenced the thinking of many chief executives, so, like any other walk of life, there are people who become celebrities in their own right. Perhaps not like a pop star, but in a different way, these people become very influential.
(BIBN) It is said that academics have their own Oscars, and that they do anything to enhance their own reputation, including being very cruel. Is that true?
(AG) Certainly. Among academics there is usually a degree of vanity, and research especially is a lonely occupation. To be a researcher one has to be very determined and very focused, and by and large would have a degree of vanity. They can be very cruel. Your peers can sometimes take your hard work and use it to enhance their own career. It is no different to any other profession. It is hard work to be a researcher.
To give you an idea, to publish a journal would usually take up to 8 months of hard work, consisting of about 20 pages, and you need focus and determination to overcome the setbacks. If you send the paper to 3 different peers, then you will get 3 different opinions. You will get a letter from the editor telling you that it has got a mixed review, and invite you to re-write or reorganise your paper. So you get three completely different sets of guidelines, and you have to choose how to go about changing the paper. You need thick skin, and a killer instinct in some cases.
With developments moving ahead rapidly in Anglo-Iranian relations, the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (CMEIS), at the University of Durham, has decided to approve the foundation of a subsidiary body to be called the `Centre for Iranian Studies ’, in an effort to capitalise on its unique position in the field of Iranian studies in the United Kingdom.
With four resident members of staff working on aspects of Iranian history, politics and language (Durham has the largest number of Persian language students anywhere in the UK), and excellent library resources for the study of modern Iran, the new centre should be well placed to facilitate and expand research in all aspects of Iranian studies and to foster academic exchanges with institutions in Iran.
Indeed with so many Persian language students the need for better access to Iran, is more urgent than ever. Of course the success of any such centre depends very much on the formulation and implementation of a coherent strategy, and in the current academic benvironment, when universities are under increasing financial strain, providing a coherent academic research strategy is only half the battle. Indeed, many academics are finding that good business sense is often just as important as their powers of analysis. Some, indeed the majority of academics may lament this development, which they justifiably argue, takes them away from their core function. However, this is a reality that needs to be accepted, and I would argue, mastered, if it is to be overcome.
In any case, it must be said, that there is considerable satisfaction to be derived from being there at the inception, and developing a new institution. Apart from deciding the fundamental constitution of the Centre, its executive and membership structures, two other vital issues need top be addressed: the financial and marketing strategies. These two are of course inter-related. We cannot secure finance and sponsorship, without first conducting some marketing, but are aware that our marketing and public relations will be infinitely better when we have some finance behind us.
The strategy therefore needs to be two-pronged and cumulative in that one should assist the other leading to cumulative bilateral growth. Few marketing strategies stand a realistic chance of success if the product is unsatisfactory, irrelevant or inadequate. And in this case, it may be argued that our product is our best marketing tool. As such we our in the process of developing a list of products ranging from the production of academic texts, to specific research projects, conferences, seminars and round-tables, of relevance to the specialist and layman alike. Our first event, which we are very proud to be hosting this February, will be the first annual Prof A K S Lambton honourary lecture to be delivered by Professor Lambton herself.
We also intend to be a facilitator, promoting links with academic institutions in Iran which will allow the exchange of students, staff, and critically, research material. To this end, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the School of Sociology at the University of Tehran. We aim in short to be a centre of academic excellence (the essential keystone of success) which also serves the wider community, and to this end our marketing aims to elicit and indeed encourages comments from the business community so that we can also tailor our products for that sector.
If you would like more information please write to -
Dr A M Ansari,
entre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies,
Durham DH1 3TG.