Book review: The history of UK business and management education

Book cover: The history of UK business and management education

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The history of UK business and management education

by Allan P O Williams

Emerald, September 2010

ISBN 9781849507806

British Library shelfmarks: This book can be consulted in our Reading Rooms, or borrowed from our Document Supply service, using the following shelfmarks:
London Reference Collection shelfmark: YK.2010.a.28782
Document Supply shelfmark: m10/.23882 DSC

Business Schools have been one of the biggest success stories of UK higher education since the 1950s. This book is a history of their development and the development of the subject area, which was commissioned by the Association of Business Schools (now the Chartered Association of Business Schools) in recognition of the need for an up to date historical account to draw together the main influences underpinning the success of Business Schools in the UK.

And that rise really has been remarkable: as Huw Morris and Howard Thomas explain in the foreword, in 2010 there were more than 250,000 full-time equivalent students studying business and management at foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate levels in publicly funded UK universities, and another 20,000 in private institutions: 15% of all HE students in the UK. There are also over 11,000 academic staff - compared with fewer than 10 in 1945. So that Business and Management is now the largest discipline in UK Higher Education.

The book identifies the main institutions and individuals involved in developing the knowledge, skills and capabilities of aspiring and practising British managers. While the American influence on the development of UK Business Schools is acknowledged, the emphasis in this book is on UK contributions: something which differentiates it from many similar titles (see Further reading).

Professor Allan Williams was Emeritus Professor at Cass Business School, City University London when he wrote this book. His publications related mainly to Human Resources Management and organisational development, but also leadership and organisational histories.

This is no ordinary history though. As well as extensive reading of the many published histories of Business Schools, it's based on interviews and contributions from the Deans and Professors who have led or lead them. Their reflections and insights help make the book a richer source.

Another useful feature is the way Professor Williams relates the main developments to a framework, which helps provide a structure for the narrative, and gives a sense of the main factors that helped shape the UK scene.

The book opens with a historical overview, identifying the milestones in the last two centuries, particularly the twentieth century. This is a very readable account, which covers a lot of ground without feeling heavy. Boxes are used to highlight key information, which help break up the text and also make it easy to dip into at a later date (Box 1.2 charting major milestones is particularly useful). It is very pleasing to see a detailed account of the influence of organisations outside the formal education sector; including professional bodies like the Chartered Management Institute and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), research institutes like the Tavistock Institute, consultancies, informal networks and pressure groups: all of which are important sources of management thinking and experience. The role of bodies representing and regulating UK Business Schools are also explored in some depth.

The second major theme is the rise of empirical management research, and the way research findings and methods of imparting this knowledge have led to changes in the attitudes and practices of working managers. In some ways this chapter is the most interesting, because it considers the extent to which management research influences the workplace behaviour of real managers, and looks at ways of encouraging and improving the quality, rigour and relevance of management research, as well as the role of journals in disseminating findings.

The chapter on the standing of UK Business Schools looks at the international picture before going on to trace the development of two very different models in detailed case studies of London Business School and Manchester University Business School. Henley and Ashridge are compared as two early independent institutions, and other case studies include Aston, Cass, Cranfield, Warwick and Lancaster. One of the nice things about this book is the way it makes it clear that the story of UK business and management education has not all been plain sailing - the skepticism of academia and the mindset of some industrialists being just two of the challenges adding spice to the story.

Drawing together the major themes, the final chapter synthesizes the findings around the model outlined in chapter one and offers some conclusions about the key factors influencing the success of individual institutions, including the role of leadership and culture.

Overall, this is an interesting and enjoyable book. It's a great introduction to the history of management education in the UK, being detailed enough to inform and provoke thought and yet accessible enough to engage the general reader. I found it easy to read from cover to cover in a couple of days over the Christmas break, and it's also possible to dip into it and get useful nuggets that can inform our thinking about the current challenges facing management education: whether you work in it, fund it, are a student or just find it interesting.

Key works by Allan P.O. Williams


The rise of Cass Business School. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006
Read sample chapter online at

Managing change in the employment relationship. In B. Towers, ed. The handbook of employment relations. London: Kogan Page, 2003

With Woodward, S. and Dobson, P. Managing change successfully: learning to integrate experience and theory into implementing change. London: Thomson Cengage, 2002

Journal articles

Leadership at the top: some insights from a longitudinal case study of a UK business school. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 37(1) 2009, pp.127-145

A belief-focused process model of organisational learning. Journal of Management Studies, 38 (1) 2001, pp.67-85

Key works by others

Journal articles

Thomas, H. Business schools and management research: a UK perspective. Journal of Management Development, 28 (8) 2009, pp.660-667