Business schools’ role in rebuilding the economy

The role of business schools in delivering social and economic value for the country is now more important than ever if they are to maintain their place in society. This was recently reaffirmed by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s  announcement of the Help to Grow: Management scheme, through which business schools will deliver leadership and management training to small businesses in order to fuel economic recovery. This further underlines the importance of management education.


Delivering Socio-Economic Value

Founded more than 50 years ago, the University of Bradford and its School of Management  have a long history of acting as civic institutions with a duty to support local and regional businesses, SMEs, and entrepreneurs. Our university recently played a leading role in developing Bradford District’s Economic Recovery Plan from Covid-19, and set out how partners will sustain jobs and boost productivity, whilst building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient local economy.

Bradford has a large ethnic minority population and many family-owned small and medium businesses. The city has a significant small business economy. It was identified by Barclays as the best city in the UK to start a business in 2017 and was highly ranked again in 2020 by The Sunday Times.

Bradford provides a dynamic environment for both the university and school’s offerings of numerous activities and outreach programmes that help build business skills, share knowledge, and develop the local economy. Consequently, these connections feed back to us by providing opportunities for our academics to enhance their research and remain current in their area of specialisation, and for students to learn directly from business leaders to develop contacts for projects, internships, and eventually, careers.

Foremost among the School of Management’s outreach efforts is the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), which acts as the focal point and driver for the School’s business engagement activity. The KTN grew from a few hundred subscribers ten years ago to more than 1,700 in 2020. It is an open and free-to-access community of SMEs and local business stakeholders that support each other and work collaboratively with the School and across the University.

Other key initiatives such as The Bradford Business Challenge allows final year undergraduate students to address strategic, marketing, productivity and financial issues identified by Bradford-based small/micro businesses. In this way, students have the opportunity to access potential career opportunities, and small businesses get access to new thinking and talent. In recent years, almost 30 Bradford-based businesses and non-profit organisations (including Oxfam and Bradford City Council) have taken part.

Our school is focused on becoming an engine of economic and social regeneration, suited to the actual needs and real-life challenges of local communities: improving student employability, helping non-traditional students better navigate the recruitment processes of large employers, and actively going out to arrange engagement with local employers, both large and small.

Having recently joined the community of business school’s holding the Small Business Charter Award, this yet again signifies our civic commitment in developing a thriving local business community to help deliver socio-economic value.


A collective force for rebuilding the economy

Without doubt, business schools in the UK and across the world have had to rapidly adapt and respond to the changing needs of learners, employers and governments in the current uncertain and evolving socio-economic landscape. There is a long list of changes on every business school’s agenda, be it redesigning and enhancing curriculum and programme offers, developing staff capacity and capabilities or rethinking their business model and strategic priorities.

Business school curricula needs to continually evolve and adapt to integrate skills development focused on business resilience and growth in order to provide up-to-date knowledge and insights that the post-pandemic business world requires. As business schools reposition themselves to meet the changing demands of the new generation of learners pursuing business education, their role in stimulating social and economic growth should be both recognised and celebrated.

Most importantly, business schools need to come together and be a collective force to help businesses to recover, rebuild and grow.

Sankar Sivarajah is Head of School of Management, University of Bradford School of Management.