Is it all academic? : a review of the utility of management research and the quest for economic and social impact

Ord, Kevin

Education; Social sciences
September 2017

Thesis or dissertation

© 2017 Kevin Ord. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This study was prompted by recent changes in higher education funding policies that have been introduced to encourage greater economic and social impact from investments in academic research. Historically certain elements of the social sciences, particularly business and management, have been criticised for their lack of practical utility outside the realm of the university system (See, for example; Beyer, 1982; Starkey and Tempest, 2009; Mintzberg, 2004).

The research is based upon the premise that the current attempts to reverse this trend with modifications to the UK’s ‘Research Excellence Framework’ (REF) may be using too blunt an instrument to change the habits of a community long established in an environment that is not geared to the needs of a practitioner audience.

The study draws on literature to identify the components of ‘impactful’ research and considers the extent to which they exist, or otherwise, within a sample of three UK business schools. The purpose of the investigation was to determine the effect of existing policy and practice on academics’ actions with respect to research style, practitioner engagement and dissemination choices. In doing so it sought to identify if current strategies enable impact or pose an operational and motivational constraint.

The study finds that business schools are unlikely to deliver their part in the government’s ambitions for economic growth from the impact agenda so long as academics are so heavily incentivised to produce the theoretical and conceptual research preferred by the leading journals in their field.

The report concludes that these aspirations require fundamental change and offers a number of strategic options for this purpose. These include modifications to the funding mechanisms of academic research, changes to the REF and a re-evaluation of the criteria that define ‘high quality’ research. The report also raises questions over the role of business and management studies within the university system.

School of Education and Social Sciences, The University of Hull
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