Degrees of usefulness
I’ve noticed that the underside of cherished colleagues’ collars heats up at the mention of certain ‘degree’ courses, with particular reference to more practical subjects formerly confined to apprenticeships and polytechnic curricula.
Personally I don’t get offended by conferring on them the title of ‘degree’, any more than I mind a crowd of cardinals calling themselves a ‘college’. Nobody is fooled into believing they have suddenly acquired much-sought-after academic status – which is after all reserved for many subjects which are practically useless, like my own field of classical languages, literature and history.
However the claims of business studies departments to recognition as serious university faculties are fully justified. In the days before the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey became famous, big business taught its own people the ropes with a mixture of outside courses and on-the-job training. Rowntrees tried to harness my classical education with such efforts. The scientists who were my contemporaries had a head-start – to the extent that they at least understood the vocabulary they now employed at work.
So the MBA was born – with in-depth modules on economics, finance, strategy and much more; and when the value of the MBA became apparent to everyone, schools started Business Studies at A level (it’s now the biggest single subject studied). And if you think it’s a Mickey Mouse subject, read the text books and get a surprise. Even if the students don’t become captains of industry, they acquire an understanding of accountancy and business practice which equips them for daily life. Those that join big companies will have gone on to do the MBA course – just to get a job. Sitting by Nellie to learn management is no longer an option.