Public value

The public value business school

Cardiff Business School is a reasonably large organisation with 200 academics and around 4,000 students.

In our latest post, Professor Martin Kitchener spoke with Your Public Value, an NGO based in Berlin to explain how and why Cardiff Business School decided to pursue a strategy which foregrounds social and economic development.

It all started when I became Dean of Cardiff Business School six years ago, and I focused on defining a clear strategy for our school.

I came across a book by Professor John Brewer of Queen’s University, Belfast, called The Public Value of the Social Sciences: An Interpretative Essay. The book got me thinking about what a public value business school might be.

Over the next two years, I developed our strategy, working closely with colleagues inside the school and the wider university, and also with a wide range of external stakeholders including employers and politicians.

“There are about 13,500 business schools in the world and until recently, a variety of different visions and approaches were celebrated as a strength of the industry.”

Today, however, many Western governments, industry bodies and accreditation agencies are driving business schools to look increasingly similar, promoting a narrow vision of shareholder value, and acting as engines of their local economy.

Our approach is different. We fully accept that business schools should make an economic contribution to their host universities, to their local economy, and to their national economies, but their responsibility does not stop there.

We should not be teaching students that their sole responsibility is to generate economic wealth. They also have other responsibilities as well.

Western governments, industry bodies and accreditation agencies are driving business schools to look increasingly similar, promoting a narrow vision of shareholder value, and acting as engines of their local economy.

YPV: The UN Global Compact discourse emphasizes that companies and corporations can grow if and when they embrace sustainability, and one should expect business schools to not only do the same, but also to provide leadership in this direction.

Indeed, it’s interesting that many business schools teach sustainability and corporate social responsibility, but they do not develop their own sustainability strategy, nor do they operate particularly progressive models of self-governance.

Cardiff Business School is a reasonably large organisation with 200 academics and around 4,000 students.

We recognize that we have an opportunity to not only teach and research in a different way, but also to present ourselves as a role model of governance that embraces the principles of public value we teach.

“Cardiff is the first business school to explicitly state that its purpose is to deliver public value. This is our distinctive approach.”

We exist to promote public value through our teaching, to increase the understanding of it through our research, but also to operate it in the way we govern our own institution.

Public value is a red thread that runs along everything that we do. It’s very different than teaching corporate social responsibility on a module, to some graduates.

YPV: What place do you give to the protection of the environment in your understanding of public value?

We see protecting the environment as part of the value that organisations can provide to society.

We support research that looks at various aspects of sustainability, and we’ve started the production of annual reports on our institution’s sustainability.

We’ve measured our own carbon emissions. We take it as an initial reading and commit to reduce that over the next ten years.

It’s been quite a test for us, first, to launch our carbon emission report, and then to find out that our biggest problem is not that easy to tackle!

YPV: Are you planning to keep this triple bottom line annual from now on?

Yes, it’ll be an annual report.

The problem for us was the result we found. We thought that it’d be academic travel that constitutes the single largest emissions problem.

But it’s the travel of our international students: Around 90% of the 1,300 post-graduate students at Cardiff Business School are Asian, and their travel represents the biggest environmental impact of our school.

“This creates an interesting business challenge: What can an organisation do when its biggest source of carbon emission is also its biggest source of revenue?”

It’s been quite a test for us, first, to launch our carbon emission report, and then to find out that our biggest problem is not that easy to tackle!

It’s not just a question of asking students and professors to turn the light off in their office.

YPV: Do you have an answer to this challenge?

No, we don’t yet have the answer. We certainly do not want to stop accepting international students because the diversity they add to our community is a strength of our school.

What we have uncovered is a dilemma that many business schools will face, once they start looking!

It’s a dilemma that’s well understood by our students who appreciate the importance of social responsibility and often show an openness and a willingness to embrace new ideas.

YPV: Depending on data, it’s considered that less than 10% of world corporations function with a public value approach. Do you have any idea of how one could reach to the other 90%?

There are at least two ways: Through education and through regulation.

We voluntarily adopted our approach recognising that business schools in general are being increasingly expected to re-validate their license to operate with society.

Some people are now questioning the purpose of business schools and others are demanding their wholesale closure. We believe it is time for business schools to be explicit about their value to the society and hope that our approach might provide a template for colleagues.

If business schools continue to fail to answer their critics, I think we can expect calls for increased regulation, and possibility closures.

The public value approach is the opposite of the typical North American business schools’ approach.

YPV: How can we make sure that your students, who are the next business actors, will properly represent the public’s interests and will defend public value, when they leave school?

We try to inculcate within our students, a sympathetic imagination and moral sentiment towards social and economic improvement.

When they leave our school, whether they become hedge fund managers or run a third sector organisation, they have to make sure those organisations become financially viable, but they also need to keep in mind that their responsibility goes beyond that.

The public value approach is the opposite of the typical North American business schools’ approach where, in finishing schools for capitalism, students learn that the only obligation for institutions is to generate value to their shareholders, at the expense of just about anything else.

“We teach our students to generate public value, as well as financial wealth.”

Martin Kitchener is a Professor of Public Sector Management and Policy at Cardiff Business School.

He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Said Business School and Harris Manchester College, Oxford University.

This interview was originally published on the Your Public Value website.

Your Public Value is a newly formed Non-governmental Organisation in Berlin which aims to promote public value, good governance, and integrity to sustain trust between government, business, and society.

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