The Nobel Prize motto: 'For the greatest benefit of mankind', stresses the importance of research with real-world impact

Business schools were set up with a vocational mission. Historically this focused upon improving managerial performance at the organisational level. For example, the first business school at Wharton was linked to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the expansion of business schools in the UK in the 1960s aimed to enhance managerial competence to address the nation’s declining economic performance. In essence, during their inception, the legitimacy of business schools relied upon their economic impact, such as boosting productivity and enterprise.

Since then, societal challenges have become more complex and encompass: delivering healthcare for increasing numbers of the population with long-term conditions; energy security against a backdrop of climate change; equality, diversity and inclusion for those previously marginalised in the working population; and bringing culture to the mass population to enhance their well-being. As such, the legitimacy of its business school now hangs on not just economic impact, but its impact on key health and social issues.   

The impact of our research has recently been assessed by the government agency, HEFCE, under the ‘Research Excellence Framework (REF)’, which takes place every seven years in the United Kingdom.

REF is the country’s system of assessing the quality of research undertaken by universities, with 128 higher education institutions assessed. Universities are divided into Unit of Assessments, with WBS falling under Business and Management. A strong performance across the board once again proved that it is among the country’s top business schools for cutting edge research that has real-world impact.

Following REF, WBS has been ranked fifth in the country for its research by the Times Higher Education after it analysed the UK’s REF results. All of the research impact cases submitted by WBS were assessed to be either ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ and highlight the school’s Change Maker ethos as they tackle big societal issues, with WBS academics influencing UK Government national and regional policy, organisational strategy, the public at large, and major international agencies.

At a regional level, our research has led to impact through working with: local healthcare providers to drive health and social care improvement; Coventry City Council to drive the successful Coventry City of Culture 2021 bid and enhance social impact in its delivery; and the West Midlands Combined Authority to enhance regional productivity, so enhancing economic impact, and ensure health and well-being of the working population improves.

Research with national and international impact

At a national level, our research has informed the debate on the effects of the EU exit on policy, society and influenced policy and debate around fracking. It has also led to impact by: working with the Department of Work and Pensions and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to improve employment and working conditions for those with disabilities; informing decision-making about mergers and acquisitions through membership of the Competition and Markets Authority; supporting innovation for care leavers transitioning into adulthood and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

At an international level our research has led to impact through working with: NASA to shape their strategy to help them maintain excellence within the space exploration sector; shape clinical leadership in East Africa; advance women in healthcare leadership positions in Australia; support the implementation of early intervention for young people with first episode psychosis in India; address geopolitical implications of a global move away from fossil fuel extraction (the challenges of which are very visible in events surrounding the war in Ukraine); and sustain indigenous culture in Finland.

In addition, we have engaged and impacted the public in areas in which we deem ourselves to be thought leaders, for example, enhancing the public’s understanding of behavioural science and decision-making through the BBC Radio 4 series, ‘The Human Zoo’, curated by faculty.

In coming weeks, our CORE Insights series will showcase ongoing programmes of research impact carried out by WBS faculty.

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