Durham University Business School 50 Years

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Durham University Business School 50 Years

Two of our most respected former members of staff (pictured), Professor John Machin (Director 1965–89) and Professor Robin Smith (MBA Programme Director 1970–91), recall the founding of the School.

It was becoming clear by the early 1960s that British business was no longer competing effectively in world markets. A quest began to identify causes and propose remedies. One factor immediately obvious was the lack of management educational opportunities within universities, contrasting with the position in North America and several European countries.

With the expansion of universities following the Robbins Report came additional funding via the Foundation for Management Education. Durham successfully applied for ‘seedcorn’ money, and in 1964 a Management Development Unit was established. A Reader in Economics (Alan Odber) and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology (Charles Baker) were seconded into the Unit and two lecturers from industry (John Constable and John Machin) were recruited on three-year contracts. John Constable taught production and later business strategy, and John Machin finance and management control.

Within two years, the investment was manifestly showing results. When the four pioneers first met, none had ever been inside a business school, nor had they experienced management education at university level. Their plan was a twin-track approach. Initially they decided to offer residential courses for practising managers locally and nationally in 1965, a process aided by existing contacts with the then dominate Teesside industries of steel and chemicals and Tyneside engineering firms. Secondly, the expertise gained was a suitable platform from which to launch the MSc in Management Studies two years later, places being substantially oversubscribed. Both Constable and Machin won external funding to study for a year at Harvard, which reinforced their view that an effective Masters degree should be subdivided into three: core and optional modules, followed by a project dissertation. This fitted neatly into the classical university notion of terms.