What is going on up the Hill? There’s not much Christmas cheer going around at Kingston Business School (KBS) at the moment, but plenty of ‘funny’ business afoot. You would have thought KBS had everything going for it. After all, it was awarded international accreditation by the AACSB (that’s the ‘Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’ to the likes of you and us), which it claims it shares with just 5% of the world’s business schools. As KU staff will also know, a truly eye-watering £26m was also splashed out recently by KU’s bosses on new purpose-built Business School buildings. The KBS managers (when they are around that is, which is rare these days), claim they value ‘excellence’ in their staff and student experience, and also value ‘diversity, collegiality and responsibility’. All very grand. Yet insiders at KBS have been tipping us off at regular points in the last year that all is not well in this thrusting hub of enterprise and financial wheeler-dealership. Collegiality and diversity are in short supply for staff, and the student experience can hardly be described as ‘excellent’. The Dean seems happy to look the other way while questionable teaching practices have crept into the delivery of the MBA on her watch. A ‘pile ’em high, teach ’em cheap’ student recruitment policy has also been applied to targeting markets abroad, especially the Indian and wider SE Asia markets, but at the cost of teaching standards.
One big source of complaint in KBS also concerns the – how shall we put it? – lack of progressive awareness concerning gender issues at the Hill. In fact, there’s been some disturbing ‘funny business’ pointed to by concerned staff, and various complaints have reached us about what one KBS staff member refers to as ‘our very own Northern Napoleon’, a certain gentleman who badly needs some basic lessons in manners and ought to urgently think through his treatment of women in KBS (he is too busy ‘chasing skirts’, as one member of staff has put it, while there have also been allegations of bullying).
Another big source of anxiety in KBS has been the Small Business Research Centre, originally created in 1987. Once seen as a leading research centre of its kind, it’s highly-praised reports on SMEs (often cited in the financial press and in the business pages of the London Evening Standard), its very research-active staff, and its other well-regarded research projects, were all once viewed with envy by staff in other Unis. Not so now. The Small Business Research Centre has been subjected to a long-term policy of brutal cuts, ‘efficiencies’ and other ‘cost-savings’ over time, so much so that those few staff left there now refer to it grimly as the Ever Smaller Business Research Centre.
Seeing the way the wind was blowing, leading high-profile staff have either left or retired, while those left hanging on have been threatened over and over with being replaced by temporary staff on fixed-term contracts, while all sorts of pressures were placed on them to increase ‘output’ or face the consequences. If that is not a textbook definition of bullying, then what is?
The rot set in under the last director, Prof Rob Blackburn, who was at KU from 1996 to 2020, but left for the University of Liverpool earlier this year. Blackburn, who was known as Professor ‘Slash n’ Burn’ by unhappy colleagues, became deeply unpopular with most staff, who felt he was far too eager to please his bosses (such as being part of KU’s sick-making efforts to woo the controversial head of Metro Bank), and did little to protect his hard-working staff or show any empathy. Stress levels went through the roof. There was a huge sigh of relief when Slash n’Burn finally jumped ship last January. In the same month, Audley Genus was appointed to replace Slash n’ Burn, but ‘Genius’ (as he’s now known) has done little to raise staff morale again. According to staff insiders, Genius lacks vision and seems set on conducting a business-as-usual approach. The agenda at MS Teams meetings is often a work of fiction. As KBS staff look at what 2021 might bring, the signs are not hopeful. More of the best staff are planning to leave as soon as the right opportunities come along. Unhappy New Year!