I am enormously proud to have been appointed onto the Board of NIBE, joining a dynamic group that since its formation in 2013 had made a significant impact on the region. Long may this continue! I want to make sure that the great work done by Professor Ron Beadle in linking NIBE with higher education is sustained, providing opportunities for academic staff and our wonderful students to contribute to NIBE’s activities.
Let me first offer you some background, because as both Director of Newcastle University Business School (2012-2016) and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Business and Law at Northumbria University (2017-21) I have made great efforts to ensure that an ethical approach to business education has been at the forefront of our work. Specifically, at both institutions it was seen as imperative that our academic research was ethically sound, while students are given the benefit of this work in our teaching programmes. This has been especially evident at Northumbria, building on the outstanding work of Professor Ron Beadle and Dr Alex Hope and now including a large number of academics. Indeed, the largest research group at Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School is ‘Sustainable Business’, led by Professor Beadle, while internationally our reputation in that field has been enhanced by the generation of what is classified as world-leading publications. Dr Hope has also played a significant role in both PRME (Principles of Responsible Management Education) and exposing students to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The latter have become essential components in our curriculum for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, while several doctoral students are working in related fields. You will see a lot of evidence of this around our building, including a physical display of the SDGs in our Corporate Hub, while many staff proudly wearing the badge symbolising the seventeen Goals.
While all this work is clearly significant, it is also vital to stress that our students are just as interested in sustainability and ethical business as the academic staff. One might even go as far as to say that there is a growing clamour from students both to know more about these topics and see them applied in practice. This symbiotic relationship is clearly vital, because these students are the leaders of the future; if they are not educated in the principles of sustainability and ethical business, then business schools are quite simply not doing their job. We need leaders who are committed to applying these principles in practice, rather than simply writing about them in essays or dissertations.
Building on this symbiosis, another key dimension of Newcastle Business School’s activities is its commitment to knowledge exchange activities. Most recently, we have participated in the government’s ‘Help to Grow’ programme, working with business leaders in the small and medium-sized sector to assist them in leveraging the economy out of the challenges arising from the Covid pandemic. Once again, ethical approaches are fundamental to the programmes that we have developed for ‘Help to Grow’, while in other areas (mental health; restorative justice; leadership) we continue to work directly with practitioners in this vital area.
Higher education clearly has a vital role not only in generating fresh knowledge about sustainability and ethical business, but also in either inculcating future leaders in these principles or helping practitioners apply them directly. This is why Newcastle Business School’s ongoing strategic mission is built around the phrase ‘A Force for Good’, a slogan that really means something to its academic staff and students. It is also important to stress that our Advisory Board, chaired by the dynamic Caroline Theobald, has played a key role in helping us fashion that strategy, as well as strongly encouraging us to apply the principles of sustainability and ethical business to the worlds of practice. Our new Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert MacIntosh, is also strongly committed to building enduring relationships with these worlds, ensuring that Newcastle Business School will continue to contribute extensively in these key areas for the future.
Professor John Wilson (NIBE Director and Professor of Business History at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University).