Interdisciplinarity in management education: Australian graduate schools of business

Suzanne Ryan, Ruth Neumann, James Guthrie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Interdisciplinarity is not a new theory per se, but a controversial and complex process that variously destroys the heart of the university (Gass, 1970) or keeps it alive by being relevant to practitioners and society (Pettigrew, 1997: Spender, 2007). On one hand, it is said to undermine academic identity by weakening disciplinary roots (Becher, 1989) and on the other, to represent a new form of knowledge production required in today's knowledge intensive society (Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Schwartzman, Scott and Trow, 1994). Management education is one of the few areas of higher education without a distinct disciplinary base. Commencing as a multidisciplinary degree, early management scholars received their training in diverse disciplines such as sociology, economics and mathematics, ensuring that "the field of management has been paradigmatically and methodologically different"(Pettigrew, 1997, 279). Over the years, the 'purer' disciplines' within management have merged and multiplied into broader fields of study, continually fragmenting into sub-fields (Pettigrew, 1997). Management education is defined as covering "a very diverse range of sub-disciplines" and melding together "complex differences in types of knowledge and research paradigms" (Palmer ,2002, 127). But, how real is the presence of interdisciplinarity in management education and does it really pose a threat to traditional university values and identities? Over ten years ago, Knights and Willmott (1997) canvassed issues of interdisciplinarity in management education in the UK, reaching a pessimistic conclusion that historical and institutional processes present obstacles to interdisciplinary teaching and research. These obstacles have been further reinforced by the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) (Piercy, 2000; Bridgman, 2005) which not only favours discipline based research over interdisciplinary research, but detracts time and effort from other scholarly, and potentially interdisciplinary, endeavours ((Bennis and O'Toole, 2005; Harmon, 2006; Parker, 2007). Like the UK, Australian higher education has been subjected to performance driven management, dictated by national government policies and funding processes (Ryan, Guthrie and Neumann, 2008). Although an RAE process had not been implemented in Australia, funding has been tied to research output. A new Australian government policy, similar to the RAE, was proposed in 2005 and Australian universities have been preparing for such a policy since then (Guthrie and Neumann, 2007). The policy is potentially a direct threat to the further development of interdisciplinarity within business and management education. The purpose of the paper is to explore issues of interdisciplinarity in Australian management education. The arguments proposed by Knights and Willmott (1997) are applied to Australian business schools, particularly Australian graduate schools of business (AGSB). The papers focuses on, first, the perceptions of academics on the existence of interdisciplinarity in teaching, research and governance, and second, the impact of preparations for the proposed research assessment exercise on interdisciplinarity. Literature analysis and empirical research are used to provide indications of the extent, form and changes in interdisciplinarity in Australian graduate schools of business. Interviews with AGSB academics were held in 2002-03, prior to the announcement of RQF and again in 2008, after preparations for RQF.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew idea for a new century
Subtitle of host publicationproceedings of the 11th annual conference of the Irish Academy of Management (IAM)
Place of PublicationDublin, Ireland
PublisherIrish Academy of Mangement
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9781842181645
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventAnnual Conference of the Irish Academy of Management (11th : 2008) - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 3 Sept 20085 Sept 2008


ConferenceAnnual Conference of the Irish Academy of Management (11th : 2008)
CityDublin, Ireland


  • interdisciplinarity
  • management education
  • Australian management education


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