Developing a Theory of Employer and Higher Education Provider Engagement

  • Mark Sturgess

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


The need for more effective engagement between universities and business has been receiving more attention in recent years. Government policy aspirations are placing growing expectations that the higher education sector will play its part in economic growth. At the same time, funding restrictions are imposing more pressure on universities to find different income streams, including funding from industry. However, the relationship between universities and business is often problematic, and engagement between the two is frequently not done well. Meanwhile, the role that business schools are expected to play in that engagement is contentious, which appears to put them squarely on the fault-line of these policy shifts. This study explores employer/HE provider engagement within the context of the recent policy landscape, responding with a proposed conceptual model of engagement. A business school relationship with three employer organisations forms the basis of an embedded case study, which employs an interpretive stance to help better understand the relationship between employer and HE provider. The study found that a demand-led provision of skills with employers is a more nuanced context than the narrow demand-led focus of the Leitch Review, which primarily frames the issue as a problem of supply. This study confirms that employers needs are indeed complex and often unclear, and that employers expect providers to help identify their needs. Therefore the study questions the assumption, implicit in recent policy, that it is possible to generate generic needs from employers. From the evidence addressed, it proposes that employers are seeking HE providers who can both identify their needs, and help address them with the challenge implicit in latest thinking. The study thus proposes a distinctive, dual-role for business schools, namely, a responsiveness to demand balanced by the creation and dissemination of a latest thinking which leads demand. In order to do this, the study proposes a conceptual model of relationship engagement, where the quality and importance of relationships were found to be critical for effective engagement. Therefore the study concludes that a distinctive, mutually beneficial relationship between business schools and business is unlikely to be realized without understanding and fostering effective relational engagement.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Hall (Supervisor) & Melvyn West (Supervisor)


  • Employer engagement, business school, leadership, relational engagement

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