Oxford’s Saïd Fights ‘Bunker’ Mentality

Headshot of Said Business School Dean Peter Tufano, his hand on a brick wall.

Said Business School Dean Peter Tufano

New faculty are arriving for the entrepreneurial strand – Dr. Thomas Hellmann will come on board in September of 2014 from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. Saїd prides itself on its entrepreneurial bent. With a redesigned entrepreneurial project, the school aims to inculcate thinking that goes beyond the startup mentality. “Entrepreneurship is a mindset from which all organisations doing business in the 21st century can benefit,” believes Brown.

Saїd has already piloted a more practical entrepreneurial program this term in shorter form over three to four weeks – in September, the process will last a whole term. Student Valerie Diederichs, a former engineer with Formula One who hopes to return on the business management side, has relished the project. She and her team have created a website allowing the public to lease artists’ work. “I wasn’t an entrepreneur beforehand. This process has been far more than your friends patting you on the back for a good idea. If you are open to uncertainties, the process can be learned.”


Another change introduced over the last 18 months includes the core course Global Opportunities and Threats (GOTO). The new offering is delivered partly through an online platform and partly through Oxford-style tutorials, which Saїd students say they particularly appreciate. This part of the program aims to push students into questioning the role of business and how it can contribute to solving major problems.

The first problem it tackled – with a mix of research, speakers, and curated debate – was changing demographics; this year’s topic is Big Data, and next year GOTO will examine resource scarcity. Does this seem too far removed from the concerns of a typical MBA student anxious for return on investment? “We don’t forget that ROI is why they come here,” says Brown. “But we convince students the skills we convey are those that will make them more desirable to employers. Some students see the relevance right away.”

And next year’s cohort will have access to a broader career services program, with Saїd pulling in coaches from its Executive MBA program. Coaching isn’t compulsory but will be strongly recommended. “The criticism that employers have of MBAs generally is that students aren’t sufficiently aware of soft skills – coaching is an attempt to create better students,” Tufano says.


Naturally, all of these Oxford changes don’t come without a cost. Not so much financial – course fees have risen only modestly, from £41,000 ($69,800) to £42,640 ($72,500) this year. But term times have lengthened by 25% – the academic year will be a full four weeks longer. “I want it to feel like harder work,” Brown says. “Not in terms of ‘busy’ work, but I want to stretch students to make them think harder and engage at a deeper level.”

Whether students will immediately value knowing about water scarcity or how the population is changing remains to be seen. “They’re not exactly job-ready skills,” Tufano admits. “But if you come to Oxford, it’s wrong to leave this university without a sense of what’s going on in the world. We think it’s important.”

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