Oxford’s Saïd Business School: Hardly A Stuffy Downton Abbey

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Of course, moving to four streams of incoming students, each 80-strong, also means deeper investments in everything from front-end recruiting, admissions, and career development. All of these core functions of the school have been beefed up to lend support to the larger incoming class. The school also has doubled the number of scholarships this year so that 10% to 15% of the class will be funded through scholarship aid. Said recently introduced six new scholarship packages that even cover living expenses as well as tuition and fees.

To get the word out, the school has moblized its alumni network and increased its admissions recruiting team from one person to seven to attract more applicants. Part of the strategy is to focus greater attention on certain geographies of the world, such as China, Africa and Latin America, in which to find new MBA applicants who might ultimately become Oxford students.

‘I NEED 32 GREAT AFRICANS IN THIS CLASS. CAN I FIND 32? I THINK I CAN’

“We’re challenging ourselves and asking can we get to X percent in any one region,” says Tufano. “About 5% of our class is from mainland China. I think it should be 10%. Africans account for 2.5% of all GMAT test takers and last year we had 2.5% of the class from Africa. You could be content about that. For me, the question is 30 years from now will 2.5% of the leaders come from Africa? The answer is no. It has to be substantially higher than that. We want 10% of our class from Africa and in one year we got to 6% in the latest entered class. I need 32 great Africans in this class. Can I find 32? I think I can.”

Increasing the number of enrolled students by targeting specific countries neatly fits into the school’s global view. Surprisingly few students are from Britain. In fact, only 10% of the current class of students is from Western Europe, with 31% from North America, 23% from South Asia, and 3% from Latin America, another targeted locale for would-be candidates. “Everybody is a minority at the school,” says Tufano. If you took the globe and sliced it in three big parts, that’s where our students roughly come from. We think that is a healthy thing and we are trying to enhance that global diversity.”

In some cases, the school has to dispel the notion that Oxford is a stuffy, old world elitist place. “Some think that Oxford is some ancient creaking place where you come around and study classics in corduroy jackets,” concedes Brown. ”They think it is an elitist institution available only to elite people. Overcoming that image of Oxford is hard. We try to present ourselves as a modern business school. There is a lot of innovation going on at Oxford, and we are looking for talent—not people who have gone to elite boarding schools. When someone sets their foot through the door of this business school, you realize it’s not what you might think it is like.”

‘I CAN FIND ANTI-BUSINESS FOLKS AT OXFORD, BUT I CAN AT HARVARD, TOO’

Outside perceptions of Oxford as a place where making money is considered somewhat unintellectual if not dirty are false, says Tufano. “That is ancient history,” he says, “and to think that these are European or British issues is a bit naive. The world has moved on and all the evidence on how we have reached out to the university is the proof that times are different. Can I find some anti-business folks at Oxford? Yes. but I can take you to Harvard, you can mask the accent, and you won’t hear much different.”

When MBA students arrive at Oxford, they are treated to a substantially different business school experience. Unlike most business schools where MBA students are often isolated from others, at Oxford there is near total integration into the university’s 38 separate colleges. “All of my faculty and students are members of Oxford colleges,” says Tufano, who is a member of Balliol College, the alma mater of Adam Smith, the famous economist and philosopher. “That means they dine at those colleges, live there, and do sports there. They do social things there, from formal balls to intellectual activities. When I go to Balliol, I can’t help but interact with others around the university. This is the norm as opposed to the exception.”

Tufano, who taught at Harvard Business School for 22 years, recalls that one of his best students ever was committed to a green career. “At the time, we had one elective in that field and today maybe there is two,” says Tufano. “Lionel did a lot of reading on his own, but there was really no way that we could adequately prepare him for his career. At Harvard, the 20-minute walk from one campus to another doesn’t work. Sometimes you can’t take an advance course without having taken the prerequisite which wasn’t offered at your time. The schedules don’t work.”

Those insights led to the creation of the Oxford 1+1 MBA program, now taken by up to 15 students. “Lionel would have been able to have two degrees here in the same time,” says Tufano. “He would have been able to combine our one-year MBA program with scores of other one-year Oxford programs. There is an entire year of African, Chinese studies, and public health. At Oxford, you can deliver more content that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to deliver, and you can address certain attitudes that are troubling within business schools.”

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.