Thursday, 23 June 2011

University Men in Business

University Men in Business was the topic of one of the earliest radio broadcasts by John Maynard Keynes in 1927. Obviously, the much discussed and little understood relation between Universities and Business is an ever-lasting theme. The talk was moderated by Sir Ernest Benn, a business man who had not attended University. The two discussants were Mr. Walls, the Managing Director of Lever Bros Ltd, who had attended University and Mr. Keynes of Cambridge University.

After an introduction by Sir Benn, where he made a distinction between education and instruction, here are some interesting extracts of what they said:

Mr. Walls: Universities can help us in business … making the career of business more of a profession than it is today. … Today it is expected that an undergraduate … will leap straight from the university into business and settle down immediately into it. No one expects the same thing of a lawyer or any other professional man (clergy, doctors, etc.).

Business calls for a professionally trained business man and the question is: Can the universities provide him in the same way that they have successfully supplied the older professions?

Mr. Keynes: The men whom the universities have supplied to the business world in the past have belonged to two quite distinct types.

There are first of all the sons of wealthy business parents … they will, at the end of it all, find a safe berth in the family business or in some other concern where the family has influence. … The degree he takes will not be much scrutinized. For him, the university is a pleasant and delightful interlude without much serious bearing in his future career.

The other type consists of undergraduates with no family or other influence in the business world, who are faced with the necessity of earning a living immediately after the conclusion of their university career, and have nothing but themselves to depend upon. These young men are naturally, as a rule, pretty serious workers.

Now, in the past, the majority of university men in business have belonged as a rule to the first type. … I fancy, however, that the other type … is going to become increasingly important.

[Blogger comment: How much has this ratio changed?]

Mr. Walls: What I would be interested to know is what kind of vocational training, if any, followed the university course in these cases.

Mr. Keynes: it is a mistake for the universities to attempt vocational training. Their business is to develop a man’s intelligence and character in such a way that he can pick up relatively quickly the special details of that business he turns to subsequently. … special training … can only be taught by business men to business men.

[Blogger comment: Where are we now on this endless dispute?]

Note: The full transcript can be found in: Keynes on the Wireless, Edited by Donald Moggridge

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