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Syst Pract Action Res (2011) 24:379–395 DOI 10.1007/s11213-010-9189-x ORIGINAL PAPER

Management Sciences/Operational Research Units in Business and Management Courses in the UK Alberto Paucar-Caceres • Rosane Pagano

Published online: 17 December 2010 Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Abstract The paper reviews the development of management science/operational Research (MS/OR) in management education and explore how far the syllabuses of undergraduate business courses and MBA courses in the UK, are giving space to the teaching of management sciences methodologies (MSM). The academic phase of early MS/OR is outlined and a time-based framework to map the evolution of four MS/OR discourses informing a set of MSMs currently in use is advanced. At an undergraduate level the review is based on a sample taken from Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) of business and management studies degrees and at a postgraduate level the review considers a sample of MBA programmes offered by six UK universities. Results indicate that most of the MBA courses include a core unit in quantitative methods in the first year and that universities are still at large teaching the ‘hard’ end of the MSM spectrum, the type of problem solving methods developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Business courses incorporating units containing systemic thinking and management sciences methodologies developed from the 1970s to now (e.g.: soft systems methodology, viable systems model, cognitive mapping), are rarely taught at undergraduate (UG) level; and at post-graduate (PG) level they have been confined to a handful of institutions in the UK. The paper highlights the fact that MSMs associated with the soft and critical end of the spectrum are still lacking of credibility amongst the designers of management education at both undergraduate and graduate management education. Conclusions from the survey results are drawn and an agenda for further research is proposed. Keywords Management science Á Survey Á Quantitative methods Á Soft systems Á Hard systems Á Management education Á Operational research

A. Paucar-Caceres (&) Á R. Pagano Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, Aytoun Building, Aytoun Street, Manchester M1 3GH, UK e-mail: R. Pagano e-mail:



Syst Pract Action Res (2011) 24:379–395

Introduction Quantitative Methods (QM) and the classical type of management science/operational research (MS/OR) approaches are a set of tools that form the basis of many quantitative business applications in almost every area of management: market research, sales forecasting, stock control, financial analysis, production and scheduling amongst others. Most of business and management undergraduate degrees and business post graduate courses have units related to QM, statistical methods and MS/OR in their syllabus to inform and equip future managers with the basics of quantitative techniques. However, the field of management science/operational research has evolved and changed from its early beginnings (when it was linked to the so-called classical MS/OR and their optimisation modelling aid to decision making) towards a much broader outlook. Nowadays, especially in the UK, the term MS is regarded in a much broader umbrella in which the early classical OR techniques are practiced together with an increasing number of much more ‘softer’ and ‘critical’ MS/OR approaches. So, in this paper, management sciences methodologies (MSM) are regarded as a generic term to group well known classical methods (quantitative approaches and optimisation techniques) and also methodologies from soft and critical tradition in MS/OR. After sketching the historical context in which MS/OR has evolved, the academic phase of early MS/OR is outlined; and a time-based framework to describe the evolution of MSM is proposed together with a classification of four groups of MSMs currently in use. The paper aims first to...
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