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An exploration of the influence of the Research Excellence Framework on the implementation of responsible management education in UK business schools.

Ndubuka, Nkeiruka N.



Emmanuelle Rey-Marmonier

Richard Laing


A previous work by Doherty et al. (2015) identified the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as one of the barriers to embedding Responsible Management Education (RME) within six UK business and management schools. Since the study concluded, no other study had attempted to single out the REF to explore in-depth if and how it may be influencing RME advancement in UK business schools. This study therefore seeks to explore the possible influence of the REF on the implementation of RME in UK business schools. The phenomenon was explored and understood through the lens of seventeen RME-oriented academics (and/or those involved in and committed to the latter) situated in fifteen UK business schools in both Scotland and England. Their experiences and perceptions related to the subject of inquiry were explored and gathered through in-depth semi-structured interviews of varied mediums, including face-to-face (in person), Skype (audio and video call), and Google Hangout audio call and telephone call. The collected data were analysed thematically and the findings interpreted using a framework that was developed from the six principles of PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) – a proxy to RME as the study argued. Institutional theory also played a useful role in this aspect of the project, aside from being the overview theory underpinning the work. It was found that the REF can enable and hinder RME implementation and advancement in UK business schools. It was found to have a minimal and/or no influence on the actual commitments of the frontline academics that are involved in RME implementation/advancement in their business school. The REF also was found to have moderate influence on senior executives' support for RME implementation/advancement. Those whose research interests are connected to RME or related subjects such as ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability (ERS) may be more supportive than their counterparts. Both RME and the REF are keen on having positive impacts on business and society through teaching, research and thought leadership for RME (via PRME), and research (including public engagement) for the REF. Therefore they can be compatible and complement each other in a UK business school context with impact as the common denominator. The degree of compatibility and complementarity that can be attained varies with factors such as leadership, location, resources and time. However, they could be strengthened with the additional responsibility of PRME signatories to promote the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs and RME are believed to be laden with impact - a core component of the REF. Furthermore, the extent to which the differences between RME and the REF are understood will determine the degree of RME embeddedness an institution will attain and how long that will take. This will be further determined by the preparedness of leaders and academics to bridge these differences, and to exploit the similarities/commonalities between RME and the REF (particularly impact). The thesis contributes to existing literature around RME and the REF, particularly uncovering the mechanism by which the latter can influence the former positively and negatively in UK business schools. Conceptually, some of the produced models are useful for unpacking different ways the REF may impede RME implementation, and the ways it may support academics and institutions to leverage the identified opportunities. Methodologically, the study is the first to deliberately explore in-depth the interplay between RME and the REF in a given context - UK business schools. It is hoped that this thesis provides a solid footing for other researchers to explore some of the suggested areas for further studies, without some of the difficulties experienced in this study. This thesis will hopefully serve as a useful guide on such a research journey. Practical contributions to policy, theory and practice, and recommendations for further studies are also offered.


NDUBUKA, N.N. 2020. An exploration of the influence of the Research Excellence Framework on the implementation of responsible management education in UK business schools. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jun 8, 2021
Keywords Research evaluation; Research Excellence Framework (REF); Management education; Responsible Management Education (RME); Business education; Business schools; Educational practice; Pedagogy
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