By David Bowie, Oxford School of Hospitality Management, Oxford Brookes University
I have been teaching masters students since 1996 and over time, I began to realise that many students took an extremely narrow focus to their studies. I began to think that trying to broaden students understanding of what is happening in the business world today could help the students to connect what is taught in the classroom, with the “real world.” So in 2007, I started encouraging the Masters students on our hospitality and tourism programmes to read the Financial Times on a regular basis; and I would read them excerpts from current articles which I thought were relevant to their studies.
This did not really work!
Students did not seem to want to read anything which was not linked directly to their studies. So a more imaginative solution was required. A eureka moment arrived when I realised the answer was to buy the students a copy of the newspaper, ask them to read certain articles and then discuss the issues in a classroom format. Despite the lack of a formal teaching structure (no direct connections to a module, no learning outcomes, no assessment) this unusual idea was funded. The “Reading the FT Classes” started in September 2008 and have been a remarkable success.
Each year, the School purchases a copy of the Weekend Financial Times for each Masters student for 16 weeks of the year. Students discuss articles about contemporary business issues, hospitality and tourism companies, and travel features on destinations from all around the world in an informal classroom environment. Key political, economic, social-cultural, technological issues impacting on business, travel, hotels and tourism are regularly discussed. Often book reviews generate interesting responses because of the diverse character of the books reviewed in the FT. Typical themes include issues such as corruption, corporate social responsibility, ethics, financial performance, globalisation, markets and sustainability. Originally I choose the articles and then students read and discussed them, with some limited input from me. This year we experimented with students choosing most of the articles in teams and this did broaden the scope of what we discussed. With students from more than 25 countries and from every continent in the class, there is a genuine exchange of ideas – especially when a student provides their own perspective about news items concerning their own country; indeed their views often change the way the rest of us think about the topic (and how the news is reported). At times, there can be heated discussions which reflect the very diverse cultural backgrounds of the students, who are mostly in their mid/late twenties.
Despite the fact that there is no formal feedback and no assessment linked to these classes, attendance at 85% is remarkably good. Clearly some students are able to use their FT reading to support assignments. For example one student decided to really try and understand the most difficult part of the FT (the Money section) as a self-directed challenge for one of her module’s assignment. The “Reading the FT” classes have been highlighted as an important part of the learning experience by many students in their end-of-year reflective personal statements. Comments such as “I enjoyed the FT sessions which were very useful;” “I have learnt far more things that just a Masters degree;” and “I enjoyed FT-Brunches with my girlfriends, where we would read the paper for a whole morning and discuss interesting articles;” show how the students have genuinely engaged with this non-curricula reading activity. Many alumni also comment on how they still read the FT and how when they see the pink paper it reminds them of Oxford.
These hospitality and tourism Masters Programmes are EPAS accredited and Reading the FT was highlighted as an example of best practice by in the EPAS Report of April 2011. Today these classes are linked to our visiting speaker programme and have become an established component of all our Masters. Next year, we are going to experiment with the idea of the student’s forming their own multicultural “Reading the FT” teams and hopefully more of the students will enjoy FT-brunches before the class!