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Hospitality Management Education: is it fit for purpose in a changing and uncertain world?


3rd April 2020


Don Sloan questions if the current international crisis should prompt a fundamental review of hospitality management education offered by UK universities. Is it fit for purpose in a rapidly changing and uncertain world?

A version of this article appears in the June edition of HQ magazine from the Institute of Hospitality.


Hospitality sector – stepping up in a crisis

The fall-out from the current public health crisis will be devastating for many in the UK hospitality industry. The scale of business closures and job losses will go way beyond that caused by any previous economic downturn. Whilst government support is welcome – through the job retention scheme, grants and business interruption loans – the likely impact remains unprecedented. Behind frightening statistics and announcements of high-profile restaurant chains going into administration, there is also the human cost: hospitality workers facing periods of unemployment, rising personal debt, anxiety and challenges to mental health.

There have been some positive consequences. Through effective advocacy, not least from Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, there is now widespread recognition that Britain’s hospitality industry contributes more than £120bn a year to the economy and is worth more than the automotive, pharmaceuticals and aeronautics industries combined. In addition, whilst forced to stop trading, many hospitality businesses have turned their attention to supporting those in need, including front-line NHS workers who need access to nutritious meals to sustain their heroic efforts, and the vulnerable, living in isolation, who require food deliveries. In this respect, they stand for a more compassionate, less individualistic approach to business, which we can hope will live on post-crisis.

It is also encouraging that there is much discussion online about the longer term implications for the hospitality sector and for individual businesses.  A significant proportion of the hospitality community is engaging with key challenges, from employee retention and wellbeing, to strategies for business continuity.


Higher education – is it ready for a new reality?

This changing context begs a question for higher education. As industry engages in a fundamental re-evaluation of future priorities, are universities ready to do the same?

In recent years, hospitality schools in UK universities have been experiencing a collective identity crisis, and for some, an existential crisis. Rather than becoming consumed by challenges, which is debilitating, creative thinking is now required to ensure a bright and meaningful future. There may be an opportunity to emerge from this period of uncertainty with a vision for hospitality education that is more resilient, fit for purpose and responsive to the new realities of life.

For universities that offer hospitality management education, but are not committed to it as a flagship area, now is the time to close provision and focus on other areas. There is little point in engaging in a half-hearted manner. For those who choose to maintain their delivery, and for new entrants to the market, it’s time to step up and strive for excellence and impact.

Here are some points that might stimulate discussion and reflection amongst hospitality management educators:


Student experienceHospitality schools’ primary responsibility is to provide an outstanding learning experience that enables students to recognise and fulfil their potential. Will the reality of the student experience live up to marketing rhetoric?  Will students be prepared to find success and fulfilment in a more uncertain world?



Defining narrative. There seems to be consensus that significant change is coming. Are hospitality schools ready to play their part in influencing change and shaping the new environment? This will require an honest appraisal of their capabilities and the articulation of a clear and distinctive purpose. Educational purpose will only carry meaning if it reflects the pervasive mood.



Academic research. University staff are under pressure to publish in respected academic journals. How can universities ensure that research is relevant, has a genuinely positive impact and does not detract from a focus on the student experience?

As the word of perceived experts will increasingly be welcomed and respected, can universities exert positive influence on business practice?


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