Our story

Since its foundation, York has sought to distinguish itself as a University for Public Good. We reconnect with the ideas of the University’s founders, reflecting the intention signalled in the University’s strategy to rekindle York’s historic mission.

A new approach

Launched as part of the University’s strategy in August 2022, we aim to be a torchbearer for York’s historic mission to be a University for Public Good, understood as:

Answering humanity’s most urgent questions

  • We focus on the grand challenges facing contemporary capitalism such as: the climate emergency; rising inequality, social harm and social polarisation; economic and social dislocation arising from rapid technological change; and, challenges to wellbeing such as rising loneliness, social isolation or the pressures faced in balancing work and family life.
  • We bring together expertise on the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to forge new thinking on how these challenges might be addressed. 

Collaborating unconventionally

  • We’re the first School of our kind, bringing together two former departments: the Department of Social Policy and Social Work and University of York Management School.
  • We deliberately combine subject expertise, leaving us uniquely placed to develop new thinking on how different sectors might work differently to address societal grand challenges.

Opening our arms to all

  • We have a strong widening-participation focus in our student recruitment activity, reflected in the diversity of our student community. Equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) principles are embedded in our activity, led by an Associate Dean of School.
  • We're committed to working towards gender equality and we currently hold two Bronze Athena Swan charter awards.

Empowering people for life

  • Our educational mission is expansive, offering a wide range of degrees relevant to different career stages, delivered in ways to reflect different study needs.
  • We offer full-time campus-based degrees through to part-time distance-learning degree programmes; traditional academic programmes through to accredited professional programmes with work-based elements; degree programmes for students coming straight from school through to post-experience MBA and MPA programmes designed for mid-career professionals.
  • All of our programmes aim to fuse social scientific insight with real-world focus, leaving graduates with practical and analytical skills that equip you to succeed in your chosen field.

A rediscovery of our origins

As the strategy notes ‘Our founders endowed the University with a strong social purpose, drawing on a rich tradition of thought and action on social justice and combating inequality that is distinctive to the City of York.’. These founders were primarily those connected to York’s Rowntree trusts and businesses who lobbied for formation of the University and shaped its intellectual focus and public good mission. 

The Rowntrees were early social researchers and important campaigners for social reform in the 19th and 20th centuries, using carefully collected evidence to make the case for policy change. Seebohm Rowntree’s 1901 book Poverty: a Study of Town Life, in which he systematically mapped living standards in York, “can claim to be the first quasi-scientific empirical study of the subject [of poverty]” and wider still “it is also arguable that this work established the tradition of applied social research in British social science” (Bradshaw, 2000). 

He was an “important figure in laying foundations for the welfare state because he was the first to show convincingly that the causes of poverty lie in the structural maldistribution of work, incomes and physical and social environments'' (Veit-Wilson, 1984). This Rowntree legacy has practical form today in the shape of the foundations Joseph Rowntree created in 1904; indeed, few organisations can rival the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with respect to understanding how poverty and inequality can be tackled.

More than social reform

But the Rowntree heritage is also about business. They were commercially successful business leaders who built an internationally successful confectionary company that aimed to showcase responsible management and fair working practices. In pursuing this agenda Seebohm Rowntree made hugely significant early contributions to business and management theory.

His book The Human Factor in Business (1921) was important in making the case for decent wages, occupational pensions, shorter working hours and good working conditions. He was credited with being “the first person to succeed in developing the co-ordination of management knowledge in this country” (Briggs, 1961), the influential Rowntree lecture conferences and Management Research Groups prompting creation of the British Institute of Management. 

Urwick described Seebohm Rowntree as “the British management movement’s greatest pioneer” (Veit Wilson, 1984). His Rowntree & Co colleague, Oliver Sheldon’s book The Philosophy of Management (1924), was one of the first that emphasised to managers their social responsibilities. Sheldon went on to play a prominent role in the founding of the University of York and shaping its public good mission.  

Our legacy

Through this legacy York lays claim to being one of the key birthplaces of the subjects brought together in our school – business and management, social policy and social work – landmark early works in these fields in Britain being produced by those connected to the Rowntrees. But central to the Rowntree’s real world impact was that they saw that issues of business and society as interconnected, adopting an holistic perspective that understood the grand challenges of the time required such an approach.

In forming our school we reconnect with their ambitious outlook, but do so from a contemporary and critical perspective that necessarily adopts a more expansive view than the Rowntree’s on how both businesses and governments must approach questions of inequality and injustice.

Needed now, more than ever

While the creation of the School was in part inspired by York’s heritage, we were motivated to act by the multiple crises facing contemporary global capitalism.

Our mission is to lead business and public policy action to tackle complex social and environmental societal problems. We believe this task is urgent, as civilisation needs to start living within its planetary boundaries, reduce growing inequalities, and build an economy based on sustainable inclusive growth.

In her book Mission Economy: a Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, Mazzucato (2021) suggests the scale of the crises we face requires both a reinvention of capitalism and a reinvention of government, but she argues the learning this will require cannot take place within a siloed approach to academia.

We've taken the bold step of being the first to break down the silos that speak to capitalism and government, joining together academic disciplines that conventionally operate in different spaces.

Contact us

School for Business and Society

+44 (0)1904 321231

Our Faculty's new School for Business and Society comprises a unique fusion of disciplines, working together to tackle the critical social, economic and environmental challenges facing the world today.  Through impactful, interdisciplinary teaching and research we will help improve the wellbeing of current and future generations for the public good

Professor Karen Rowlingson, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences

Contact us

School for Business and Society

+44 (0)1904 321231