That the Rotterdam School of Management has a cosy relationship with companies such as oil and gas giant Shell, will not surprise many people: the business school is continuously parading its corporate partnerships. However, the research report published by Changerism indicates that, potentially, Shell has influence on the curriculum. The report brings the scientific integrity of RSM research into doubt and demonstrates that an RSM scientist has not been entirely honest about the financial contributions to his research. RSM itself calls the report in a statement ‘biased, prejudiced and incorrect’.

EM spoke with RSM students about the research report findings and asked them how business-like their business school should be allowed to be: is the intimate relationship between RSM and Shell a possible or impossible relationship?

RSM and Shell, the research report in a nutshell

  • The report points to the influence that Shell can exercise on the design of the RSM curriculum and the profile of students;
  • This same oil giant gave 300 thousand euro in funding for research that was used to successfully lobby for advantageous tax measures for large companies. However, this research, conducted by an RSM professor, did not mention Shell as an external funder;
  • In addition, the report described recruitment activities at the university and noted the physical presence of Shell on campus in the form of stands and promotional material.

Would you like to read more about the research report? Erasmus Magazine examines the connections between RSM and the fossil fuel industry in more depth.

Julie Geelen (21), Chairperson STAR, RSM Student Association

STAR voorzitter Julie Geelen
Image credit: Job Zomerplaag

“A business school should be closely involved with the business world, because this is where you train the managers of tomorrow. I believe in the strength of the current system in which RSM offers students a broad theoretical basis and companies connect the theory and practice using cases. As business school you do become entwined with the business world because of this, but as long as RSM acts as an ‘ethical filter’, such a close cooperation shouldn’t be harmful for education. In my study programme, I have never worked on anything involving Shell, but have helped think about cases from companies such as Hema and RET (Rotterdam public transport company, JZ). There I had the impression that everyone found it lots of fun and very educational. I’ve never heard any criticism from students about the influence of big companies on RSM.”

Ramon Scholl (20), IBA student

Image credit: Job Zomerplaag

“For me, there are two sides to a cooperative arrangement with Shell: on the one hand you don’t want any shady business such as Shell being able to influence an academic curriculum, but on the other hand, guidance from the business world is extremely handy. After all, RSM does focus on getting students ready for a career in the business world. The question remains, however, whether such cooperation is better for the entire labour market or whether it only serves the interests of a company like Shell. It would be a sorry state of affairs if the latter were the case, but I don’t have the feeling that RSM designs its curriculum on the basis of the latest wishes of its partners. What’s more, I’ve never heard Shell come up explicitly in lectures or cases – unlike companies such as Heineken, ING and KPMG. Such stories from practice, in which not only successful business models are highlighted, are also the stories that you, as student, want to hear in lectures.”

Mahima Kathuria (19), IBA-student uit India

Mahima Kathuria (19), IBA-student uit India
Image credit: Job Zomerplaag

“The existence of an RSM-Shell partnership does surprise me a little, particularly as I have never come across that company in my education. In response to the publication of this report, I spoke with co-students about the RSM connection with the business world. We came to the conclusion that business schools and companies such as Shell are dependent on each other: a close collaboration is part of being a top university.

“I even miss cases about companies in our sometimes conservative, theoretical education. In the first year you do follow the Introduction to business course, in which people from outside the university come to explain about their work. One guest speaker did tell us an unsubtle story about the marketing approach within his company. In the examination it appeared that information originating from that lecture was tested. This was totally unexpected; almost everything that I now know about

Pepijn van der Salm (22), Business Administration student

Pepijn van der Salm (22), ex-penningmeester van de STAR Management Week
Image credit: Job Zomerplaag

“As business school it’s OK to want to be 100 per cent business: Shell is simply looking for the best people and RSM has these people. I think it’s fine that there are clauses in an expensive cooperative contract that benefit Shell. Moreover, let’s be honest, these kinds of alliances happen at almost every leading business school: also at a public university such as TU Delft there is close collaboration with Philips – and this company is also not a producer of very sustainable products. I’ve been studying at RSM for three years now, and so far I’ve noticed little influence from a company such as Shell. I have organised a recruitment event with STAR (RSM Student Association, JZ) that was sponsored by companies such as Monsanto, Shell and tobacco producer, Philip Morris. You can question the appropriateness of this, but I don’t think it’s my task to say that this shouldn’t happen. Students are interested in companies like Shell and Shell is interested in our students: it’s amazing how quickly such a business event is fully-booked.”