London School of Economics (LSE) Director Howard Davies on the Past, Present, and Future

12/05/2010 03:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Rahim Kanani I cover the world's leading innovators and executives across industries.

Recently, I spoke to Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, on the school's evolution and philosophy, globalization and education, translating research into practice, the need to integrate the study of religion into modern curriculum, and the future of the institution.

The following is an excerpt, while the full interview can be found here.

Rahim Kanani: What have been some of the major milestones of LSE over the last decade?

Director Davies: On the intellectual side, one crucial development has been something called the International Growth Center, which is the largest individual research project that the school has ever undertaken, which is in fact, a partnership with the British government's Aid Ministry on trying to work out how best to spend the British aid budget in a way which promotes growth in the countries which they spend the money in, so essentially they have outsourced their research and their economics to the LSE. So now we have small offices in different developing countries trying to look at what are the promising avenues of growth for Rwanda or Ghana or Bihar in India or wherever, and how to then try to orient the government's aid program to the most promising areas. That is the focus of the International Growth Center, which is a big initiative for the LSE. [more]

Rahim Kanani: When we talk about the LSE motto, which is to understand the causes of things, how would you describe the school's effort to translate this mission into teaching and learning?

Director Davies: Interestingly, we have just launched a new course here, which all our undergraduates will take, which is precisely called "understanding the causes of things", because we actually thought to ourselves: are we really remaining faithful to this original mission? And we decided that, certainly there were a lot of things we do that can be put under that, but nonetheless we felt that we perhaps were missing out on the big issues of the day if you like, and we were not making our students as well aware of these big issues as we should, so we've decided to add a new program, which everybody will take no matter what their major is: half of it in the first year, and half of it in the second year. It's a "big issues" course, so there will be about six or seven different modules. One of them in fact I teach myself, which is about why are there major financial crises and what can you do to reduce the incidence and the severity of them? Another is why is it so difficult to reduce poverty in Africa. A third is whether climate change really happening. If it is, how do we know it is? And what might we sensibly do about it? Another is, what is the importance of culture? Is it the case that there are good solutions in government and economics that work in some places and not others based on cultural difference? Everybody is now going to take this course. We started it last year as a pilot, and this year we've instituted it for everyone as: LSE 100, Understanding the Causes of Things. [more]

Rahim Kanani: In your eight years as Director of the LSE, what has surprised you the most about this institution?

Director Davies: I think that I didn't understand when I first arrived just how well known the place was globally. I knew that it had a lot of foreign students, but I didn't know the extent to which in a number of countries I've been to they almost see the LSE as a kind of finishing school for their country if you like. Practically everybody in public life in Greece has been to the LSE. The same thing is true in Singapore. The same is true in Malaysia. It's astonishing how much the school has become a kind of center of interest in a lot of countries where a lot of the leading people in business and politics have at least spend some time here. I'm not saying that this is the only place they come to, a lot of them have come here for a year to do a master's like you did, but a lot of those places there is a huge network of ex-LSE people in countries, which I never would have dreamt was the case. I recently went to Brunei and I discovered to my amazement that half the Brunei establishment is ex-LSE, so that has been the surprise for me.[more]

The full interview can be found here.

Future publications include interviews with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, and many more. To see the full list, click here.