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POM teaching in universities


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POM teaching in



International Journal of Operations & Production Management Vol. 23 No. 1, 2003 pp. 15-43

#MCB UP Limited, 0144-3577 DOI 10.1108/01443570310453235

An empirical study of POM

teaching in Spanish

universities (I): content of

POM courses

Jose A.D. Machuca and Rafaela Alfalla Luque

G.I.D.E.A.O. Research Group, University of Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain

Keywords Production management, Operations management, Universities, Spain

Abstract Production and operations management (POM) is a key factor for the competitiveness of any business and university training in POM is a critical element in the preparation of future managers. Three of the most important aspects of successful training are, the course contents, the teaching staff and the teaching methodology used. These aspects have been explored in an empirical study of the current status of the teaching of POM in Spanish universities, based on a survey of the total population of instructors of this discipline. This is the first study to reveal an in-depth and comprehensive picture of this topic in a country of the European Union, and it is hoped that this will encourage analogous studies of other countries in Europe and beyond. In the present paper, we shall discuss the more relevant results in respect of the content of POM programs being taught; we illustrate the type of instruction available in Spanish universities, indicate the differences between the main academic degrees in which the discipline figures, and undertake a constructive critical analysis. The teaching staff and methodologies used are analyzed in another article in this journal.

Reasons for the importance of this study

Since the late 1950s, and above all during the last 20 years, the increasing need for companies to sharpen their competitiveness in international markets has converted the operations function, and productivity in general, into a key competitive weapon. Production and operations management (POM) assumed greater dimensions that captured the attention of the business and academic communities, although members of this second group reacted more slowly to the new scenario. In 1966, in a study conducted by the magazine Fortunein collaboration with APICS (the American Production and Inventory Control Society) of members of this body, almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed stated that improved training was necessary to achieve greater effectiveness in production control. When this study was up-dated in 1973 a similar response (43 per cent) was achieved (Davis, 1974; 1975). In a wider context, the EU decided to give priority to training as the fundamental element for achieving higher business competitivity.

T h e E m era ld R es ea rc h R e g ister fo r th is jo u rn a l is a v a ila b le a t http://www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister

T h e c u rren t is su e a n d fu ll tex t a rc h iv e o f th is jo u rn a l is a v a ila b le a t http://www.emeraldinsight.com/0144-3577.htm

Dr Jose LuõÂs DõÂez PeÂrez de los RõÂos, Tenured Professor of the University of Seville has advised us on statistical matters during the course of conducting this study. We wish here to express our gratitude for his invaluable collaboration. In addition, we are grateful for the comments made by the reviewers; these have allowed us to improve the paper and its definitive form of presentation.





Since then, recognition of the role of the production/operations (P/O) function in achieving business success has continued to grow, and is acknowledged as the key to success of many manufacturing and service companies. For example, a study conducted of US computer and electronics companies (Lau, 1997), analyzed the effect of implementing a variety of Production approaches, methods and techniques, on the results obtained by these companies, in relation to ten P/O characteristics; in seven of these, the study showed that those companies classified as highly competitive scored higher values, statistically significant, than the less competitive companies. It is logical, then, that the academic community should develop increasing interest in ``best practice’’ in POM in the real world, as demonstrated by the recent proliferation of published empirical studies in our field. In these studies we attempt to answer such questions as:

What production objectives do companies pursue? What are their plans of action for the future?

What production methods generate the best results, in what contexts, and why?

What characteristics of this area differentiate the more successful from the less successful companies?

How do the most competitive companies plan, manage, and control the quality of their products and processes? and other similar questions. It thus seems clear that effective operations management is very important for building competitive advantage, but also that the level and quality of the training of managers in this area of business has a critical influence on this. Nevertheless, perhaps paradoxically, POM academics do not seem to be really aware of the key role they play in this situation: on their professional abilities depends the ``production’’ of one of the most important goods in the management ``market’’, one of the acknowledged most vital inputs to companies; in other words, we as academic POM teachers and trainers must ensure an adequate supply of graduates with the fullest possible knowledge, in depth and scope, of modern POM. Our graduates will be the main source of management skills and capabilities needed by companies to maintain and increase their future competitivity through the function of operations management. In spite of the consequent importance of the role they play in this competitive world, POM academics do not appear to be very interested, at least on paper, in what is happening in the ``companies’’ in which their skills and efforts are employed, in the ``products’’ they produce, in their ``productive processes’’, and in the methods of assessment used for monitoring their results.

It appears that they are not really aware that the supply of graduates well-trained in POM should match, in quantity, quality and time, the growing needs of companies. To achieve this, answers are required to a series of questions, but in almost all countries, hardly anyone seems to know these answers:


POM teaching in



What are the characteristics of the basic components incorporated in our ``products and processes’’? In other words: how many courses? How many teaching hours does the student receive? What is the content for the various teaching programs? Are there deficiencies, which could be eliminated?

What is the ``capacity’’ for our ``production’’ of such graduates?That is, what are the basic characteristics of the teaching staffs? or, in other words: How many POM instructors are there? What level and type of training do they have? What is their experience and background? What can be done to improve this important factor?

How do we plan and develop our ``productive processes’’, and in what contexts? In other words: what are the teaching methods employed? What are the resources available? How much overcrowding is there in our classes? What can be done to improve the current situation?

By what means do we monitor the quality of our ``products and processes’’? In other words: what assessment methods are employed? How are they combined? Are these methods the most adequate ones? Can they be improved?

It seems to us, then, absolutely fundamental to obtain objective answers to these questions. And given that our graduates must satisfy the needs of a vast number of companies in all sorts of geographical locations, the usefulness of research of this type will be much greater if we generate comparative data to give us a wider perspective of this subject, beyond the aggregated data for one country or for one group of countries.

Accordingly, we should also raise questions such as:

Are there significant inequalities between geographical regions?

What is the effect of the differences between university degrees and other kinds of academic qualification?

But in addition, in order to be really effective, we should not content ourselves with simple descriptions of the current situation. Wherever possible, we should apply a series of deeper questions to the various aspects proposed here. If we find differences, what are their possible causes? How could they be corrected? Is the study of POM given similar importance to other business disciplines?

In our opinion, only when the various leading countries are confronting these questions with in-depth studies will we begin to build a true picture of the situation of POM teaching. Only then will we be able to study collaborative means of improvement, and then advance together, step by step, along the complex path towards global excellence in our professional work.

In our opinion, in spite of their great importance, very few studies of these topics were found in the extensive review of the bibliography we conducted. Most of those found refer to the USA and only touch on some of the aspects mentioned regarding POM teaching (e.g. Ducharme and Lewis, 1987; Raiszadeh and Ettkin, 1989; Berry and Lancaster, 1992; Taj et al., 1996). We know even





less of the situation in EU countries, where only two studies were found: the first of these is dated 1986 (see Armistead et al., 1986) and is very specific, examining different approaches to the teaching of service operations management, and illustrates these with some POM courses taught in British universities. The second, more recent (Goffin, 1998), is a study of the POM courses provided within the MBA programs of ten leading European business schools; suffice it to say that the author also regrets that too little emphasis has been placed on this kind of research. This second study touches on many more aspects and thus represents an important step forward at the European level, although it does not deal with all the points raised previously. However, we believe that the various MBA schools do not give us a representative, in-depth idea of what is actually happening in the EU countries, in the areas we shall be discussing. For one thing, this is because the sample consists of only five UK business schools, three French, one Italian and one Swiss; for another, it is because we estimate that the great majority of students being appointed to management positions in the operations function have not been trained to MBA level but have lower academic qualifications.

If we look at the Spanish case, which is the subject of our study, we observe that the university centers that award lower academic degrees (from three to six years of university studies) and train students in business administration or in industrial engineering including POM in their curricula, number more than 90 in total; these centers account for substantial numbers of POM teachers (more than 250) and students (numbered in thousands); in contrast, both these numbers are much lower at the MBA level. Furthermore, in the study of Goffin (1998), it is found that the average number of hours dedicated to teaching POM on the MBAs of their sample is 34 (ranging from a minimum of 18 hours to a maximum of 75), contrasting with an average per subject of 61 hours (ranging from a minimum of 30 hours to a maximum of 160) in the types of center in Spain studied here.

Hence, faced with the question: what is the situation of POM teaching in universities of the EU countries? The answer must be that we do not know, because in general terms the studies conducted on POM teaching are either few or incomplete. There is thus an urgent need for such studies to find out whether we have adequate capacity to meet an increasing demand for professionals well-trained in our field.

In Spain, students have currently been becoming more aware of the importance of this business function; in a survey conducted in 1994 of 1,700 students at various Spanish universities (Actualidad EconoÂmica, 9-5-94, pp. 28-32), it was found that some 22 per cent of them considered production/ operations as their preferred area for their professional future, only one percentage point less than those preferring the financial area (23 per cent) and nine points more than those opting for marketing (13 per cent). This pattern appears to be in line with graduate POM employment offers in Spain in 1998 (MartõÂn and Gil, 1998); this area was second in order of importance (20.5 per cent of the total), only being exceeded by marketing with 25 per cent (Pascual,


POM teaching in



1998). In 1999, the percentage of POM posts dropped slightly (to 18.61 per cent)

although maintaining its position as second only to marketing (at 26.3 per cent) (El PaõÂs, 1999).

In spite of this reality, various authors believe that Spanish Universities are not adjusting fast enough to the real needs of students and companies. Machucaet al.(1995a, pp. 52-3) state that, even at the beginning of the 1990s in Spain, there were very few business administration (BA) degrees that included POM courses. Industrial engineering (IE) degrees, traditionally more closely linked to production topics, are seen to be more receptive and have more frequently incorporated the POM discipline. With the recent reform of University degree curricula, BA studies have rather timidly begun introducing the teaching of POM, but not as one of the required core contents at the national level[1] (which normally comprise the business disciplines of marketing, management, finance and accounting). This was one of the main reasons why our discipline was found to have fewer courses and credits than other areas with which it should have been more closely aligned. Consequently, in the light of this situation, it is not surprising that people were speaking of the marginalization of the production area in Spanish BA degrees, and the shortage of teachers of the discipline (Cuervo, 1991, p. 49).

With such a situation as described, we considered it vitally important to gather objective information on the state of POM teaching in Spanish universities, to seek answers to the questions raised earlier in this introduction. Our research, conducted over three years, was aimed, on the one hand, at discovering the reality of the situation of POM teaching in our country. On the other hand, we have tried to establish an initial point of reference, as a stimulus to other similar studies in the EU (for which we hereby offer our collaboration); the data from such parallel studies would give us in-depth objective knowledge of the true state of our discipline in the various countries and enable comparative studies to be carried out.

The empirical research

We believe that the development of a discipline is greatly facilitated when we know what is being taught and researched and who is teaching and researching it. Knowing this helps to strengthen networking; it also enables us to look for the possible deficiencies existing in the current educational framework. These kinds of study can also facilitate the search for measures aimed at the continuous improvement of the training we give our students; this surely is the fundamental objective of all of us who dedicate a large part of our professional lives to the teaching of this discipline. In the following sections, the main results obtained from our survey are presented; to facilitate the understanding of the findings, many of the conclusions drawn will be included in the corresponding section, rather than left to the end of this article.

The generic objective mentioned in the first section has been narrowed down to the specific determination of:





the characteristics and content of the POM courses; the profile of POM faculty; and

the teaching and assessment methods employed in these courses; that is, all the fundamental aspects of POM that have never before been considered jointly and in scope and depth, in any of the previous published studies found (see Table I). Even in the more detailed of these studies (Goffin, 1998), the author did not consider certain key aspects such as the profile of the POM faculty, and only surveyed a small population comprising ten business schools. Given the scope and depth of our study, we have chosen to present the results in two separate articles, to allow a fuller discussion of the many issues involved.

Our research concentrates on the first and second levels (or cycles, in Spain) of university education in business administration (BA) and industrial engineering (IE) degrees for the ``Licenciatura’’ in business administration (LBA, four or five years), ``Diplomatura’’ in business administration (DBA, three years), higher industrial engineering (HIE, five or six years) and technical industrial engineering (TIE, three years), respectively, since these are the academic degrees in which most of the courses involving POM and most of the POM students are included (in this paper, the terms ``academic degree’’, ``degree’’ and ``university degree’’ will be used as synonyms to refer both to the qualification awarded and to the university-level course of studies and teaching leading to this qualification).

Given the depth and scope that this study required (for the reasons outlined in the preceding section), the target population consisted of the corpus of Spanish POM faculty teaching on these four degrees; the identification of these teachers was a prior task calling for considerable effort, since no official source exists in which these data are recorded. Neither are there any professional associations for this discipline in Spain, to which these teachers could be affiliated. In respect of the relevant international societies, Spanish members are very few: the POM Society had 16 Spanish members at the beginning of 2002, and EuROMA had 29 at that time. Consequently, our first job was to conduct a census of POM teachers for the 1997-98 academic year; our total finding was 241 instructors assigned to 92 centers of 46 universities; their distribution by type of degree (BA or IE) is shown in Table II.

To be as comprehensive as possible in our results, a questionnaire was sent to all those listed in the census. Replies were received from 170 out of the total of 241 teachers, at 43 out of 46 universities, a response of 70.5 per cent (see Table II). This high rate of response allows us to draw significant conclusions, that can safely be extrapolated to the population as a whole with a minimal margin of error, to show the reality of POM teaching in Spanish universities generally.

From analysis of the responses, a total of 281 POM courses were recorded for the university degrees indicated by respondents in the academic year 1997-98. However, it should be borne in mind that there are redundancies in this total


POM teaching in



Table I. Principal empirical studies conducted of POM teaching T ar g et F ac u lt y C ou rs es T ea ch in g an d as se ss m en t A u th or s Y ea r C ou n tr y p op u la ti on (A ) (B ) (C ) (D ) (E ) (F ) (G ) (H ) (I ) (1 ) B er ry et a l. 19 87 U S A U n iv ./ F ir m (2 ) B er ry 19 79 U S A F ir m (3 ) M ab er t et al . 19 80 U S A F ir m (4 ) H ah n et al . 19 82 U S A U n iv er si ty (5 ) A rm is te ad et a l. 19 86 U K U n iv er si ty (6 ) D u ch ar m e an d L ew is 19 87 U S A U n iv er si ty (7 ) B ah l a 19 89 U S A U n iv er si ty (8 ) C ar ra w ay an d F re el an d a 19 89 U S A U n iv er si ty (9 ) R ai sz ad eh an d E tt k in 19 89 U S A U n iv er si ty (1 0) W il li s an d B as s 19 91 U S A U n iv er si ty (1 1) B er ry an d L an ca st er 19 92 U S A F ir m (1 2) T aj et al . 19 96 U S A U n iv ./ F ir m (1 3) G of fi n a 19 98 E u ro p e U n iv er st iy N o te s: a T h es e st u d ie s on ly re fe r to P O M co u rs es in M B A p ro g ra m s; (A ) F ac u lt y te ac h in g p ro fi le (e .g . p ro fe ss io n al ca te g or y , n u m b er of y ea rs of P O M te ac h in g ex p er ie n ce , .. . ); (B ) F ac u lt y re se ar ch p ro fi le (e .g . h ol d er or n ot of d oc to ra te , P O M d oc to ra te , .. . ); (C ) C ou rs es ch ar ac te ri st ic s (e .g . ac ad em ic d eg re e, fo cu s, ch ar ac te r, h ou rs , ac ad em ic y ea r,.. . ); (D ) C on te n t of co u rs es ; (E ) C ov er ag e of se rv ic es se ct or in P O M co u rs es ; (F ) T ea ch in g m et h od s (e .g . le ct u re s, ca se st u d ie s, co m p an y v is it s, .. . ); (G ) D id ac ti c m at er ia l (e .g . te x tb oo k s, cl as s n ot es , jo u rn al ar ti cl es , .. . ); (H ) A ss es sm en t m et h od s (e .g . p ra ct ic al ex am , th eo re ti ca l ex am , st u d en t’ s p ro je ct , .. . ); (I ) S u p p or t to ol s (e .g . b la ck b oa rd , tr an sp ar en cy , co m p u te r p re se n ta ti on , .. . )





since in some cases, the same course is taught by more than one teacher; if this overlap is allowed for, the effective total becomes 190 different courses. Nevertheless, this redundancy has only been eliminated for the analysis of the characteristics of the courses. For the rest of the aspects dealt with, it is considered more appropriate to use the total of 281 courses as the base, since the particular teacher involved could have a particular influence. Given the freedom of action allowed to a tenured professor, he or she could, in principle, develop a different course content from another faculty member teaching a different class of the same course, or at least would tend to give a different emphasis to the various topics concerned.

The data obtained were analyzed using the SPSS statistical program. Owing to the characteristics of our study, we made intensive use of the classical tools of descriptive statistics (mean, mode, standard deviation, coefficients of variation, frequency distribution, contingency tables, etc.). In addition we have studied different relationships between variables, conducting an explanatory analysis, for which statistical techniques such as the chi-squared test, one-way ANOVA, the Kruskal-Wallis H test, the Student t-test, the Mann-Whitney

U-test and factorial analysis of correspondence, depending on the nature of the variables. Some of the more relevant results of this analysis are included in the present study.

This article presents and discusses the results and conclusions from our analysis of the characteristics and content of POM courses taught in Spanish universities. We have concentrated on:

Analyzing the characteristics of POM courses, in terms of the academic degree on which the subject is taught, focus, required or elective (i.e. obligatory or optional) character, number of credits, number of students, number of teachers/instructors and academic year.

Determining the focus or orientation adopted by these courses (strategic or tactical/operational issues, or a combination or mixture of both,. . .). Studying the possible influence of the academic degree, and of the focus adopted, on the characteristics of the courses.

Analyzing the content of the teaching programs or syllabuses, and determining whether, at the national level, there exists a common basic nucleus of topics.

Table II.

Survey sample data

Target population Response Number of POM faculty 241 138 BA faculty 170 103 IE faculty

103 BA faculty 67 IE faculty Number of centers 92 58 BA centers 74 47 BA centers

34 IE centers 27 IE centers


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The second paper, considering the faculty profile, teaching and assessment

methods will be presented in another issue of this journal (Alfalla and Machuca, forthcoming).

Antecedents of the empirical study of POM courses

In the mid-1970s, training in POM was included in the body of common knowledge demanded of students following the curricula of the centers members of the AACSB (American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business). Stemming from this, several studies have been published analyzing the situation of the POM discipline as taught at university level, particularly in the USA. Among the many fundamental aspects dealt with in these studies (see Table I), the topic that has aroused the most interest is the content that is being taught or that should be taught (in the judgment of production/operations managers) on the POM courses. Two basic viewpoints have been studied: those of academics and of businessmen. Whereas some studies consider the teaching programs of POM courses of various universities (e.g. see Nos 4-10 and 12-13 in Table I), others survey production/operations managers in a sample of companies, to determine what they consider to be the ideal syllabus for this discipline, based on their own experience (e.g. see Nos 2, 3 and 11 in Table I). There is a third group of studies that combines these two approaches (e.g. Berryet al., 1978).

Considering basically the nature of the content of existing POM courses, we can draw certain key conclusions from the analysis of these studies and of the opinions expressed by those researching and studying this topic. These include:

There was a poor match between the needs stated by the companies and the content taught in POM courses. Although in the mid-1970s POM was a required discipline among members of the AACSB, and many business schools included POM in their introductory course studies, the contents did not appear to satisfy the requirements of companies. This situation was confirmed in a study by Berryet al.(1978), in which they detected a clear predominance of tactical/operational aspects, that was in contrast to the demand for a more conceptual and strategic approach to POM training. In the empirical studies conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s, this gap was again recognized and pointed out (e.g. Mabert

et al., 1980; Hahn et al., 1982; Ducharme and Lewis, 1987; Willis and Bass, 1991; Berry and Lancaster, 1992) and no signs of improvement were evident even by the mid-1990s (Tajet al., 1996).

Lack of specializations and courses in POM, in comparison with other business disciplines. Ducharme and Lewis (1987) detected that almost half of the centers analyzed did not have POM majors (this was later corroborated by Willis and Bass, 1991). This showed that, in most American business schools, POM had still not reached the level of specialization and consolidation enjoyed by other disciplines, such as





marketing or accounting (Tajet al., 1996). Nevertheless, it could be said that most centers at least included an obligatory POM course (Hahnet al., 1982; Ducharme and Lewis, 1987; Raiszadeh and Ettkin, 1989; Willis and Bass, 1991). But, in our opinion, to make any judgment of the sufficiency of this, an analysis should be made of the contents taught in these courses; the scarcity of courses and/or the poor design of their contents could be important causes of the evident shortage of specialists in the discipline.

There was considerable heterogeneity in the content of POM courses.

This lack of common content in the syllabuses of courses was evident both in POM major and in non-specialist programs (Hahnet al., 1982; Bahl, 1989; Raiszadeh and Ettkin, 1989; Tajet al.,1996).

Although discussion of these three general aspects of criticism appears in published studies of POM teaching undertaken mainly in US universities, it is not surprising that academics facing the tasks of defining and structuring such courses in Spanish universities take the US model as guide, since most of the textbooks then available came from that country. However, this cannot be stated with certainty, given the lack of specific studies in the Spanish context (the same can be said of all the other countries of the EU). For the same reason, it is not known whether efforts are made towards adapting course contents to the particular national or regional contexts in which the discipline is being taught.

In relation to the university-company mismatching (the first of the deficiencies detected in the published studies analyzed), no specific study in this respect has been undertaken in Spain. However, if, as it appears, the North American model has been adopted here, one would expect this problem to re-appear in our classrooms. In any event, since we cannot refer to any previous study of this, it was not possible to determine whether the POM training being given in Spain incorporates the strategic and conceptual aspects called for by US companies.

With respect to the second general criticism found from our review of previous studies, we did not find any POM specialty or major in Spanish university courses analyzed. Therefore the situation in Spain appeared to be even more precarious than in the USA. However, as there had been no studies of the various Spanish degrees to establish the number of POM courses, one must recognize that the situation prevailing in Spanish universities was unknown.

Similarly, in respect of the third area of criticism, there has been no research here; thus it has not been possible to assess the contents of the teaching programs in the various Spanish universities to establish the extent of uniformity or similarity among them.

Due to this lack of relevant studies, and in light of the importance we attached to these questions, we decided to include them in our empirical study with the objective of determining the current status of our discipline in Spanish


POM teaching in



universities. We would, furthermore, be able to make comparisons with the

findings of the other studies previously cited. The results of this research and the main conclusions drawn will form the next sections of this paper.

Characteristics of POM courses

As an initial stage in this study, we considered it appropriate to perform an aggregate analysis of the principal characteristics of the 190 courses recorded, in which we analyzed the following eight aspects:

(1) The academic degree on which the POM course is taught. The courses for the LBA, DBA, HIE and TIE academic degrees have been differentiated. The higher degree qualifications (LBA and HIE) always involve the teaching of more POM courses than the lower degrees (Table III); this is logical since they have more credits in their curricula. Secondly, the business administration (BA) degrees offer more POM courses than those of industrial engineering (IE), since more centers offer BA degrees. (2) Focus. In function of their content, we have classified courses (see

Figure 1) as dealing with either:

Tactical and operational issues.We have included in this category the courses that allocate at least 65 per cent of their total hours to topics of a tactical/operational nature.

Strategic issues.These are courses that allocate at least 65 per cent of their total hours to topics of a strategic nature.

A combination of the two (mixed).These are courses in which neither tactical/operational nor strategic topics occupy 65 per cent of total hours.

However, there are 17 courses that have been considered separately, since they concentrate on only one specific topic, and for this reason could distort the analysis of content of the more generic POM courses. These courses are those dealing with: quality management; service operations management; project management; and work organization. (3) Required/elective courses. Courses have also been characterized in

function of whether they are obligatory or optional for students (see Figure 1).

(4) The curricula. Recent years have seen a revision to modernize the curricula in many faculties and university schools, with the result that, in the survey responses, there were courses reported under both old and new curricula (see Figure 1). To give a picture of the current situation in various universities, we can state that under the new curricula, POM courses have been consolidated and have increased in number.





(6) Number of hours assigned to POM courses.To a large extent, this factor conditions the breadth and depth of the content taught in the courses (see Figure 1).

(7) Number of students per course(see Figure 1).

(8) Academic year in which course is taught(see Figure 1).

Since the results of the aggregate analysis could hide possible differences in function of the academic degree in which the course figures and the different focus of POM courses, a statistical analysis has been made related to these factors. Depending on the variable analyzed, the statistics of Pearson’s chi-squared, one-way ANOVA or the Kruskal-Wallis test have been used with a standardp-level of 5 per cent. From this analysis, we can deduce that the type of academic degree has an influence on many of the characteristics of the courses taught. For this reason and to keep this paper to a reasonable length, we will concentrate our attention on the more detailed analysis and only comment on certain results of the aggregate analysis in respect of some specific point that we consider of interest. To summarize the results, Table IV has been prepared, which presents the values obtained for the courses under the new curricula, since it is considered that these better represent the future trends of the discipline in our universities.

The focus of the courses differs in function of the academic degree. In aggregate terms (see Figure 1) courses dealing with tactical and operational issues predominate (54 per cent), followed by those dealing with both tactical and strategic issues (mixed). However, although all the courses maintain a predominantly tactical/operational focus, it is in the LBAs that the strategic issues are given more emphasis, either through courses dedicated to this or through courses combining tactical and strategic issues (mixed). The DBAs are more oriented towards the tactical/operational issues, with strategic topics usually being introduced in courses with a mixed approach. The HIEs tend very clearly towards the tactical issues, while for the TIEs, courses are of both the tactical and mixed orientations. Consequently, the students on LBA courses would appear to receive more instruction in strategic issues than DBA students, which is logical bearing in mind the types of employment for which they are being trained. It is, however, curious that this difference is not seen between the two levels of the Industrial

Table III.

Number of POM courses, by type of academic degree

Studies Academic degree Courses Per cent of courses Business administration LBA


72 30

37.9 15.8 Industrial engineering HIE

TIE 65 23 34.2 12.1 Total 190 100


POM teaching in



Figure 1.

Overall characteristics of POM courses taught in Spanish universities





Table IV. Characteristics of POM courses, by type of degree, under the new curricula C h ar ac te ri st ic L B A D B A H IE T IE F oc u s T ac ti ca l/ op er at io n al an d m ix ed , al th ou g h w it h so m e st ra te g ic co u rs es T ac ti ca l/ op er at io n al , al th ou g h st ra te g ic is su es ar e co n si d er ed on m ix ed co u rs es T ac ti ca l/ op er at io n al M ix ed an d ta ct ic al / op er at io n al R eq u ir ed co u rs es 62 .5 p er ce n t 55 .2 p er ce n t 80 .4 p er ce n t 40 .0 p er ce n t A v er ag e n u m b er of h ou rs 59 .5 58 .3 54 .2 48 .6 A v er ag e n u m b er of st u d en ts 23 8 31 4 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 95 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 27 0 36 6 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 12 6 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 10 6 12 3 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 43 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 13 6 22 6 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 69 in el ec ti v e co u rs es A v er ag e n u m b er of te ac h er s 1. 9 1. 6 1. 7 1. 5 S tu d en t-te ac h er ra ti o 12 5 14 0 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 69 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 16 5 20 3 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 89 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 62 71 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 26 in el ec ti v e co u rs es 91 108 in re q u ir ed co u rs es 57 in el ec ti v e co u rs es A ca d em ic y ea r T h ir d an d fo u rt h S ec on d an d th ir d F ou rt h an d fi ft h T h ir d


POM teaching in



Engineering degree, where the HIE level shows a greater predominance

of the tactical/operational focus than the lower TIE level.

The character of the courses as either required or elective in the new curricula also shows differences in function of the type of academic degree (the chi-squared test shows ap= 0.017). In aggregate terms more than 70 per cent of the total courses analyzed are required courses of the curriculum; however, for the HIEs, POM courses are more often required, whereas for the TIEs, they are more often elective; for the LBAs and DBAs, the balance between required and elective is more even. It would seem, therefore, that on HIE courses, the policy is to insist that the great majority of students are instructed in this discipline. The lower level degrees present fewer required POM courses than the corresponding higher-level degrees, which would follow from the relative time limitations.

The average number of hours assigned to courses for BA degrees show somewhat higher values than those for IE degrees, although these differences are not statistically significant (p= 0.115 for the one-way ANOVA test). In general, courses with 60 or 45 hours are the most frequent (68 per cent of total POM courses), the mean number of hours being 61.1. Although this mean is not considered too low in itself for a course, there is the problem of the scarcity of POM courses in the different centers. When, as frequently occurs, the instruction of the entire discipline falls into one single course of the degree curriculum, this is clearly insufficient to allow all the various different aspects of importance in POM to be properly taught.

The number of students enrolled on POM courses overall is notably higher for BA degrees than on those for IE (approaching double); the same occurs in the lower level degrees compared with the higher-level degrees (the Kruskal-Wallis test shows a p= 0). Given that the proportion of required courses for BA degrees reaches 62.5 per cent, these academic degrees constitute an important nucleus of training in POM since, although the proportion of required courses is even higher on HIE courses (80.4 per cent), the BA students are numerically a much larger group. Moreover, it is significant that the four academic degrees analyzed account for relatively large numbers of students in comparison with other degrees of similar status and length (see Table V).

The average number of teachers per course does not show significant differences in function of the academic degree(the one-way ANOVA test shows a p= 0.317). This leads us to the conclusion that, faced with the inequalities in student numbers between the BA and IE degrees, the student-teacher ratio is very unfavorable for BA degrees, especially for DBAs. This has clear negative consequences affecting both teaching and research work, given the less time available to BA teachers. This situation is common under the new curricula, both for the required and





Table V.

Academic degrees taken by most students in Spanish universities in 1998/1999 F u ll d eg re e N o. of st u d en ts D ip lo m a co u rs e N o. of st u d en ts H ig h er en g in ee ri n g d eg re es an d ar ch it ec tu re N o. of st u d en ts T ec h n ic al en g in ee ri n g d eg re es an d ar ch it ec tu re N o. of st u d en ts L aw 18 0, 51 6 E d u ca ti on 96 ,0 78 H IE 42 ,0 30 T IE 66 ,2 75 L B A 11 8, 84 0 D B A 94 ,8 19 A rc h it ec tu re 27 ,3 44 C om p u te r st u d ie s fo r m an ag em en t 27 ,4 53 P h y lo lo g y /l an g u ag es 59 ,9 85 E m p lo y m en t la w an d p ra ct ic es 55 ,7 41 C om p u te r en g in ee ri n g 24 ,1 38 C om p u te r sy st em s 22 ,4 99 G eo g ra p h y an d h is to ry 59 ,1 58 N u rs in g 30 ,6 67 T el ec om m u n ic at io n s en g in ee ri n g 16 ,0 15 A g ri cu lt u ra l en g in ee ri n g 25 ,1 78 S o u rc e : N at io n al In st it u te of S ta ti st ic s (I N E , 20 00 )


POM teaching in



the elective courses; to illustrate this, for the DBAs, there are greater

numbers of students on their elective courses than there are for the HIEs on their required courses. This situation in business administration studies is negative not only for teachers but also for students, who are being taught under much less favorable conditions than their counterparts in industrial engineering.

The academic year during which POM courses are taught differs in function of the type of academic degree, since these differ notably in duration. For all the degrees, POM courses are usually concentrated in the later academic years.

To finish this section, our findings are that, in Spanish universities, there exists an important nucleus of obligatory POM courses, above all on the higher-level degrees in both business administration and industrial engineering, and that these are taught to a relatively large number of students, albeit in conditions of higher class numbers in the BA case. However, considering the new curricula, 64.4 per cent of all the degrees offer only one POM course, 27.9 per cent offer only two POM courses, with the remaining 7.7 per cent offering three or more POM courses. In our opinion, the high proportion of centers teaching only one or two POM courses in their degrees, taken together with the limited number of hours assigned to these courses, means that effectively it is not possible to develop this discipline to the depth of understanding nowadays considered necessary to meet the requirements already indicated. This situation has very probably contributed to another finding, that the important area of strategic issues is not being covered adequately in present POM courses.

These negative findings are aggravated when there are high student numbers per class, which cannot be a healthy framework for teaching efficiently and effectively. This situation frequently occurs, as demonstrated by the fact that this is one of the main reasons cited by teachers to justify their continuing use of traditional teaching methods (see part II of this empirical study (Alfalla and Machuca, forthcoming). Just as an example, in 2001-02, at the University of Seville, there were 620 enrolled students and only 6 groups or classes in the required POM course on the LBA degree; and on the DBA degree, there were 1150 students and 9 groups in the required POM required course, together with 570 students and 4 groups in the elective POM course. Added to this are the notable imbalances found between academic degrees, especially as regards the student-teacher ratio. Action should be taken as soon as possible to reduce the numbers of students per group on BA degrees and to correct the comparative disadvantage this implies with respect to the IE degrees.

Content of POM courses

From the analysis of the program contents, a total of 28 basic POM topics were identified. From among the various possible approaches to classification of topic focus (e.g. by strategic and tactical decision categories, by management activities or by operations decision categories (Leschke, 1998)), it was decided to classify topics according to strategic or tactical/operational decision





categories. The classification with which we have worked is shown in Table VI. Each topic is classified as focused either more on tactical/operational issues or more on strategic issues. However, it is not always easy to assign a topic to a particular focus, as explained in the footnotes relating to this table. This type of classification appears in various POM textbooks by Spanish authors (Machuca

et al., 1995a, b; FernaÂndez, 1993; FernaÂndez and VaÂzquez, 1994), as well as in the Spanish versions of other language textbooks, such as that by Heizer and Render (2001a, b). Nevertheless, the various authors do not fully coincide in attributing specific topics to the two main categories, depending on whether the content of their corresponding chapters is oriented more towards one or other focus.

The basis for our analysis is the total of 281 courses identified in our survey; essentially, two elements were taken into account. First, the percentage of courses which include each of the possible specific POM topics; on the basis of this percentage, we consider that a particular topic will belong to the basic nucleus of POM teaching if it appears in at least 50 per cent of the syllabuses. Second, the average time dedicated to the various topics, in relation to the total time available in the syllabus; this has been taken to be an indicator of the importance assigned to each topic, and of the breadth and complexity of the treatment given to the topic. In relation to this last parameter, with the objective of being able to compare courses with different numbers of credits (or hours), we have converted the number of hours dedicated to each topic into percentages of the total time; the average time and the dispersion (standard deviation and coefficient of variation) have also been calculated for each topic. Lastly, the study is completed with an ABC analysis, in which we rank the

Table VI.

Topics taught in POM courses, in function of course focus

Tactical and operational tactics


Job design/work measurement Human resources in POM Supply management

Independent demand inventory systems Quality management and control[2] Project management

JIT/lean production[2]

Maintenance management and reliability TOC

Aggregate planning and master production scheduling

Scheduling Demand forecasting MRP/ERP

Linear programming and other operational research methods[3] Other topics[4] Strategic topics Layout Global operations Operations strategy[5] Plant location AMT Capacity management Equipment replacement Product design and planning Process management

Topics of general orientation

Service operations management History of POM


POM teaching in



topics in order of average time allocated, from more to less; we consider the

topics included in our A group to be the most important, since they represent the set of topics which together account for the initial 60 per cent of the total hours of the courses (taking into account that the topics are ranked from more to less average time); B topics are those accounting for the following 20 per cent; and C topics for the remaining 20 per cent.

All these types of analysis were conducted in respect of: the full set of courses together (aggregate analysis);

the sets of courses taught in function of each of the four specific academic degrees;

the set of courses classified as tactical/operational, strategic and mixed; the sets of tactical, strategic and mixed courses, in function of academic degree; and

the required and elective courses.

We have restricted this analysis to those courses classified as dealing with tactical/operational issues, Strategic issues, and a combination of these (mixed), because the rest are focused on a more specific theme (e.g. project management or quality management) and their inclusion could give rise to a certain distortion in the average times calculated for the various topics. For the study of the content of POM courses as currently taught in Spain, we analyzed the full set of 225 courses.

We can see that the type of academic degree also has a critical influence on the course content, and the analysis by degree is more informative than the results of the aggregate analysis; to avoid excessive length, in the present article we shall consider mainly the results of the analysis by type of degree. However, the results obtained from all the different analyses performed are summarized in Table VII.

Analysis of the content of POM courses, in function of academic degree

This type of analysis was considered important given the influence exercised over the characteristics of the courses by the specific academic degree of which they form part. Looking first at the POM courses in BA degrees (LBA and DBA), it will be observed that, considering only the topics included in each respective basic nucleus (see Table VIII), the LBAs include 12 topics (six of which are taught in more than 65 per cent of all courses) and the DBAs include 14 topics (with nine taught in at least 65 per cent of all courses). The basic nucleus identified for each type of degree is quite similar in both. As indicated previously, the orientation of LBA courses is more towards strategic issues than that of DBA courses; in the syllabuses of the DBA courses, tactical and operational topics are more numerous; these topics are taught in more courses and more time is allocated to them. This then confirms what has already been reported and we can also state that the basic nucleus of topics in the BA degree





syllabuses is more balanced in respect of dealing with both strategic and tactical/operational issues.

Regarding the basic nucleus of topics identified for IE degrees, these are wider than in the BA degrees (see Table IX), with 14 topics taught in the HIEs (but only three taught in more than 65 per cent of all courses) and 18 in the TIEs (12 of these taught in more than 65 per cent of courses). It can be observed that all the topics included in the basic nucleus for the HIE degree also appear in that for the TIE degree, which notably contains several other topics in addition:

Table VII.

Principal conclusions regarding the content of POM programs

Main conclusions: from the aggregated analysis

Greater orientation towards the tactical/operational aspects than towards strategic issues There exists a basic nucleus that includes the classic topics focusing on both the tactical/ operational and strategic aspects, in more than 50 per cent of the courses analyzed; these topics account for 78 per cent of the total teaching time available in these courses (although only 27.3 per cent is allocated to the more strategic topics). But there is a lack of consistency in respect of the time allocated to each topic

This basic nucleus does not include topics that are currently highly relevant, such as global operations, service operations management or supply chain management

Main conclusions: from the analysis in function of academic degree

In function of academic degree, certain differences are observed between these in respect of the basic nucleus; all however show a mix of tactical and strategic focus. However, there is a broad set of topics that are common to the basic cores of all the degrees

There is even more consistency in the basic nuclei of topics, on analyzing separately the BA degrees and the IE degrees

It is the LBAs that introduce more strategic issues into their syllabuses, whereas the HIEs present a more clearly tactical/operational focus

Main conclusions: from the analysis in function of course focus

There exists a basic nucleus of topics corresponding to each type of course (tactical/ operational, strategic or mixed)

The consistency in the time allocated to each topic is greater than that found in the aggregate analysis. Overall, the topics taught in more than 50 per cent of the courses account for 67.2 per cent of the total course hours in the tactical/operational courses, 80.1 per cent in the strategic, and 80.5 per cent in the mixed; this demonstrates their importance as the basic nucleus of each category of course

Main conclusions: from the analysis in function of course focus and academic degree

The tactical/operational courses present a common basic nucleus of topics for all the degrees (with a total of 7 topics common to all), although there is a lack of homogeneity in respect of the amount of time allocated to each topic

The strategic courses are so few (and nearly all are in the LBA degrees) that a comparison of the content of such courses in the different types of degree is not really relevant The mixed-focus courses present a basic nucleus in all the degrees, with a total of ten topics common to all. This shows considerable consensus in respect of the content necessary for these courses. But the percentage of time allocated to each topic does differ in function of the type of degree

Main conclusions: from the analysis of the required courses

The situation is very similar to that found from the aggregate analysis of the full set of courses. The tactical/operational focus is predominant, although in the LBAs the choice is towards a mixed focus in the POM training


POM teaching in



Table VIII.

Topics taught in at least 50 per cent of POM courses, for LBA and DBA degrees

L B A D B A T op ic s in th e b as ic n u cl eu s P er ce n t co u rs es A v er ag e % ti m e S td d ev . C oe ff . of v ar . (% ) T op ic s in th e b as ic n u cl eu s P er ce n t co u rs es A v er ag e % ti m e S td d ev . C oe ff . of v ar . (% ) JI T 73 .5 6. 9 5. 7 82 .3 In d ep en d en t d em an d in v en to ry sy st em s 86 .5 10 .3 7. 0 68 .3 Q u al it y 71 .6 8. 1 7. 2 88 .7 P ro je ct m an ag em en t 83 .8 10 .4 7. 0 66 .7 O p er at io n s st ra te g y 71 .6 6. 1 5. 6 91 .9 M R P /E R P 81 .1 8. 9 6. 4 72 .0 M R P /E R P 70 .6 7. 1 6. 4 89 .3 O p er at io n s st ra te g y 78 .4 4. 9 3. 7 74 .9 C ap ac it y 70 .6 5. 6 5. 0 89 .5 A g g re g at e an d m as te r p la n n in g 75 .5 9. 2 7. 7 83 .7 P ro ce ss m an ag em en t 66 .7 6. 6 6. 1 91 .6 JI T 70 .3 5. 4 4. 4 82 .3 A g g re g at e an d m as te r p la n n in g 62 .7 6. 0 5. 6 94 .0 K ey P O M p ro b le m s 70 .3 2. 3 2. 1 94 .8 P la n t lo ca ti on 62 .7 5. 7 5. 7 10 0. 2 Q u al it y 67 .6 5. 3 5. 1 96 .0 P ro d u ct d es ig n 60 .8 4. 9 4. 9 10 0. 5 S ch ed u li n g 64 .9 6. 5 7. 6 11 7. 0 In d ep en d en t d em an d in v en to ry sy st em s 58 .8 7. 5 7. 6 10 1. 3 C ap ac it y 62 .2 4. 8 5. 6 11 8. 0 K ey P O M p ro b le m s 58 .8 2. 3 2. 5 10 6. 5 H is to ry of P O M 62 .2 1. 6 1. 6 98 .4 L ay ou t 54 .9 4. 2 4. 9 11 6. 0 P ro ce ss m g t. 59 .5 4. 8 4. 9 10 2. 4 P la n t lo ca ti on 51 .4 4. 6 6. 4 13 9. 2 L ay ou t 51 .4 4. 1 5. 5 13 4. 6





Table IX.

Topics taught in at least 50 per cent of POM courses for the HIE and TIE degrees

H IE T IE T op ic s in th e b as ic n u cl eu s P er ce n t co u rs es A v er ag e % ti m e S td d ev . C oe ff . of v ar . (% ) T op ic s in th e b as ic n u cl eu s P er ce n t co u rs es A v er ag e % ti m e S td d ev . C oe ff . of v ar . (% ) K ey P O M p ro b le m s 69 .8 2. 3 2. 6 11 4. 3 Q u al it y 82 .6 9. 4 6. 2 66 .0 M R P /E R P 68 .3 7. 7 7. 0 90 .9 P ro je ct m an ag em en t 78 .3 7. 2 5. 7 78 .9 In d ep en d en t d em an d in v en to ry sy st em s 68 .3 6. 7 6. 0 90 .6 L ay ou t 78 .3 5. 4 5. 2 95 .5 JI T 63 .5 6. 7 6. 0 10 2. 4 S ch ed u li n g 78 .3 4. 8 3. 4 70 .2 H is to ry of P O M 8. 7 1. 5 1. 5 10 3. 3 JI T 73 .9 5. 7 4. 5 79 .2 D em an d fo re ca st in g 57 .1 4. 8 5. 7 11 9. 0 O p er at io n s st ra te g y 73 .9 4. 1 3. 6 86 .8 P ro je ct m an ag em en t 55 .6 7. 0 9. 9 14 1. 0 M R P /E R P 69 .6 5. 4 5. 0 91 .6 A g g re g at e an d m as te r p la n n in g 55 .6 6. 1 6. 8 11 0. 9 C ap ac it y 69 .6 4. 6 4. 6 10 0. 4 S ch ed u li n g 4. 0 5. 3 8. 9 16 6. 6 A g g re g at e an d m as te r p la n n in g 65 .2 6. 1 5. 8 95 .4 C ap ac it y 54 .0 4. 0 4. 7 11 5. 1 Jo b d es ig n /w or k m ea su re m en t 65 .2 5. 8 7. 0 12 0. 3 P ro ce ss m an ag em en t 54 .0 4. 0 4. 7 11 8. 0 P ro ce ss m an ag em en t 65 .2 5. 2 4. 8 92 .9 L ay ou t 54 .0 3. 9 4. 5 11 6. 5 K ey P O M p ro b le m s 65 .2 3. 1 3. 0 96 .4 O p er at io n s st ra te g y 52 .4 2. 6 4. 1 15 4. 9 In d ep en d en t d em an d in v en to ry sy st em s 60 .9 6. 5 10 .0 15 4. 3 Q u al it y 50 .8 6. 1 8. 1 13 3. 0 D em an d fo re ca st in g 60 .9 4. 3 4. 9 11 5. 3 H is to ry of P O M 60 .9 3. 0 3. 3 10 9. 0 P la n t lo ca ti on 56 .5 3. 8 4. 8 12 7. 8 P ro d u ct d es ig n 56 .5 3. 2 3. 6 11 1. 2 T O C 56 .5 3. 1 3. 4 10 8. 1


POM teaching in



job design/work measurement;

plant location; product design; and TOC.

It should be noted that, in the nucleus of the higher level HIE courses, the topics are basically tactical/operational, with few of strategic orientation being included; these topics, in addition, are taught in fewer courses and with lower percentages of course hours allocated to them, than in the LBA degree courses. Considering the TIE courses, these show a more diverse and wider basic nucleus of topics, of mixed tactical and strategic orientation, making students aware of both aspects. Although this gives the student exposure to many different tactical/operational and strategic aspects of POM, the average time available per topic probably implies that the student only gains a superficial knowledge of each. There are four strategic topics:

(1) layout;

(2) operations strategy; (3) capacity; and

(4) process management;

that are taught in more than 65 per cent of total courses, and the proportions of course time allocated to them are similar to those for the tactical/operational topics. Therefore, in the higher level industrial engineering degree (HIE), it appears that greater emphasis is placed on the tactical/operational questions than in the lower degree (TIE), where the type of training given is more mixed.

If we identify from Tables VIII and IX the topics common to the basic nucleus in each of the four types of academic degree, we find ten common core topics:

(1) key POM problems; (2) operations strategy issues; (3) process management; (4) capacity;

(5) layout;

(6) aggregated and master planning; (7) MRP;

(8) JIT;

(9) quality management; and

(10) independent demand inventory systems.

But in spite of this, the differentiating elements of the various nuclei of topics lead to the student receiving training with differences in focus and orientation





in function of the particular type of degree being taken. Besides, there are clear differences in respect of the percentage of courses which include these topics and the average percentage of time allocated to each topic.

An ABC analysis for the courses by academic degree demonstrates that all the topics included in the basic nucleus of each academic degree are rated either A or B, with the exceptions of two topics, key POM problems and history of POM, which are very frequently taught but with little time allocated, which is logical given their introductory nature (see Figure 2). From Figure 2 with tactical/operational issues, in comparison with those dealing with strategic issues, can clearly be deduced; we also observe that there are only five A topics common to all four types of academic degree (quality, independent demand inventory systems, JIT, MRP, and aggregated and master planning), all of which are more tactically/operationally orientated.

To summarize the fundamental findings of this section, we can say that certain differences exist in the topics forming the basic nucleus in courses taught for each academic degree. However, we observe greater consistency than that reflected in the previous studies carried out in other countries (Raiszadeh and Ettkin, 1989; Tajet al., 1996). This consistency or homogeneity is more notable between the higher and lower BA degrees, and between the higher and lower IE degrees. In any case, each basic nucleus of topics identified shows a mix of tactical and strategic orientation. The nucleus corresponding to the LBA degree courses is the one that most clearly introduces topics of strategic character, while not neglecting the more tactical/operational topics. For the other three academic degrees, the strategic topics mostly appear in the B grouping. The DBA degree and the HIE degree share a similar basic nucleus of topics in terms of composition, but in terms of time allocated to topics, the

Figure 2.

A and B topics included in POM courses, in function of type of degree


POM teaching in



nucleus for the latter degree is markedly more tactical/operational in character.

In respect of the TIE courses, these are found to offer the widest nucleus of topics. We can state that, with the exception of the topic dealing with independent demand inventory systems, the instrumental topics derived from operations research do not currently occupy an important place in POM taught in Spanish universities, although in the industrial engineering degree there are specific courses on operations research. Finally, we must conclude that relatively little weight is being given to certain aspects that are currently very important in POM – for example, global operations, service operations management or supply chain management. This contrasts with the importance still being given to independent demand inventory systems, a topic that in the current situation should not be considered so relevant.

Final remarks

To finish this discussion, we shall compare, in a summarized manner, the principal conclusions found in our research with those drawn from the other previous studies analyzed. In relation to the failure to adapt the contents of POM courses to the needs stated by the companies, and 20 years after the study of Berryet al. (1978) reporting that US firms were calling for increased attention to the Strategic issues in POM courses, this requirement does not seem to be reflected, either, in the POM programs of Spanish universities, where the Tactical/operational focus continues to be predominant. While in no way denying the great importance of the more tactical topics for a complete training in POM, we consider that an effort should be made to achieve more balance between tactical and strategic aspects. Only in the LBA curricula does it seem that there is more awareness of the importance of strategic topics, which are beginning to be included more in their courses, although logically not to the detriment of the tactical/operational topics. We are also convinced that there has been insufficient introduction into university courses of new aspects relevant to the modern practice of POM in an economy dominated by globalization and the ``new technologies’’, both in the real world and in academic publications and conference papers,

Some of the causes of this first problem considered above may be found in the lack of POM specializations and required core courses in our discipline, which has put POM at a clear disadvantage in comparison with other business studies disciplines. In addition to the issues discussed in the first section, it is very notable that there are many degrees with only one POM course in their curriculum, not to mention those other BA and IE degrees in which POM is not taught at all. The effect of this situation is that a large number of graduates are receiving relatively little or no POM training, perhaps based on only one course of 45 or 60 hours. This lack of time forces the teacher to concentrate on a very limited set of topics selected from the wide range encompassed by our discipline, or else to pass superficially over a larger number of topics, to the detriment of sufficient depth of treatment. In our opinion, the result can only be an inadequate training in the POM discipline for many students. This is also





leading to a demonstrated shortage of personnel properly trained in POM, which must be resolved quickly if we are to attend correctly to the needs of business and to provide our students with sufficient knowledge in the various different areas of the discipline.

In relation to the topics considered in POM courses contents, and unlike the results obtained in previous studies, we find that the POM programs in Spanish universities coincide in offering a reasonably consistent basic nucleus of topics, despite there being some lack of homogeneity in the amounts of time allocated to these basic topics. On the aggregate level, which we have not discussed in our paper, it can be seen that this basic nucleus includes the fundamental topics of both the tactical/operational and strategic orientations in more than 50 per cent of the courses analyzed, and that these topics account for 78 per cent of the total time available on these courses. Although certain differences are observed on disaggregating the data by types of degree, all present a fairly consistent basic nucleus. The results obtained may serve as a reference for those teachers who are starting out in POM teaching, whom we also advise to take into account the gaps found in these basic nuclei, some of which have been identified and discussed in this paper.

It should be stated that it is difficult to go much further in drawing comparisons between our findings and those of previous studies, beyond those already referred to. There are two basic reasons for this:

(1) the different structure of the system of university studies in the USA, on which most previous research has been based; and

(2) the limited depth of treatment given in these previous studies to the many different variables analyzed.

This makes it virtually impracticable to compare the characteristics of the POM courses (academic degree, focus, required or elective character, number of credits, number of students, number of instructors and academic year). Nevertheless, in spite of these limitations, in the case of content, we have been able to undertake a limited comparative analysis. For this we have selected the most recent studies that detail the content taught on POM courses, since we consider these to be more representative of the current situation (Carraway and Freeland, 1989; Willis and Bass, 1991; Goffin, 1998).

From the studies of Willis and Bass (1991) and Carraway and Freeeland (1989), we observe that the topics taught more than ten years ago in more than 50 per cent of the courses analyzed are generally similar to the content currently found in the POM courses of Spanish universities. However, the percentages of total time allocated to these topics show differences. In the first of the studies cited, topics dedicated to strategy, process management and product do not appear, nor do the introductory topics; on the other hand, instead, topics related to forecasting, decision-making tools, work measurement-job design and production activity control do appear. In the study by Carraway and Freeeland (1989), all the topics taught in at least 50 per cent of the courses they analyzed form part of the basic nucleus of the POM


POM teaching in



courses of Spanish universities, which also now incorporates process

management, layout, product and the introductory topics, which do not appear in the study cited. Thus the main observation is that, in the Spanish case, there is a stronger presence of the more strategic topics, perhaps due to the period of time that has elapsed between those studies and our own.

In respect of the course content found by Goffin (1998), the way in which this author groups the topics does not permit a clear comparison with the basic nucleus of topics found in the Spanish case. However, we can state that in the Business School courses analyzed, some of the deficiencies identified in our study were not reported. Specifically, topics related to supply chain management (in 80 per cent of the centers) and business process re-engineering (in 40 per cent) were taught; but only in 20 per cent of the centers were international operational issues taught. As in the case of Spain, a predominance of the tactical/operational focus was observed (70 per cent for strategic issues against 30 per cent for tactical/operational techniques).

We know that, faced with the situation that is widespread in Spain of usually having to make the best of one single POM course with only a few credits, teachers are in a difficult dilemma: should they try to provide a comprehensive picture of the whole discipline including all the more relevant topics even though this necessarily implies a more superficial treatment?, or should they teach only a few topics but to the depth necessary, at the cost of failing to give a sufficiently wide view of the discipline? Neither alternative is satisfactory.

While waiting for new curricula that provide for more credits, and more teaching time, for this area of increasing importance, only the students themselves can resolve this problem: the students must actively and positively appreciate the relevance of the discipline in the context of career opportunities, and seek the guidance of the teacher in how to complement their in-class learning with extra out-of-hours studies.

This leads to another point we would like to stress again. There are significant imbalances between academic degrees, particularly regarding student-teacher ratios, which should be corrected as soon as possible, in order to keep the other problems already mentioned from getting even worse, particularly in the BA degrees.

Finally, we also want to repeat once again our view that other in-depth studies of POM teaching need to be undertaken in the rest of EU countries. Only on the basis of proper data can we determine whether European universities are responding adequately to companies’ training needs in this important management field, the repercussions of which on business competitiveness are no longer disputed. Only in this way can we bring to light publicly the possible deficiencies existing in our educational systems in relation to this field of knowledge, which should facilitate the implementation of the necessary corrective measures.






1. These are the courses that must be taught as obligatory for all BA students, in all Spanish university BA centers. A more detailed explanation can be found in section 2 of Alfalla and Machuca (forthcoming).

2. It should be noted that, although these topics include some strategic aspects, on Spanish POM courses, their tactical/operational aspects are usually given more emphasis, therefore they have been included in this latter category of focus.

3. For example, queuing theory, decision trees or transportation methods.

4. Included here are various topics that appear in very few course programs, and with relatively little emphasis, such as: break-even point, value analysis, modeling,. . .. 5. Also included in this topic is everything referring to the objectives of the operations area

(productivity, costs, service, flexibility and deliveries).


Alfalla R. and Machuca, J.A.D. (forthcoming), ``An empirical study of POM teaching in spanish Universities (II): faculty profile, teaching and assessments methods’’,IJOPM.

Armistead, C., Johnston, R. and Voss, C.A. (1986), ``Introducing service industries in operations management teaching’’,International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 21-9.

Bahl, H.C. (1989), ``Teaching production and operations management at the MBA level – a survey’’,Production and Inventory Management Journal, 3rd quarter, pp. 5-7.

Berry, S.E. and Lancaster, L.M. (1992), ``Views of production practitioner on the importance of selected POM topics: 1978 and 1989 practitioners compared’’,Production and Inventory Management Journal, Vol. 33, 2nd quarter, pp. 24-30.

Berry, S.E., Watson, H.J. and Greenwood, W.T. (1978), ``A survey as to the content of the introductory POM course’’,Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 699-714. Carraway, R.L. and Freeland, J.R. (1989), ``MBA training in operations management and

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Table II.
Table III.
Table VIII.
Table IX.


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