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Professor Stephen Wilks

BA (Lancaster), PhD (Manchester), FCA

Professor of Politics

It has been invigorating over the past three years or so to be reminded of the rewards of reading, researching, exploring – and above all of writing. This has been the benign consequence of stepping back from a whole range of administrative and managerial obligations. The main outcome has been a book entitled 'The Political Power of the Business Corporation' due for publication by Edward Elgar in March 2013. The book takes me back to my earliest research interests and (alarmingly perhaps) to some of my concerns when I wrote my PhD at Manchester.

The book has built on the magical synthesis between teaching and research which has been an ideal for research-led Departments but which is too often inhibited by required teaching and by tactical publication. In this case, through, teaching a course on Business and Politics for the last 8 years has genuinely enriched my understanding, allowed access to the views of a different generation, and, I trust, enlightened (or provoked?) many students.

The book has taken me away from my long standing interest is in public policy, the core executive and what used to be called public administration - or rather it has shifted those interests into a new agenda centred on what I have called 'The New Corporate State' with a focus on political and corporate elites; a struggle to understand the new settlement underpinning the UK's version of 'the market state'; and an imperative to research the influence and accountability of the corporations in the public services industry which are today undertaking many of the tasks that in the past were performed by the British civil service.

My other research and publication interests include corporate governance and I have an ongoing research interest dealing with corporate governance in the public sector. This explores issues of agency independence as well as new public management. (See the December 2007 article in PAC). The public management theme also surfaces in work on the administrative implications of the politics of austerity (see the article in the Korean Journal of Policy Studies, 2010).

My engagement with competition policy continues as academic and practitioner. After 8 years as a Member of the Competition Commission I was appointed in January 2011 as a Member of the Competition Appeal Tribunal. This means operating as a lay equivalent of a High Court Judge and demands a completely fascinating set of skills and obligations as the requirements to deploy 'judgecraft' need to be understood and developed.  The academic work includes an article on European competition policy punblished in December 2007 in the European Competition Review and work in progress on the reform of UK policy explored in an article in the European Competition Journal in 2011. This relatively provocative article rehearses my concerns with the content of the current reforms being legislated during 2013.  The Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading are, of course, being combined. These are interesting but also dangerous times for UK competition policy.

Forthcoming pieces in 2013 include a chapter on Multinationals and Globalisation in a Wiley Handbook edited by John Mikler; and a chapter on the New Corporate State going into a Festschrift for my friend and long-time collaborator, Professor Roland Sturm at Erlangen/Nurnberg.

Research interests

My long standing interest is in public policy, the core executive and what used to be called public administration. My work has migrated through industrial policy to government industry relations and on, since the early 1990s, to competition policy. More recently I have returned to one of my first research preoccupations which in the political power of business. I have been teaching a course on Business and Politics' and am working on a research based book on the Political Power of Business, but one that combines structural and instrumental accounts with an institutional analysis and a core concern with theories of political and economic democracy. As a sub-set of that interest I have been doing work on corporate governance. If ever there was an over-written and under-researched area that is it. Massive potential, as yet barely exploited.

I would be best known for work on competition policy. This includes the first thorough political study of comparative competition policy with Bruce Doern in 1996; the first ‘political history' of competition policy in Britain published in 1999, and a series of recent articles on aspects of British and European competition policy. Competition policy is a beguiling political phenomenon which takes us into theories of capitalism, of regulation and accountability. It is becoming even more central in regulated but privatised economies under the new liberal world view. The disinclination of political scientists to engage properly with business, and at all with competition policy, is a source of puzzlement.

The academic interest in competition policy shades into a more practical interest through membership of the Conmpetition Commission. I have served on eight merger inquiries the latest of which is ITV/BSkyB. Publication of the reports can be found on the Competition Commission website and the latest published report for a group of which I was a mamber is Cliiford Kent Holdings Limited and Deans Foods Group Limited: A Report on the Completed Merger, London, Competition Commission, 2007. This was a merger of the two largest companies supplying eggs to UK retail outlets.

Research on corporate governance has been published in Public Policy and Administration, here is the proof version awaited to 'Boardization and Corporate Governance in the UK as a Response to Depoliticization and Failing Accountability', Public Policy and Admimnistration, 22(4) December 2007, 443-460

Working with research students and postdocs is one of the delights of the job and I expect to continue to combine that with the DVC job. PostDocs have included Lee McGowan (now at Queens) and Ian Bartle (Bath) whilst doctoral students have studied in areas such as:

  • State Aid Policy in Europe
  • European Competition Policy
  • Administrative reform in Turkey, in Portugal, in Brunei and in Korea
  • Next Steps Agencies
  • Merger policy in Europe
  • Corporate Governance in Korea
  • The Monarchy in Japan and the UK
  • Regulatory Reform in Japan

I welcome applications from good doctoral students and am waiting for a good political science study of UK competition policy – get the subject away from the grasp of the lawyers and the economists – any takers?

Research supervision

I have supervised theses in all the following areas. All subjects related to my research would be suitable for research students and it would be particularly attractive to supervise joiuntly with colleagues in Law on aspects of competition policy in the UK and Europe.

Public policy
Public administration
Competition policy
Theories of political and economic democracy
Corporate governance
Administrative reform in Turkey, Portugal, Brunei and Korea
Merger policy in Europe
Corporate governance in Korea
Regulatory reform in Japan

Research students

I am currently supervising the research of three PhD students.

Changsung Jung, working on agencies and quangos in the UK and Korea.

Aleksandra Fernandes da Costa, working on extractive industries. global governance and the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative)

Suhee Kim, working on local government and central-local relations in Korea

As of January 2013 another student, Rafid Fatani has, I'm delighted to say, just been awarded his PhD for a fascinating thesis on Governance of the Internet.

All these students are researching what I regard as fascinating areas and we tend to become engaged in a real dialogue in which I learn as well as guide. I hope that Changsung and Aleks will be submitting their theses for examination in the Autumn of 2013.

Other information

Administrative Duties:

* Former Deputy Vice Chancellor with responsibility for Research and Student Welfare, 1999-2002 and again 2004-05.

* Former Chair of University Research Committee.

* From 1999 to 2005 involved with more Committees, groups and meeting than it is decent to mention.

* former Head of Department (1992-95 and 2002-03).

External Positions:

* Visiting Professor at Kyoto University, 1989.

* ESRC Senior Research Fellowship, 1996-97.

* Member of the Board of Academic Assessors, Commonwealth Scholarship, Commission of the UK.

* Member of the Advisory Board, Centre for the Study of Regulated Industries (CRI).

* Member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Competition Policy, UEA, 2005-

* Member of the Economic and Social Research Council, 2001-2005

* Member and then Chair of the Research Priorities Board of the ESRC and its successor, the Strategy Board, 1999-2005.

* Member of the UK Competition Commission 2001-

* Member of the EditorialBoard of Governance. .

Currently supervising 4 PhD students:

Past and present students have worked on e.g.:

Administrative Reform and Public Sector Management in Portugal, Korea, Turkey, Malaysia, Brunei and Jordan

Privatisation in Japan, the UK, and Malaysia

Theories of International Political Economy

European Competition Policy

Euro-Japanese Trade Policy

The Motor Industry

Modules taught


Current post: Professor of Politics

Exeter is a great place to be. I came in 1990 and have seen substantial changes in the University and in the Department. Here I'll talk about my role at Exeter before going on to national areas, international linkages and to research which is covered in a separate section. This is highlights. For the detail an academic CV is available and anyone interested could access my entry in Who's Who.

I've had periods as Head of the Department of Politics (1992-95 and 2003-04), the second round of which was rather easier since Politics joined the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HuSS). More recently we have become a component of a curious combination of discipliners in the College of Social sciences and International Studies.

After holding an ESRC personal research fellowship in 1995-96 I went on to become a Deputy Vice Chancellor (for research) from 1999 to 2002 and steered Exeter through the RAE cycle. We did very well on the basis of extraordinarily hard work from the top downwards. As someone apparently unable to learn from past experience I did a second round as Deputy Vice Chancellor for research in 2004-05 with the new Registrar and, delightfully, a new Vice Chancellor, Steve Smith, a name well known to most students of Politics. From 2005 I returned to become a 'jobbing' professor of politics with teaching at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels.

Nationally I took on in 2001 two Ministerial appointments to fascinating bodies. I was appointed to the ESRC, Economic and Social Research Council, where I was Chair of the Research Priorities Board - now renamed as the Strategy Board. That was hugely interesting and rather satisfying. The funding of good social science research and seeing the work come through is wonderfully creative. I was renewed for a further year on the ESRC (2004-05). I was also appointed to the Competition Commission, an agency very much at the heart of my research interests and again an absolutely fascinating organisation. The ability to work with a top class team on matters that are intrinsically fascinating and of national importance is a privilege which I greatly value. My membership of the Commission was renewed in 2005 for a further four years and I joined the Remedies Standing Group which monitors and adapts the remedies packages negotiated through the various CC investigations. I served on ten merger inquitries including the fascinating BSkyB/ITV. This engagement with competition policy has continued with a far more legal flavour as a Member of the Competition Appeal Tribunal from 2011.

Internationally I continue to work with long standing collaborators including Bruce Doern (Carleton, Ottawa and Exeter) and Roland Sturm (Erlangen, Nuremberg). I retain international links with Japan and especially with Michio Muramatsu. My long standing interest in Korea and Korean social science took something of a back seat during the DVC years but I have renewed contacts with Korean academics, especialky Professor Jung Yongduck at Seoul national and with former students. We are immensely fortunate to have had cohorts of excellent Korean officials as students on our MPA for nearly 20 years as well as many outstanding doctoral students.

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