T R ADI T ION CHALLENGED
Reduced demand and competition from Asia is reshaping the courses business schools offer Australia’s career builders
AUSTRALIA has a thriving Master of Business Administration market with almost 70 institutions offering masters of business degrees costing up to $75,000. But with more universities offering their own business specialities and corporate connections, prospective students are being urged to take into account a range of factors to make sure they get value for money. With the high cost of being out of the workforce, there is increasing interest in accelerated courses instead of the traditional two-year, full-time MBAs.
“The most expensive and prestigious business schools don’t always deliver the biggest bang for your buck,” says Ross White, education data manager at Hobsons, publisher of The
Good Universities Guide to MBAs. “Prospective MBA students need to consider how much their MBA costs and ensure that the ratings achieved by the business school and MBA are strong enough to justify the expense.”
And it can be expensive. Australian fees range from about $18,650 at Central Queensland University to $75,000 at the Melbourne Business School (University of Melbourne), although the online offering from the Australian Institute of Business comes in at $18,000. (Melbourne Business School’s
senior executive MBA course is the most expensive offered in the country, clocking in at $120,000 for a 14-month course.) Excluding executive MBAs, the average course in Australia will set a student back $40,671. The University of New South Wales ($72,960), Macquarie Graduate School of Management ($65,600), Monash University ($60,000) and University of Sydney ($60,000) round out the five biggest-ticket MBAs.
But White says students “don’t always get what they pay for” in the MBA realm. “Lower-fee MBAs and business schools are capable of achieving ratings that match or exceed those with higher fees. Ideally students should be looking for a mix of brand cachet versus value for money: one with the best corporate links, the best salary and the best student cohort – the most qualified peers,” he says.
Students take on an MBA course to advance their careers and, thus, their remuneration. And on that count, the correlation appears to stand up. The 2013 QS TopMBA.com Global Employer Survey shows Australian MBAs are the highest paid in the world, bringing in an average of $US133,100, with Switzerland and Denmark second and third. Despite the reputation of top MBA courses in the United States, the average US MBA graduate makes less than $US100,000.
Victoria O’Connor, principal of information website MBA Solutions, says demand is “mixed,” with most universities reporting reduced demand for “traditional MBAs”, the fulltime, two-year degree, and greater interest in “accelerated” courses that can be completed in 12 to 18 months.
Bob O’Connor, executive director of the Graduate School of Business at Queensland University of Technology, says his university is experiencing “very strong” demand. “I think what is driving that here in Queensland is the softening of the economy: people are investing in their careers, taking the opportunity to study while business is not as frantic as it has been in the last five or six years.”
Victoria O’Connor says more universities are offering blended learning – some online work, either as part of faceto-face work, or even online alone. More are including “soft skills” in their courses. And there is a strong demand for specialist business areas, she says, with courses now offering more specialised programs, such as oil and gas, hospitality and tourism, pharmacy management, and e-marketing.
Some of this change reflects the fact that management itself requires the “soft skills” to be fully effective, says Laura Bell, associate dean, academic programs, at Melbourne Business School. “Managers need a personal effectiveness skill-set, too – things like being able to deal with conflict. In the real world, you have to work with people, and if you’re not emotionally intelligent and you don’t know how to become a leader, your effectiveness is going to be limited.” Bell says Melbourne Business School has a “very comprehensive personal effectiveness program” for its full-time students. “We work with them before they get here, we understand where some of their potential deficiencies are, and we work out for them the areas where they need help,” she says.
Bob O’Connor says most universities are “tweaking” their MBA offering to have a differentiator, often by targeting certain industries. “Every institution is trying to do something different. We have a number of specialisations, in what we call complex program leadership, and international leadership, and strategic procurement. Procurement is one of the last bastions of reform that can still deliver significant productivity to an organisation, and that’s a differentiator for us. But, at the end of the day, though, these are specialisations built as an addition to a core. We’re talking about tweaking 20 to 25 per cent of the program.”
Professor Mile Terziovski, dean of the Curtin Graduate School of Business, says his university also offers an MBA in strategic procurement, as well as one in oil and gas, in partnership with the Aberdeen Business School ( part of Robert Gordon University) to deliver shared content in the MBA (oil and gas management) program. “Given that we are a Western Australian university, there is huge demand from the large corporates in Perth for this type of specialisation, so that’s something that we’re focusing on quite heavily. But it is built on the traditional MBA, it doesn’t replace it.”