Designing a degree
WHEN IT CAME TO CREATING AN MBA PROGRAM, THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY TOOK A FEW LEAVES OUT OF ITS OWN TEXTBOOKS.
When it finally decided to enter a crowded market, the University of Sydney took several leaves out of its own textbooks.
By the time Australia’s oldest university, the University of Sydney, decided in 2008 to enter the highly competitive MBA market, the field was already crowded.
To attract top-quality applicants, senior staff at the university’s business school knew they had to develop a markedly different product, not only from those offered at the University of NSW’s highly regarded Australian Graduate School of Management and University of Melbourne’s Business School, but from those available at prestigious international schools.
In response, the University of Sydney Business School – formerly known as the Faculty of Economics and Business – decided to take a number of leaves out of its own textbooks. Staff spent considerable time researching the market, analysing competitors’ offerings and the professional background and age range of MBA students. They also consulted widely with senior Australian business executives, seeking detailed feedback on the pluses and minuses of MBA courses here and overseas.
Led by Richard Hall, associate dean of management education and professor of work and organisational studies, the course development team was keen to identify ways in which existing courses might be failing to keep up with rapid changes in a globalised business environment. The outcome was an elite product called the Global Executive MBA, an 18-month course launched in 2010. It has a maximum of 20 carefully chosen students and is now training its fourth cohort.
“During our research phase, we identified that traditional MBA courses, with their focus on teaching essential but conventional skills such as accounting, finance and marketing, were not meeting the needs of people already in senior management roles but keen to step into top-line leadership positions,” Hall says.
“This group tends to be comprised of high-level, mid-career executives in their late 30s to mid-40s, as opposed to the more junior business executives in their mid-20s to early 30s who are attracted to standard MBA courses.
“Students in standard courses are taught all the theory of basic management and marketing skills, but they do not get enough opportunities to learn, develop and test their skills in a high-pressure, real-world business environment.”
Hall says another shortcoming in conventional MBA courses is a failure to keep pace with the globally integrated nature of today’s business environment. “We also found that people aiming for leadership roles in their future careers wanted more emphasis on effective communication and people-management skills.”
The result is a course that costs about $ 120,000 and offers students top-level, hands-on consultancy work in India, the US and France, as well as two weeks at the London School of Economics learning about the European wine industry.
“We offer a total of six modules over an 18-month period, five of which are intensive two-week residential modules in Sydney and overseas, designed to enable executives in demanding jobs to manage career and family demands while studying.
“In the Sydney-based module, students have the chance to work in the resource-constrained environment of the not-forprofit sector. For the past couple of years, that’s been with The Smith Family. It’s a very valuable experience, not just for the not-for-profit, but also for our students, many of whom find working in an organisation that helps some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community an eye-opening experience.”
In India, students live in the booming city of Bangalore and work for innovative IT-based businesses. In theUS, they live and work in Silicon Valley, engaging in strategic discussions at IT giant Symantec.
Then, after study at the LSE, they spend 10 days in the stunning Languedoc region of France, exploring the challenges faced by wine-making businesses there, many of which have been run by the same families for generations.
Fees are set at $15,000 per module, with students paying another $20,000 or so for accommodation, meals and ground transport while overseas, as well as their air fares.
Global Executive MBA students undertake modules in (clockwise from far left) Silicon Valley, Languedoc in France, Bangalore in India and Sydney.