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Our MBA: A degree tailored for modern times

06 Oct 2012

Sydney Morning Herald

By Geoffrey Garrett

The Business School's new MBA is a degree tailored for modern times, writes Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Dean of the Business School, in the Sydney Morning Herald.

When the University of Sydney Business School launched its new MBA last week, it was responding not only to what business is telling us they need for their organisations and students say they want to realise their ambitions.

Our flagship degree is also designed very much with the coming commoditisation of higher education in mind that is being driven by the same forces transforming the rest of the economy - the pervasive globalisation of markets and the information and communication technology revolution.

The value proposition of face-to-face in class higher education, inevitably expensive and labour intensive, will have to be fundamentally reconceived and rebuilt if it is to survive the challenge from much cheaper and much more convenient online competitors.

The online business model is now clear. Digitise the content of the best lectures from the world's best universities, deliver them to anyone, anywhere, any time on a computer, tablet or smartphone, and charge for credentialing the completion of online courses from certificates to full degrees.

What can't be captured and delivered online are the interactions that can make the in-class experience unique, the sharing of perspectives and collaborative problem-solving not only between teacher and student but equally among students as well.

Business schools will likely take a leading role in honing universities' attention on what is unique about the in-class experience.

Academics will have to rethink their roles less as fonts of received knowledge and more as facilitators of knowledge creation. Otherwise universities and their academic staffs risk being relegated by the online higher-education revolution from the universal way skills are added to the labour force to a niche product for a small elite.

The good news for us at the Sydney Business School is that the key to meeting the online challenge is the same as giving employers and students what they want.

Our MBA will give students the traditional professional skills in finance, management, marketing and strategy that everyone expects. We will also follow our local competitors in holding classes in the Sydney CBD on evenings and weekends to cater to young working professionals.

The innovation in our new degree is weaving throughout our program the development among our students of the personal attributes that are so critical to success in business today that they can no longer be dismissed as "soft skills".

There are three core elements to our re-imagined MBA.

First, we are partnering with a large global executive search firm to provide our students, when they begin their MBAs, with a detailed personal assessment of their leadership skills and to identify a personal development plan to help them harness their strengths. Throughout the degree, students will participate in workshops and receive coaching tailored to developing different aspects of their personal leadership skill sets.

Second, our MBA will feature a suite of classes focused on learning by doing leadership development. Our students will sharpen their thought leadership and critical thinking skills by writing opinion pieces and by giving door step interviews on key business issues of the day, and then evaluating their performance with their peers as well as their teachers. They will also take a deep dive into the mindset of design thinking, how to harness innovation by the incubation of ideas through teamwork.

Finally, all our students will work in small teams to address real business problems for leading organisations partnering with us. Think of these capstones to our MBA as pro bono consulting projects with big benefits not only for the organisations getting the reports but also for the student teams delivering them.

Today's MBA market is densely populated with almost all Australian universities and most around the world offering the iconic business and management education product. But the competition will only get all the tougher with online credentialing poised to take off in a big way given the straitened economic times that are likely to endure for years.

The key to meeting the competitiveness challenge, ironically, is to go back to the roots of Oxford and Cambridge tutorials and Harvard and Yale seminars. This means focusing on the development of leaders through sustained interpersonal interactions in which teachers don't read from textbooks but rather act as mentors and facilitators helping students realise their wildest ambitions.

First published in Sydney Morning Herald

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