Business School Masters Programmes in Australia: Challenges, Achievements, Opportunities

John Shields

Deputy Dean (Education) and Professor of Work and
Organisational Studies, University of Sydney Business School, Sydney, Australia.

John Shields explains the way Australian masters programmes have developed (and will develop more).

In essence, masters-level education in business and management in the Australian university sector is a hybrid of the European pre-experience MSc model and the North American postexperience MBA tradition.

While the flagship postgraduate coursework (PGCW) programmes offered by Australian business schools are post-experience programmes in MBAs, EMBAs and DBAs degrees, with few exceptions the programmes that continue to draw the largest volumes of students are those studying in non-MBA pre-experience specialist business or generalist management masters programmes.

Indeed, Australian universities have turned increasingly to revenue raising via masters fees, with the sector now taking in 150,000 PGCW students annually and such programmes now contributing 27% of all higher education enrolments (Department of Education, 2013; Austrade/AEI, 2013).

Business schools have been in the forefront of this growth in masters education. The sector’s growing reliance on fee revenue from masters cohorts, which are predominantly pre-experience and international and full-time, poses both challenges and opportunities for educational practice in Australian business schools.

While remaining predominantly state-owned, the universities to which Australia’s business schools belong now rely substantially on fee income from masters-level business education to meet both recurrent and capital improvement costs.

Management/Commerce currently represent over one-third of all PGCW commencements in the sector and although there has recently been strong growth in demand for programmes in humanities, information technology and health, Australian business schools graduate one-third of Australian university students and one-fifth of international students at Australian universities (Australian Business Deans’ Council, 2014).

Continued dominance of non-MBA pre-experience masters programmes

In the Australian context, post-experience business administration programmes are, for the most part, boutique products, while non-MBA specialist masters programmes deliver most of the student load.

Nearly all Australian business schools offer specialist masters products, compared to just twothirds of US business schools (AACSB, 2014). The growth engines here are pre/early career degrees in professional accounting, finance and commerce.

The last five years has also seen the rise of pre/ early career general management (“baby MBA”) programmes, partly to capitalise on a growing demand from newly graduated non-business background graduates for conversion masters in the business field. Fifteen universities (38% of all 39 Australian universities) now offer a Master of Management (MiM) programme, with seven of these being pre-experience and most others requiring only two years’ work experience. By contrast, only 10% of US business schools offer such programmes.

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