MBAs have long been seen as both a stepping stone and milestone in professional career progress. Craig Donaldson looks at some of the latest MBA trends and examines the all-important process of how to choose the ideal MBA school and program
Most industries have been affected
by the global financial crisis in
some way or another. A number
of MBA schools have been heav
ily impacted by the GFC, because
MBAs are seen as a prohibitively expensive train
ing option in tough economic times by both organ
isations and individuals. Many people are happy
just to keep their job, let alone think about career
development and progression.
As a result, MBA schools around the world
are re-examining their foundations, from the sub
jects they are teaching and the way they teach
them, to the very philosophical underpinnings
of their view of the world, says Roy Green, dean
of UTS: Business.
While the crisis is not as acute in Australia and
UTS is doing well by all measurable indicators,
Green says the school doesn’t have to worry too
much about next year, or even the year after. “But
we do need to look further ahead – towards 2013,
2014 and beyond,” he says.
Jennifer George, acting dean of Melbourne
Business School, says there’s nothing like adver
sity to generate innovation, and her advice to
MBA students is that they must understand quan
titative elements of financial information, such as
how to analyse financial statements, manage
ment accounting and financial risks. “Not many
programs in Australia require this. They tend to
concentrate more on soft skills, HR or market
ing and leave the more difficult financial sub
jects out. If students do not understand the
financial risks in the companies they manage,
they risk repeating the mistakes that contributed
to this credit crisis,” she says.
John Edwards, acting director of executive edu
cation for Macquarie Graduate School of Man
agement (MGSM), says the school has reviewed
the focus of some of its MBA subjects to take into
account the more volatile and uncertain economic
climate. Outside of this, he says there has been an
increase in interest in postgraduate study from
potential students (both domestic and interna
tional), with more looking to enrol in full-time
programs to up-skill and prepare for the upturn
in business confidence.
Pause for thought
MBAs require a significant financial investment,
so it pays to do your homework in researching the
school and course that will provide the most per
sonal and professional benefit.
Tony McArthur, national secretary of the Grad
uate Management Association of Australia, says to
consider first and foremost whether it’s the right
time to do an MBA. “Some people in the early
stages of their career might be focusing on the tech
nical issues of their industry or profession. A bet
ter option for them might be to do a Masters in
their specific area, such as an accountant doing a Masters in
Commerce,” he says.
“Later in their career, an MBA is ideal for getting away
from the technical expertise and building on management
skills to prepare for a leadership role that requires a broad
In considering where to study, McArthur says the quality
and reputation of an MBA school are critical. “You don’t want
to spend a lot of time and money getting an MBA from a school
that a prospective employer is going to say: ‘Never heard of
them. Where are they and what’s it all about?’ If you go to a
recognised school your MBA will be more readily accepted as
a business credential,” he says.
Julia Connell, associate dean of Postgraduate Programs
and the director of the MBA at UTS: Business, says that in
addition to the reputation of the MBA school, potential stu
dents should also consider the strength of the links between
school and industry, and the program itself. “Does the pro
gram have a strong core that is applicable to their career aspi
rations? Does the program offer the opportunity to study
overseas through exchange programs and gain international
experience,” she says.
“A person only does one MBA in their lifetime, so stu
dents should look to the school that will provide a transfor
mational experience – one where they will come into contact
with teachers and fellow students who will change their lives
for the better.”
There are also a number of practical considerations, and
Connell says potential students should research whether the
course fits their lifestyle in terms of:
• Location (proximity to work or home or transport)
• Cost (fits the budget in terms of value and quality for money
and length of program, ie. One year full-time or up to six
years part time depending on the number of units or credits given from
either undergraduate or other studies)
• Time (work and/or family commitment will dictate whether full-time
or part-time and whether weekly classes or intensive weekend or week
day classes are most suitable)
• Work hours and/or travel (work travel commitments will determine whether
online or face to face and, possibly, mode of offer, ie weekly or intensive)
Making the most of an MBA
During the actual degree it’s helpful to be involved in activities offered out
side the classroom, according to Melbourne Business School’s George. This
might include networking with other students and industry groups, doing
internships or simply taking advantage of options that allow students to
reflect on and apply their learning outside the classroom context.
“For example, an internship, whether it’s for two or ten weeks, enables
students to apply what they have learnt in the classroom while offering them
opportunities that are radically unlike their previous work experience. It puts
them into an environment where they’re applying their learning in a completely
new domain. It opens new possibilities, stretches them and helps them to see
things in the material that they might otherwise not see,” she says.
A lot of the benefits students get from an MBA are not realised until after
they leave, she says, and some students extract more value than others because
they more consciously reflect on their course years afterwards.
“I’ve noticed the students who are successful in doing this consciously
reflect on the different areas they studied and think about them in the con
text of the problems they are solving. They almost go through a checklist in
their head when they are faced with a problem and say, ‘How can I think about
that from a marketing perspective, from a finance perspective and from an
operations management perspective?’” she says.
What to watch out for
One of the most common pitfalls with MBA programs is making a quick
decision about which institution to apply to, according to MGSM’s Edwards.
“Listening to advice from others who have completed postgrad study is
important, but do your own research as well. Visit the various institutions on
your list, see what the learning environment is like, attend an information ses
sion and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he says.
Managing time is also crucial when combining work and postgradu
ate study, and Edwards says juggling work and study is challenging but
that learning to be disciplined around time management will make things
Many programs also require students to work in syndicates to complete
both a written report and prepare a verbal presentation. “These are usually
positive experiences, but can occasionally be challenging. Approach all syn
dicate work in a positive way and embrace the experience as part of the over
all learning,” he says.
Lastly, before selecting electives course units, Edwards recommends talk
ing to as many fellow students as possible and discussing any doubts about
elective selections with lecturers.
Top tips for HR
HR professionals looking to undertake an MBA need to think about what they want to derive from the degree in terms of knowledge, new skills, network or career progression opportunities, says Andrew Heys, senior lecturer in management at MGSM.
“HR professionals, particularly at the more senior level these days, are expected to have the capacity to contribute to strategic discussions, so it's important to understand the other functional specialists, finance people in particular,” he says.
“They can also expand and deepen their own domain knowledge to become better at what they do by a formal appreciation of organisational behaviour, law in management, negotiation, conflict management or even change management.”