Business students are interested in research for two reasons. For some, learning about universities’ scientific and engineering discoveries gives them insights into how mainstream business is likely to change and new products, services and platforms that are likely to emerge.
“Students want to tap into the research and see what’s happening in research now [and consider] what that means later,” Professor Ford said.
More entrepreneurial students are interested in the commercialisation of research, with a view to sitting on advisory boards or co-investing.
This year, Sydney University’s business school ran two separate workshops involving MBA students and scientific teams. Each workshop, where the research was explained and participants considered how it might be translated and what the business model might look like, typically comprised three three-hour sessions. Professor Ford said he was considering turning the workshops into a formal study unit, comprising 10 four-hour sessions.
The School of Sydney Business, Economics and Law is also considering a business transformation project that focuses on the use of data analysis and artificial intelligence, as well as how to transform traditional business models from foundation to core subjects. In addition, students will be taught practical skills, such as creating a chatbot and blockchain, to better understand how the technology can be applied.
“Blockchain is such a mysterious thing to so many people,” Professor Ford said. “But once you get them to build a little blockchain in class, all of a sudden, the whole brain opens up, and they can see how they can apply it. That’s why I think it is important for them to get their hands dirty. They think: ‘I can see how that works. I can apply that to an insurance problem we’ve got, or to acquire new customers’.”
Professor Ford, like educators from other MBA schools, suggested the COVID-19 pandemic had brought forward adjustments and some more comprehensive changes to coursework, rather than acting as a tipping point.
Kathy Douglas, Dean of the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT, said the MBA course would introduce greater solving of sustainability problems, as well as more global problems. This was prompted by the realisation that many business issues, such as supply chains, were more global than executives had perhaps understood.
“We would be solving problems with our industry partners and that could be across the world now, not just a Melbourne-centric view,” Professor Douglas said. “That’s what we’re moving to. We’re not fully there yet. We have a Vietnam campus, so we’re reaching out to our Vietnam people and looking to those kinds of international issues.”
Leadership courses would also include more information on personal wellbeing, Professor Douglas said, given the greater emphasis on mental health during the pandemic.
“In leadership and ethics, you have to start now as leaders talking about wellbeing,” she said.
Vivek Chaudhri, academic director of Melbourne Business School’s executive MBA programs, said it was incumbent on course providers to equip the next generation of leaders to cope with uncertainty.
He said coursework would change to reflect the prospect that sometimes traditional frameworks used to form a strategy or solve a problem might no longer be appropriate because of changes in the external environment.
This could be taught through “experiential exercises”, role plays and case studies, Dr Chaudhrisaid.
“There will be things that aren’t in your frameworks and structures that you’ve been relying on [to make decisions],” Dr Chaudhri said.
“If you just look down at your map but don’t look at what’s in front of you, you’re going to do a bad job. I think management education over the course of the next few years is going to have to get that balance between teaching practitioners in management the valuable tools, but also understanding when the assumptions that underpin them don’t make sense and we have to try something else.”
Readers of The Australian Financial Review who want to upgrade their skills have access to the executive education hub on afr.com.