A changing world of business education

Lifelong learning has become something we hear repeatedly, but that shouldn’t deflect from the fact that in today’s fast-changing world, nobody is immune from the need to keep learning and developing their skills.  

Modes and avenues of business learning are changing, as are the needs of business people and their organisations. And it seems that flexibility for students and competency-based education are on the rise.

Alexander Richter, a Professor in Information Systems at Wellington School of Business and Government and the academic programme leader of its new Executive Master of Business Administration (Executive MBA), says students in professional programmes today are looking for more flexibility and for programmes that allow them to choose what resonates with them.

Essentially, he says, it is about universities allowing these professionals the flexibility to customise the programmes’ offerings for their own needs and wants.

He says that at the Business School, which is part of Te Herenga Waka –Victoria University of Wellington, they create offerings that can easily adapt to what each student needs in an ever-changing market. 

It is, he says, important with executive education to acknowledge the individual and their aspirations and any constraints they may have as a busy executive, juggling work, study and home. “We don’t want to make it harder for them, it is about their progress.” 

For this reason, students are able to choose their number of courses and from different electives and can individually plan each trimester. 

The Business School’s new Executive MBA is competency based, Richter says. “It will rely heavily on what professional development the executives want.” 

He says it acknowledges we are all individuals, all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and the Business School works with students on what they feel they need to apply in their working life. “It invites students to think about, ‘How can this education inspire reflection on where I am, where do I want to be, and how I can apply this in my working life?’ 

“We acknowledge that the academic courses of the qualification are one thing but we also want to offer a holistic programme and therefore put more emphasis on professional development.” Professor Richter says students need to be able to apply in corporate situations what they learn in their courses and that requires a range of things, including soft skills.

“We coach them to reflect. They need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and their career path and personal development.” He says this is so they can be a better communicator, a better colleague and a better leader. 

Among offerings students can choose from are, for instance, sessions on intercultural communication, sustainability and work with not-for-profit organisations.  

As to the biggest change New Zealand’s tertiary sector is grappling with, Richter says the country is slowly realising that trying to copy other countries’ education systems is not the way to go. 

“In New Zealand, we can be proud of our culture and our values. Our programmes are unique in that way and students around the world appreciate that.”

 On the digital front, Richter thinks New Zealand universities will further embrace the opportunities digital platforms offer and says digital platforms allow New Zealand to compete in the worldwide education market.

“At the Business School, we see a huge opportunity to embrace online and blended learning. For example, we use MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as part of the professional development in the Executive MBA, and our Master of Information Studies is fully online.”


The innovations

As to what the big innovations are likely to be in the business education sector over the next few years David Pich, the CEO of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand, pointed to business education seeing a closer integration with real-world organisations and industries. This included those involved in the design and delivery of hands-on practical professional courses to accredit students with micro-credentials that complement or form part of their tertiary degree. 

“What we’ve seen at IML ANZ with our university partners is that they are becoming more aware of their students. They are now looking towards a blended learning approach which incorporates academic textbook learning with online interaction and industry opportunities for an enriched job-ready education.” 

As to what is driving these changes Pich says that today New Zealand’s business learners hail from all corners of the world, come from diverse backgrounds, are at various career stages, and have a range of work and life motivations. 

“To be competitive, universities need to offer more flexible learning experiences with professional opportunities.”  

He noted too that in moving towards more flexible learning experiences, the online space offers educators a world of opportunity.

“Around the world, it’s popular for universities to offer learning options online … however, many universities are also reinvesting in face-to-face delivery, particularly in business education. Much of this comes from the need to fully equip students with the practical professional skills needed when they enter the workforce, and these competencies can’t be developed through online education – they must be observed, practiced and reflected on. 

“In fact, this is one of the principles that underpin the way we develop programmes – not just for new and aspiring leaders – but for all who want to become better leaders.”

Asked about competency-based education Pich said the biggest take-up of these methods have been in business schools, and it’s only going to become more popular.

“… universities are focusing on developing skills and not just the knowledge of their students to prepare them to enter the workforce with professional, not just academic, competencies.”  


Creating the workforce of the future 

Helping managers and leaders solve problems that they are faced with every day in the real world, such as better managing people’s productivity, is the focus of a new MBA programme from the University of Waikato. 

The university says it is launching in New Zealand a creative, innovative cross disciplined approach to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme in 2020.

While traditionally MBAs are taught in a linear fashion, based on individual disciplines such as marketing, strategy, accounting and economics, the university says it has identified a need to evolve its current offering to better meet the workforce of the future. 

The result is a revised MBA programme which it says will create experienced, confident graduates who have the skills and knowledge to help shape the future of business in New Zealand. 

Academic director of executive education, Dr Heather Connolly, says that globally, a number of universities are exploring how they can make their MBAs more relevant to the business market of today.

“Our new MBA structure will help managers and leaders solve problems that they are faced with every day in the real world. For example, one of the papers explores how we can better manage people’s productivity – not just by looking at human resources, but the effect of an organisation’s structure and the impact of digital technology for better ways of working.”

Connolly says this new programme is highly responsive to external conditions, with course content being regularly reviewed and refreshed. 

“It’s important we have the ability to be agile and that our graduates are the same. If we don’t understand the workforce of tomorrow we can’t instigate change for better business. 

“We want to create graduates who have insight and curiosity, to develop values-led, innovative ideas for the advancement of all New Zealand businesses.”

Designed to fit around students’ full-time work, the two-year degree is offered across the university’s Tauranga and Hamilton campuses, and is structured to allow for better networking and collaboration across both locations. 

As well as being increasingly tailored for real-world conditions the programme is also highly personalised to ensure students understand how to put their theory into practice, for both their own work environment and also other businesses. 

Connolly says one of the highlights of the programme is a two-day residency, held after the first four papers, where students are assigned a business challenge and have 24 hours to develop a comprehensive solution. 

The 2020 intake for the University of Waikato’s progressive MBA begins in March. For more information, visit execed.ac.nz/mba

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