The Changing Face of Teaching in Business

As Executive Dean of the faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Flinders University, Professor Phyllis Tharenou has been instrumental in the recent evolution of business studies, to the point where Flinders is recognised as a world top 2 per cent tertiary institution according to the Times Higher Education rankings.

A member of the Board of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities from 2012-2016 and the Don Dunstan Foundation management committee, Professor Phyllis Tharenou brings a wealth of experience as a senior executive closely involved in the management of Flinders University.

Her influence was honed from her early days at Queensland and Griffith Universities and QUT School of Management.member of the Board of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities from 2012-2016 and the Don Dunstan Foundation management committee, Professor Phyllis Tharenou brings a wealth of experience as a senior executive closely involved in the management of Flinders University.

A member of the Board of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities from 2012-2016 and the member of the Board of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities from 2012-2016 and the

Professor Tharenou was always interested in management as a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (US) and the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management and took an applied focus to her learning that led early in her career to a highly successful consulting career based on experiential learning and teaching.

Based on the philosophy of experience, the changes Professor Tharenou has brought to Flinders Business School have been substantial. While ‘Flinders Business has always been strong, Professor Tharenou has harnessed excellent professional staff to build up a huge placement program, which was previously almost non-existent.

“The changes I felt I could make were first of all to give students the opportunity to work with industry, government, the community in placements or live industry projects. For example, we didn’t have online courses. I thought I could introduce more flexibility into the way students study. So we put the MBA online. There were lots of chances there: there were degrees that we needed to delete, there were new ones we needed to add, there were courses that we needed to fix. We also needed to earn more researching income and we’ve done that.”

Now, most of Flinders’ business students enjoy industry placements and live industry projects.

“A lot of our large classes have live industry projects embedded in them, working with the University’s entrepreneurial arm, the Flinders New Venture Institute,” Professor Tharenou says. Professor Tharenou also redesigned the workload model.

“Now a workload model is the way all university schools run,” she said. “Then there was introducing new degrees, deleting old degrees, fixing the curriculum. So I started off with the needed thing – the workload model – and then predominantly curriculum and process.

The result has been a huge improvement in the Business School’s performance aided by an excellent balance of skilled continuing staff and enterprising new staff .

Having just changed the financial performance of the school and very much increased its teaching revenue, the professional focus is now on increased placements and live industry projects and host organisations.

Meanwhile, Professor Tharenou has renewed the academic staff and improved their qualifications, bringing in a more positive staff culture, which has influenced Flinders Business’ overall success.

“We’ve had a big success. I mean, to just start with really basic things, our financial performance had been in deficit. We’re now well into the black. Our total teaching revenue went up by, I think it was 43 per cent. Our on-shore international teaching revenue has gone up 91 per cent since 2014. So first of all, we make a surplus now, we’re making money on-shore. Our placements are astronomic compared to where they were. I thank our wholly expert professional staff for that achievement.

Flinders Business School has also seen a significant renewal of its academic staff, while some have retired and other highly credentialed staff has come in. For example in 2015, 68 per cent of Flinders Business School academic staff had PhDs. A year later, that number was 78 per cent.

Professor Tharenou’s goal was to create options: new courses, new specialisations in innovation and enterprise, combined degrees and an updated curriculum.

She says the University has special programs to prepare students for the outside world, and has recently teamed up with The Fox School of Business at Temple University, ranked a US top ten provider of online business, to turbocharge students’ entrepreneurial skills. Professor Tharenou says combined with work based learning, it gives Flinders students a leading edge when heading into the workforce.

“The thing about our placement programme is we have a comprehensive matching process. We take our students and we assess them against the placements that are available and we match them. Then before they go to the placement we train them. They have a two-day training course, so they have the right sort of interpersonal and other skills to start the placement. I think the placement is probably the most important thing we do, because it prepares them for the real world. Instead of it all just being theory, it’s actually real application. The students appreciate it and we get a lot of positive feedback from it.

And then there are the live industry projects, working hand in hand with the University’s New Venture Institute. This is a key entity helping to drive Flinders’ focus on Innovation and Enterprise, and has great contact with industry. Flinders Business School, with the NVI, runs live industry projects with real clients, where the students work as teams, solving real client problems.

“I think that’s one of the most valuable things we do for students,” Professor Tharenou says. All up, the university is getting ahead of the changes now,transforming education and influencing the revolution going on in teaching.Professor Tharenou remembers at the end of the 1990s when she realised students were stopping coming to lectures due to the start of the digital revolution.

“I think studying now is not always something you do face-to-face. Studying is not always something where you do a very long, laborious course, but you might do shorter modules. Studying is something that fits the sort of work you want to do. It isn’t just theory and isn’t just broad. So I think we’re in the digital age, I think we’re in an age of greater flexibility. It’s happening right now. It’s not something that we’re imagining is actually going to happen and it’s changing our institutions.”



Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.