In 2014, Forbes magazine asked the question: Why Aren’t Business Schools More Like Business? It was an interesting inquiry at a time when the world had only just recovered from the Global Financial Crisis.
The article questioned why business schools weren’t following their own advice.
Author of the article Steve Denning wrote: Business schools are well aware of the threat of disruption… And business schools themselves teach the very nature of the threat: the failure of businesses to respond to the competitive threat of disruption is a staple of the curriculum.
So why don’t business schools themselves do something about the imminent threats of disruption that they themselves face?
Post GFC has seen the business world change dramatically; technology has transformed the landscape, ethics have evolved and international ties are becoming more and more significant despite the rise of isolationist policies in the wake of Brexit.
If we ask that same question today: why aren’t businesses more like business, it is likely the answer would be different and we would find that the top business schools do indeed act like businesses.
Victoria University is certainly in the top echelon of business schools thinking and acting like businesses, whilst preparing students to become better leaders, managers and human beings.
According to Dean of Business, Colin Clark it is the school’s close connection to industry that has elevated it in its very young history.
“I think historically the business school has been well connected with industry and professionals and as a consequence our curriculum has been contemporary and enabled us to produce better students,” Professor Clark says.
External engagement has been a characteristic of Victoria University across its history. It began as a tech school, before becoming an Institute of Technology and finally a University in 1991, last year celebrating its 25th anniversary of the establishment of Victoria University.
Industry connection has been the mainstay in the university’s evolution.
Across history it has continued to have an engagement with the regions businesses. In more recent decades that has become an international commitment. The school has developed research and teaching partnerships internationally and does a significant amount of teaching in China, Singapore, Malaysia and India.
International partnership is a personal passion for Professor Clark and that commitment is reflected in the curriculum. When he took over as Dean in 2013 (having been with the university since 1992), he was keen to pursue international engagement further.
“Asian engagement and within that China engagement is consistent with Australia’s international trade development and preparing students for this world where they are likely to be engaged is fundamental,” he says. “One of the distinctive things we’ve done is establish the Victoria Business Confucius Institute.”
Whilst there are 500 Confucius Institutes spread across the world, the Victoria Business Confucius Institute is one of only 10 in the world focused on business as their specialisation. The Victoria Business Confucius Institute (VBCI) offers Chinese- language, business and cultural workshops, and facilitates China-focused scholarships and tours. The institute works with business, government, industry and educational and community partners to foster cultural understanding between Australian and Chinese people.
Located within the College of Business, Victoria Business Confucius Institute teaches Mandarin to foster capability in Chinese language and culture and themes around doing business in China.
International relationships and broader globalisation is just one factor in the recent disruption of business practice.
As alluded to above, in this current era all business sectors have been disrupted and whilst profit is important, the way profit is made has become just as critical.
So as internationalism is a key touchpoint in Victoria University’s curriculum, so too are other key themes.
“We focus on significant themes as a business school that prepare graduates for a professional career. At the top of the list of those themes is Big Data or Business Analytics. Then there is a whole push around sustainability, corporate social responsibility, business ethics and entrepreneurship.”
Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Teradata and SAP are the top five data analytics software providers in the world, a fact that itself indicates how powerful this movement has become.
Data analytics plays a major role in Victoria University’s learning directions, with the university setting up a big data lab for SAP and a number of partnerships with businesses that provide real world business data from which students can analyse and provide recommendations.
“We have several courses around this. We have a post- graduate programme in business analytics, but we embed this theme across a range of offerings in our approach,” Professor Clark says.
Sustainability is another major theme.
MBA students are currently working alongside Monash University students in the 100 Resilient Cities movement. This movement pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.
“Victoria University helps businesses undertake an evaluation around sustainability and that leads to businesses being offered advice. Out of that process we are able to build engagement with industry and an understanding of what businesses are doing which informs government policy.”
It is these types of programmes that have enabled the university to stay relevant through extraordinary change in the business landscape.
“The rate of change business has experienced is rapid and so preparing students for a changing environment is critical to their business training. What we need to be developing is a continual learning and an approach to learning for life. The development of skills isn’t something that stops at the graduation ceremony.”
At the forefront of this continuous learning paradigm are the partnerships Victoria University has developed.
“We have students doing practical projects. At undergrad level our students do a final year unit that has them working on a social enterprise project for the Big Issue magazine.
We do a similar exercise with Bendigo Bank. We have a range of specialisations across our offerings and they are reflected in our industry networks: tourism, hospitality, and events management programs.
Victoria University works with some of the biggest names in business both here and abroad and this has not only attracted students, but academics as well. The quality of teachers on staff is reflected in the university’s MBA rankings, with all academic staff holding a PhD and many having professional experience.
Guest lecturers have also included the likes of Alan Kohler, and Dr Craig Emerson, former federal Minister for Finance.
Victoria University is ranked in the top 350 universities in the world that’s the top 2% globally, and 56th globally for universities under 50 years old.
Its reputation can be directly linked to its ability to meet the demands of modern business practice and keep changing with the times.
In five years, Professor Clark expects that Victoria University will be known for having programmes that are well connected with industry and graduates that are profession-ready and prepared for a global career.
That is not the lot of a university that is acting contrary to business.