Congratulations to the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Business School. The ‘collaboration’ between the two institutions has been a long time coming. But a deal – using the MBS brand for all of UniMelb’s graduate courses in business – is clearly common sense. The Melbourne Business School brand is probably the strongest signal of quality postgraduate education in business in Australia. So it makes sense to use that brand, and the resources of the MBS, to their full potential.
The collaboration announcement is here. Note that:
All graduate programs in business and economics, including the MBA, will be offered through Melbourne Business School, which in turn becomes the sole Graduate School for business and economics at Melbourne.
So that is the good news. Common sense prevails.
What about the bad news? The collaboration will not be without challenges. Here are three:
- Maintaining the MBS quality and brand in a large (stultifying?) bureaucracy. The strength of the MBS has been its small dedicated staff and nimble response to the market. The recent reform of their MBA is a great example. Could any large University redesign its main program as quickly and as successfully? And would any University have the courage to not enrol new students in its key education products while that redesign is occurring? The Melbourne Model could be used as a ‘big university’ example, so maybe the MBS-UniMelb merger will not swamp an innovative culture with a stultifying bureaucracy. But the other major business school brand in Australia, AGSM, has been watered down by the School’s absorption into the UNSW faculty. The MBS-UniMelb collaboration will fail if the same thing happens to the MBS and its brand.
- Successfully merging the cultures. Many mergers (and collaborations) fail because of the inability to integrate the teams from the two businesses. Culture matters. The MBS culture and the UniMelb culture are not the same. Having worked in both the MBS and the UniMelb Faculty, there are important differences. The difficulty will be to ensure that the best of both cultures comes through. In particular, the MBS emphasis on quality, customer-focussed teaching must be maintained. This will not be easy. Even the suggestion that students are customers invites wrath from many traditional academics. But MBS’s success is its combination of research and teaching. It provides high quality business courses because that is what the students want, expect and are paying for.
- What to do about Executive Education and Mt Eliza? In my opinion, the Mt Eliza Executive Education part of MBS is the best operation of its type in Australia. It is largely separated from the day-to-day operations of MBS-Carlton, but can draw on those resources when needed. But there are two significant issues. First, the Executive Education culture is very different from a University research/teaching culture. The success of Mt Eliza depends on the deliberate decision NOT to integrate the operations. Second, Executive Education is a hard, ruthless market, and even the best operations, like Mt Eliza, operate on very thin (and frequently negative) returns. The collaboration will only work if the University understands that Executive Education is not ‘rivers of gold’ but ‘valleys of pain’. Unfortunately, that is often lost on University bureaucrats who do not understand the extent of competition in the Exec Ed market. How the University of Melbourne deals with Mt Eliza will tell us a lot about wether the University really understands the business education market, or simply views the collaboration as bringing a (supposed) cash cow in house.