Congratulations MBS and Melbourne University – its about time …


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
6 Responses to "Congratulations MBS and Melbourne University – its about time …"
  1. It makes sense in light of the restrictions imposed by the AQF on masters degrees; which mainly bite in Business. So Melbourne through the MBS may now have the ability to ignore the AQF for Business graduate degrees and comply with the AQF outside of Business.

  2. Indeed, reading between the lines here:

    I see that it is likely an AQF thing. You see under the AQF the University can’t offer masters degrees that are shorter than two years in area A to students who do not have a degree in area A. The short executive masters have no place in the AQF.

    I guess this may be a tempting model for other universities.

  3. Well, there goes the neighbourhood. Anyone who has experienced both teaching cultures knows that the UM business teaching is horrible by comparison with MBS.

    Also, my $70k MBA is now worth $25k. Thanks, guys. Screw you, too.

  4. Could any large University redesign its main program as quickly and as successfully?”….I am not ok with you using the word successfully here. Agreed that change was quick but how many graduates from your changed main program are employed right now.

    Again using “customer-focussed teaching” when half of the cohort have to go back to their home countries looking for employment does not sound particulary customer focussed to me.

  5. I agree with Batsup – its the death of MBS.

    I was one of the 4 dedicated fantastic caring llibrary staff who were retrenched in August. Told at 1pm – packing our stuff and leaving at 1.30.

    I have worked for both institutions and am very sad that they have sold out. It will never be the same again. I am sad for the students that they don’t have their own library anymore and sad that the quality of the course will deteriate under the merger.

    I loved my 8 years at MBS and am glad to have worked there at its peak. It will never be the same again.

  6. Surely you are joking! MBS is losing much of the value simply because all it’s good academics are leaving and being replaced by clueless lecturers from the United States. As an alumni of both institutions, it seems to me that MBS is getting a much better deal by merging with melbourne Uni- MBS classes, in the main, are pretty dreadful – no use blaming the Uni for that

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