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AFR BOSS Best Business School revealed

UNSW Business School is crowned the AFR BOSS Best Business School for 2022 as postgraduate student satisfaction levels across the sector rebound.

Sally PattenBOSS editor

University of New South Wales has been crowned the AFR BOSS Best Business School for 2022 as postgraduate student satisfaction levels rebounded sharply last year to almost match pre-COVID levels.

Victorian-based universities – The University of Melbourne and Deakin University – nabbed two of the top five places in the inaugural ranking of Australia’s 37 business schools.

Chris Styles says he is particularly proud of UNSW Business School’s success given the challenge of providing “quality at scale”. Louie Douvis

Only four of the country’s most prestigious Group of Eight tertiary institutions appeared in the top 10. Apart from UNSW, which is home to the AGSM postgraduate management and business school, University of Melbourne, The University of Western Australia and The University of Sydney were ranked second, third and sixth, respectively.

The AFR BOSS Best Business Schools ranking replaces the BOSS MBA rankings and is the only domestic ranking of business schools in Australia.

The ranking is based on scores gathered for quality, the reputation of the business school and graduates’ employment and salary prospects, a category referred to as “career impact”. The data captures postgraduate studies only and the overall ranking gives equal weight to the three individual categories.

Category winners

Melbourne University’s business school secures top spot in the reputation category, Edith Cowan University is ranked first for quality, while overall winner UNSW also has the greatest “career impact”, which is partly measured by the likelihood that students will find full-time employment in Australia within six months of graduation.

Professor Chris Styles, dean of UNSW Business School, says he is “very proud” of the school’s top ranking in 2022.

“Running the business school is a team sport. It requires the coaches, the great players, the back office people, and a lot of supporters cheering you on from the sides,” Styles says.

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UNSW is ranked fifth for reputation and sixth for quality.

Styles says he is particularly proud of the result given the challenges Australian business schools face. The size of local schools, he notes, is much larger than their rivals in Europe and the US. The UNSW business school has 18,000 students, far higher than the couple of thousand students typically studying at the elite global schools in any one year.

“We have the objective of ‘quality at scale’,” Styles says.

He attributes the success of the school to a focus on producing high-quality research, and disseminating that research as widely as possible, ensuring graduates are job-ready and a culture of experimentation. The school’s mission, Styles says, is to “make a difference”.

The BOSS survey highlights uneven performances by the business schools across the three categories.

The University of Queensland has a strong reputation, but this is not matched by its quality of education or career impact.

Monash University’s business school likewise enjoys a strong reputation but suffers from lower rankings in education quality and the employment prospects for graduates.

The University of Sydney is ranked 30th in terms of quality, although it ranks fourth for reputation and eighth for career impact.

“It is a sign of the maturity of our university system that diverse institutions can now shine at different things,” says Stephen Parker, emeritus professor at University of Canberra and honorary professorial fellow at The University of Melbourne, and a member of the expert advisory group for the ranking methodology.

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“The experience that you have may not be related to the overall reputation of the university,” adds Tim Brown, adjunct professor (research) at Monash University and a former professor of statistical data science at The University of Melbourne.

“I think it is important that we’ve separated those components. Some students care a lot about the reputation. Other students care a lot about the quality of the experience they’re going to have, and other students care a lot about the career impact,” says Brown, who is also a member of the rankings advisory panel.

Prospective students, he says, should think about which of the qualities are most important to them.

At universities, the form was the degree. Now we’re saying that the outcome is the upskilling.

Chris Styles, dean of UNSW Business School

As Monash University Business School dean Simon Wilkie notes, overseas students tend to be influenced by reputation and this is reflected in the schools survey.

Leading G8 universities dominate the reputation rankings, helped by their high scores in global ranking tables. Melbourne University’s average ranking in international surveys is 33, against 50 for University of Queensland, the second-best ranked institution globally.

Six of the top 10 business schools for reputation note that at least 70 per cent of graduates last year were from overseas. At four of them – University of Queensland, Monash, Sydney University and The Australian National University – the proportion of foreign graduates was more than 85 per cent.

By contrast to the reputation ranking, the G8 universities barely feature in the top 10 business schools for quality.

In the quality category, six of the top 10 are regional or second-tier universities with a strong focus on teaching rather than research. Edith Cowan tops the quality category, with University of the Sunshine Coast, Bond University, Curtin University, Australian Catholic University and Griffith University also in the top 10. ANU occupies the bottom slot of the quality table.

Brown says the failure of the G8 schools to dominate the quality ranking could be partly because the courses were particularly difficult and students were ill-prepared.

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Overall student satisfaction scores, provided by the federal government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT), feed into business schools’ quality ranking, as does research output and teaching practices.

Rising satisfaction

The QILT data shows that overall student satisfaction improved last year after a dismal 2020. The proportion of postgraduate students studying business and management who reported a positive experience rose 6 percentage points to 75 per cent last year. This is just below the 77 per cent of postgraduate students who were satisfied with their course in 2019 and is considerably higher than the proportion of satisfied undergraduates.

Last year just 70 per cent of undergraduates studying business and management were satisfied, down from 77 per cent in 2019.

“Despite the pandemic and associated disruption, we have seen continuous improvements in student satisfaction,” says the UNSW Business School dean.

Lisa Bolton, director of QILT research and strategy at the Social Research Centre, argues the rebound in student satisfaction levels last year was due to students being prepared for courses to be taught online, which they were not prepared for in 2020 because of the sudden lockdowns, improvements in the design and structure of online classes and fewer international students, who traditionally have lower satisfaction levels.

“But, all of that said, we have not returned to pre-COVID overall educational experience scores because students value things in the in-person higher education experience that not all institutions have managed to address in the move to a fully or partly off-campus mode,” Bolton says.

Styles says there has been strong demand for masters of analytics and masters of fintech courses at UNSW. He expects demand for short courses, including those that can be added together over time to create a formal qualification, will grow.

“If you think about the future, you could imagine a world where instead of paying $50,000 a year, to get a degree, you pay $1000 for 50 years to get continuous bits and pieces as you need to upskill and reskill as you go along,” Styles says.

He also points to a growing appetite from companies wanting to upskill their employees, particularly as workers increasingly demand employers help them to remain relevant in the workforce.

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“Maybe [as a company] one part of our proposition to [employees] is that we have a really well-thought-out, structured, ongoing upskilling [program],” Styles says.

To that end, the university has just launched Mentem by UNSW, a platform that will work directly with organisations to provide “contextualised learning” for employees. It has set itself the ambitious goal of upskilling 500,000 workers by 2030.

To meet the evolving demand from students and companies, universities, he says, are having to alter their mindset.

“At universities, the form was the degree. Now we’re saying that the outcome is the upskilling.”

More on the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools

Notes on the ranking

  1. Ranking is based on relevant postgraduate study areas regardless of departmental structures, eg University of Melbourne includes Melbourne Business School, UNSW includes Australian Graduate School of Management, etc.
  2. Student numbers and % domestic based on DESE Completions for postgraduate Management and Commerce coursework for the most recent year available. Excludes Universities with < 40 Domestic Completions.

Read More

  • Best Business Schools
  • University of New South Wales
  • University Of Sydney
  • International students
  • Skills
  • AFR Lists
  • AFR special
Sally PattenBOSS editorSally Patten edits BOSS, and writes about workplace issues. She was the financial services editor and personal finance editor of the AFR, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited business news for The Times of London. Connect with Sally on Twitter. Email Sally at [email protected]

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