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UNSW the top-ranked business school for career prospects

A bespoke approach means graduates hit the ground running when they start work.

Therese Raft

University of New South Wales is ranked first for career impact in the inaugural AFR BOSS list of Best Business Schools.

Apart from UNSW, the business schools with the best outcomes for graduates’ employment prospects and salary levels are at University of Canberra, The University of Melbourne, The Australian National University and Macquarie University.

The Best Business Schools ranking replaces the AFR BOSS rankings for Australian MBA and EMBA programs.

A scaffolded approach helps students at the UNSW Business School to explore, develop and achieve a career model. 

UNSW, hope to AGSM, also tops the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools overall list. Edith Cowan University is the top-rated business school for quality and The University of Melbourne is the best-ranked school for reputation.

Using a methodology that draws exclusively from credible, verified and publicly available sources, the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools ranking of Australia’s postgraduate course providers is built around three pillars — reputation, quality and career impact. Each pillar has its own ranking and leaders, in addition to an overall ranking which combines the three components.

The career impact ranking draws on publicly available data for full-time employment six months after graduation, salaries five years after course completion and annual salary gain. It does not capture data from students who work abroad after graduation.

Courtney Wright, the director responsible for career accelerator and student experience at UNSW Business School, says the school’s career model includes three stages – explore, develop and achieve – to give all students a “scaffolded approach” to their career education.

Challenging assumptions

“In other words, giving students a wide range of ways to challenge their assumptions, explore their personal strengths and skills, and gain practical and authentic experience to prepare them for the workforce,” Wright says.

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A growth component of the university’s career accelerator program is practical experience through work integrated learning (WIL) courses. More than 850 students undertook at least one of the more than 20 different WIL courses last year.

Students can choose from more traditional internships, group consulting projects, and global business practicums from over eight international destinations.

There are also social entrepreneurship practicums working with social impact focused businesses, and online group projects working with local and international companies on challenges such as the future of work, and disruptions to key industries and job functions.

ESG issues are becoming more of a component in postgraduate, MBAs, and post-experience executive education, both here and globally,” Wright says.

“This has led to different career outcomes than we may have seen five years ago. Based on this, we’ve been deepening our commitment to principles of sustainability, ethics, and inclusion throughout our portfolio of MBA programs to reflect these changing student aspirations.”

Personalisation at scale is key to the success of the career accelerator program.

“Due to the size, but also great diversity, of our student body, it’s important to us to tailor our offerings to each program and student demographic wherever possible,” Wright says.

“A one-size-fits-all approach would not work here, and we’ve dedicated resources within the faculty to ensure our students receive the support and guidance they need, regardless of where they are in their studies and career journey.”

Employability is built into everything, says Maree Sainsbury, of the University of  Canberra. 

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Professor Maree Sainsbury, deputy dean and acting faculty head for business, government and law, argues there is a key reason the University of Canberra is different from rivals. “Employability is built into everything we do as an institution, it’s not just an afterthought,” she says.

Sainsbury says this includes the way in which the university works with industry partners, moving away from “outdated transaction partnership approaches”.

“We’ve found that treating industry partnerships as a two-way learning process creates far richer and more valuable interactions,” Sainsbury says.

“Our constant connection to employers and the workplace means adapting to workforce demands isn’t just something we do once a decade, it’s a fundamental and ongoing part of who we are as a university, and this makes us very agile,” she says.

Internships and industry-led research projects are a core component of the university’s courses. Sainsbury points to their popular social enterprise course where students work hands-on with social ventures across the Canberra region to develop successful business strategies.

Melbourne Business School takes the needs of businesses into consideration, says its director of careers John Gurskey. 

“Every element of our operations, from our corporate strategy right down to our day-to-day teaching, is deliberately designed to ensure we produce work-ready graduates who are familiar with actual practice well before they set foot in a workplace,” Sainsbury says.

“Our graduates know what to expect from day one of their career and this means employers need to spend less time and money to bring graduates up to speed.”

John Gurskey, Melbourne Business School’s director of careers, worked in recruitment in the United States for 10 years. He cut his teeth in corporate engagement and coaching students before joining Melbourne Business School. Everyone on his team also has recruitment or coaching experience.

An understanding of what businesses need from graduates permeates Melbourne Business School’s practical and hands-on approach to career readiness, he says.

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“We have something called personal effectiveness program (PEP). PEP is designed to teach our students about things like Australian business culture, how to write a CV, how to network, how to write a cover letter, how to negotiate a salary, how to interview, and how to do presentations,” Gurskey says.

“I’m also talking to companies all the time and providing my students with exactly what those companies are saying to me. They know exactly what the company expects,” Gurskey says.

Gurskey says PEP is assessable and if students don’t meet the requirements, must do it again. “There is a carrot and there is a stick. I think we’re the only business school in Australia that has this embedded in the curricula.”

Problem-solving

In addition to understanding what employers want, Gurskey and his team are also looking at how students can help solve current problems.

“Our approach is to sit down and talk to as many companies as possible that we think would be interesting to our students. We find out what their pain points are and then we think about how we can best deploy our students into those companies. That could be paid projects. It could be paid internships. It could be full-time hiring depending on the time of the year,” Gurskey says.

The Australian National University provides a range of employability services, says Associate Professor Ying-Yi Chih. 

For many students this can lead to a direct pathway into the organisation. “We’re trying to be as flexible as possible in helping companies understand how they can utilise our students,” Gurskey says.

Australian National University’s College of Business and Economics offers a holistic suite of employability and careers services to students from the time they enter the university to after they graduate.

According to associate professor Ying-Yi Chih, the associate dean for students and industry experience, partnerships and regular conversations with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, including students, alumni and future employers, are key to their successful strategy.

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“It is through these ongoing consultations that we can continue to prepare our graduates for the changing work environments. One such example is the introduction of our virtual internship experience offering in 2021 to help our students develop critical skills to work in the emerging virtual, or hybrid work, environment in a post-COVID economy,” Chih says.

Chih says the college provides many ways for students to explore potential career paths and develop critical employability skills, such as internships, special industry projects and the Momentum program, which matches mentors and mentees with similar interests and backgrounds.

Career road maps for undergraduates and postgraduates also help to articulate the steps and major milestones between exploring career pathways, learning, applying experience and launching a career.

“Our students and early-career alumni can also access our dedicated career consultants for personalised career advice; and a wide range of skill development, networking and employment opportunities,” Chih says.

Professor Eric Knight, the executive dean of Macquarie Business School, says that while the job market has changed, the school’s commitment to helping students find jobs has not.

“It is a very natural part of our culture and ethos,” Knight says.

“What is complex is the way the labour market is changing, and so we need to be ahead of the curve to change with it.”

“That involves regular and in-depth conversations with the major employers in Australia, the employers within the Macquarie Park Innovation District, and employment platforms like SEEK to ensure we are preparing our graduates for relevant, well-paid jobs.”

Knight notes that the business school divides its strategy into “course success” and “student success”.

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The second strand of the strategy focuses on student success. “This is about building character as well as content. We have programs to really build the all-rounded person at Macquarie Business School beyond success in the classroom,” Knight says.

Knight sees huge scope to further support graduates and industry.

“When I talk with employers, the challenges of the skills gap they face often comes down to talent search. It’s not that there aren’t enough people out there – they don’t always have the best methods to find them,” he says.

One way the business school is helping to change this is through virtual internships which are integrated into degrees. “These were phenomenally popular during COVID and worked for our students and the employers.”

Flexibility has been essential to success. Knight says that in the 1960s, Macquarie was one of the first universities to offer night-time classes. “We have continued that tradition till today, making it easy for people to work and study at the same time. This flexibility has never been more important than now as education and the workplace adapt post-pandemic.”

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
  3. Percentage in full time employment based on 3-year data from the Graduate Outcomes Survey (excludes students not available for full time employment, eg due to further study).

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  • Best Business Schools
  • MBA
  • EMBA
  • AFR Lists
  • AFR special

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