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What’s hot in postgraduate business courses

Students see healthcare management, behavioural economics and data analysis as pathways to future employment.

Sian Powell

Thinking of doing a postgraduate degree? Courses in healthcare management, behavioural economics, digital marketing and data analytics are among the courses in high demand, suggesting they are areas where the jobs of the future will lie.

UTS Business School associate dean (education) Sara Denize says employer need is pushing change amid a skills shortage.

The pandemic created the need for health management skills as mass vaccination hubs opened and social distancing and mask-wearing changed people’s behaviours. Jason South

“We’re seeing a shift in some content areas that people are really very focused on and where there are labour market shortages,” she says.

In some fields, such as health and supply chain, the growth in demand stems from the pandemic.

“Public health and community and human services management areas are really important and have been over the last two years. We’ve seen quite significant growth in those areas across the sector.”

Leadership has become a big thing, especially at the postgraduate level.

Andrew Beer

In the aftermath of COVID-19, there is also growing appetite for expertise in “behavioural economics”, in other words, understanding how best to encourage people to act in certain ways, for instance to get vaccinated, or wear masks or wash their hands, notes Denize.

Governments want to design their services to manage communities, driving demand for a more sophisticated understanding of the “nudge factor” already used by some banks and large corporations, Denize says. Universities now offer postgraduate courses in the field: UTS has a master of behavioural economics.

Another follow-on from the pandemic is the burgeoning interest in supply chains, covered in courses such as the UTS master of strategic supply chain management, which Denize says “is pretty hot at the moment”.

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All business schools have to compete with each other for the attention of prospective students. On Friday The Australian Financial Review will publish the inaugural AFR BOSS Best Business Schools list. There are separate lists for business schools with the best reputation, quality and which offer the best career prospects.

University of New South Wales is crowned the AFR BOSS Best Business School overall, while The University of Melbourne is the best-ranked business school for reputation. UNSW is the top-ranked school for career impact. Edith Cowan University is the top-listed business school for quality.

Ingrid O’Brien, academic chair of several business courses at Murdoch University, agrees the pandemic is influencing postgraduate course choice.

“Murdoch has a combined MBA healthcare management program that is growing, and certainly has more appeal with people,” she says, adding that students can combine health management with other disciplines.

Employer needs are changing rapidly, says Sara Denize, of UTS Business School. 

“I think what people are recognising is that in those fields, there’s so much focus on healthy eating. We have a centre for healthy ageing at our university. They are all areas and disciplines that are growing.”

Murdoch also has a master of health administration policy and leadership course to cater for a specific field in the health sector and O’Brien says students can choose a minor in informatics and analytics, or policy and evaluation within the program.

The pandemic also hastened the adoption of technology by companies, governments and consumers, underscoring the need for digital literacy at all levels of business.

“People see the impact around data, artificial intelligence,” O’Brien says. “We certainly see a growth in the numbers of people needing to be not only digitally literate, but able to manage and interpret data.”

Postgraduate data analysis subjects, she adds, will provide “a really clear sense of what is useful, what the data is saying, how will it impact on decision-making”, essential across most fields and particularly now in health administration.

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QUT deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president (education) Robina Xavier says digital education is now embedded in most core subjects.

“Digital marketing is a big one because it’s driving so much of the growth,” she says. “But cybersecurity aspects are also becoming more important.” Broader data science and informatics are drawing interest as well, she adds.

There is a strong focus on the digital economy, says Andrew Beer, of the University of South Australia Business School. 

QUT offers a graduate certificate in strategic digital compliance, covering digital communication skills applicable to social media, data analytics, artificial intelligence and visualisation, and a digital MBA for future digital leaders.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) disciplines are also thriving in the postgraduate business world, Xavier says, with sustainability-linked subjects and other environmental and society-focused subjects proving popular. QUT offers a master of business (philanthropy and non-profit studies) degree covering negotiation, ethical practices, stakeholder communication and teamwork.

Professor Andrew Beer, executive dean at UniSA Business School, notes a strong emphasis on leadership in recent years.

“Leadership has become a big thing, especially at the postgraduate level where people begin to recognise they need that leadership in order to bring their business and their career to that next level,” he says, adding that corporate social responsibility and for-purpose business is firmly on the agenda.

“That has become much more acute over the last seven years and it’s continued in the post-pandemic world,” he says, noting the COVID pandemic has challenged long-held assumptions about career goals, and business students now want not simply to work, but to have an impact.

Digital transition

Meanwhile, he says, the appetite for digitally focused graduates at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level is growing at such a pace that industries are reaching in to the UniSA Business School’s first year programs to recruit students.

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“There’s a very strong focus on the digital economy and having the skills to implement the digital transition that is coming through our economy,” Beer says. “This involves technical skills, such as coding and data analytics, but it also involves more conventional business skills and their application to the new economy.”

These skills have international relevance and Beer says business school students expect their degrees to open the doors to careers around the world. “There’s a massive global focus,” he says. “People expect to use their degrees and learning at university to open up global opportunities.”

UniSA boosts international access in courses such as the business school’s MBA, which offers global study experiences at the European Summer School of Advanced Management and the Business in China Intensive School.

UniSA’s master of management (advertising and brand management) program has a focus on digital media. “Digital marketing is not the same as conventional marketing,” Beer says. “It’s also about building resilience into the business in terms of connecting customers while also achieving cybersecurity, a secure workplace for business.”

Organisations must understand how to take advantage of social media, Beer says, but also how to minimise the fall-out if consumers complain. “The rise of social media is actually the democratisation of knowledge, to a certain extent, often to the point that it becomes near chaotic and almost anarchic,” he says. “Companies, as well as individuals and governments are being called out on social media in a way that was never known in the past.”

UTS dean Sara Denize also says the market has a significant shortage of digitally skilled graduates, so the university has recently launched a course designed specifically for technology and business consultants in the tech field: the graduate certificate in business consulting and technology implementation in partnership with Microsoft.

“There is a growing array of initiatives coming from unis working with the private sector,” she says. “They are building people with an understanding of how business processes work, so they can help businesses see what technical solutions might be best for their operation.”

On the ESG front, Denize thinks there will be increasing numbers of graduate certificates designed to support the new global focus on sustainability in line with the Paris climate change accords.

“I think we will see growth in very specific support for businesses to be able to respond to the government’s declared targets,” she says. “I think we will see grad certs come up. That’s certainly an area we’re looking at.”

On the social front, UTS has included a First Peoples nation-building stream in its executive MBA course. “So many executive c-suite managers want to work out how their organisations can work with and for Indigenous people,” she says. “I think you can see shifts toward that across the sector. Universities are asking ‘how can we be allies?’”

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