Executive education is changing, with a new focus on more customised industry-specific courses and popular specialist areas such as data analytics, according to Professor Ian Harper, FAICD, Dean of the Melbourne Business School. But it’s ethics that should be firmly on the radar of all business leaders, he says.

    He’s on a mission to connect and marry business and academia in a way that’s never been seen before in Australia – and educating leaders in ethics is a top priority.

    Professor Harper, a senior economist who sits on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Melbourne Business School Limited, says his vision for the school’s growing campus is one where business and academics work together closely to design customised specialised courses for executive education and Masters of Business Administration (MBAs).

    “The bulk of our executive education business is custom design,” he says. “Every week we're custom designing courses - for example, for the Department of Defence.

    “What we want to do is to become much closer to business. I want business to actually be co-located with us in our buildings, to have people from the business community involved intermittently in the operations in the classroom, helping us design and deliver courses. It’s something which is basically unknown here in this country when it comes to business schools. That's the mission we're on.”

    Business partnering

    Executive leadership is the focus and through a combination of business partnering and course co-design, Melbourne Business School now ranks highly. Its Executive MBA was ranked number one in Australia last year by QS World University Rankings.

    Now with global alumni of more than 16,000 business leaders in more than 90 countries, Melbourne Business School developed Australia’s first MBA and executive education programs. Jointly owned by the business community (55 per cent) and the University of Melbourne (45 per cent), the school has an independent board of directors and is part of the University of Melbourne.

    Of increasing importance for business are the rapidly growing areas of artificial intelligence and data analytics, which are “hot topics” for the business school, say Professor Harper. There is also increasing demand for specialisation within MBAs.One of the flagship projects of the Melbourne Business School is its Centre for Business Analytics, founded in 2014 to address worldwide demand for analytics research and knowledge. It has launched several initiatives including the Master of Business Analytics and Master of Analytics Management degrees.

    As part of the partnering model followed by the business school, major business sponsors contribute to the work of the analytics centre, says Professor Harper. “The sponsors donate money, they have representatives on the advisory board and they are involved in the design of the curriculum, and the business analytics. They offer internships to the graduates and they ultimately hire the right ones. This in microcosm is what I'm trying to do right across the book in our whole business school.”

    AICD partnership

    Director education is another emerging focus and the AICD has launched an exciting new partnership with the Melbourne Business School. Together, the two prestigious organisations will collaborate to bring a shared focus to developing the capability of Australian directors and business leaders.

    “The AICD has longstanding expertise and experience in training directors,” says Professor Harper, who also sits on the board of Director of Ridley College Limited, (a theological college). “I want to work with the AICD to bring what we can to the table, which is a lot of younger people who will at some point be aspiring directors.

    “We want to create programs that will give directors the tools they need, especially in a world which is emphasising the importance of trust and integrity and ethics, so they can help organisations and become great business directors going into the future.

    ”The collaboration is in the initial stages and both organisations are discussing several potential opportunities of collaboration including curriculum (courses, masterclasses, webinars) and research.

    Melbourne Business School has courses in business ethics and ethics is a core subject in its MBA program, exposing students to critical thinking in this area. “I think that people need to have exposure to ethical frameworks of thinking. In terms of training, I think what is important is that people are faced with these types of ethical or moral situations,” Professor Harper says.

    “Certainly here at school, I think it's very healthy for organisations to open up that (ethics) conversation and say, okay, let's talk. At the end of the day, ethics is essentially about individual behaviour decisions that people make when faced with an individual's circumstance. On the other hand, the worst outcome is that you do the Nuremberg thing, you put your head in your hands and you say, say, ‘I just was doing what I was told’.

    ”Last year the school held a conference on business ethics, data and privacy, ethical dilemmas at the board level and trust in financial institutions. “So that (ethics) is clearly on the radar and I think that we have further to go in developing that. But that again is a journey that we would want to take with business.”

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