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From Down Under, A New Online MBA

Macquarie University Graduate School of Management

When the University of Illinois launched its “iMBA” through Coursera in 2016, many viewed the move as the beginning of a new reality in the business school universe: a response to the need to offer cheaper, more accessible alternatives to two years of on-campus study. At just $22,000 in tuition — about half the debt of the average college grad — the “reimagining of the online MBA” has been a hit for Illinois, with the first cohort of graduates claiming their degrees in May of this year and applications continuing apace.

The Illinois iMBA was the first accredited MBA for Coursera, the world’s largest online education platform. Now comes a second, also focused on innovation and disruption of the online MBA space and also ultra-competitively priced — but very different in other respects, particularly the region it comes from: literally, the other side of the world. Applications opened today (August 28) and classes begin in May for the Sydney, Australia-based Macquarie University Graduate School of Business Global MBA, a degree “designed for the many, not the few.”

“The Macquarie Global MBA will be our first degree offered out of Australia, but we think this degree will be attractive to students globally because of the flexibility of our learning platform combined with Macquarie’s innovative curriculum,” Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda says. “This MBA will make sense for many students who don’t have your typical MBA-student profile — an important factor for Coursera as we invest more into working with universities to scale access to master’s degrees that prepare people for the future of work.”

ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S TOP SCHOOLS LOOKS TO GO GLOBAL

Lan Snell, academic program director at Macquarie University Graduate School of Management. Macquarie photo

Macquarie is in the upper echelon of the 40 or so MBA providers in the Australian market. It is known primarily as a consulting and finance school, with about 30% of grads going into the former industry and around 20% entering the latter. The school was ranked 49th in the world in both the Financial Times and Economist rankings of 2017, with the latter ranking putting Macquarie grads in the top 10 for salary increase — however, Macquarie was unranked in FT‘s 2018 list. Until the last few years, most of the school’s business student population traditionally had been Australian residents; that’s been changing as Macquarie expands its reach into Asia, and the new degree is seen as another big step in that direction, says Lan Snell, academic program director at Macquarie.

“The learner profile, as we see it, comes in distinct segments in terms of motivations and what they’re after,” Snell tells Poets&Quants. “We’re looking at organizations increasingly becoming flatter in structure and increasingly outsourcing a lot of their work. In parallel, the other thing that we see is the rise of the gig economy or the knowledge economy. Traditionally, an MBA has been designed as the ‘generalist’ management post-graduate qualification — it had to ensure coverage of key foundation management areas such as marketing, HR, finance, accounting, etc. Now this new marketplace, this postmodern marketplace of disruption, really does question that design of an MBA. I believe we now see the next generation of MBAs coming through in response or in anticipation of these ongoing disruptions, and that an MBA for them has to use a disaggregated approach — meaning it has to offer different components to learners to track them at different stages of their professional or personal lives.”

Amid waning interest in traditional MBA programs — a development Macquarie has not avoided — the Global MBA gives the school a chance to shift the narrative. The new degree will not only be a different learning experience, it will be a much cheaper one, too: While the on-campus Macquarie MBA is now $80,000 AUD, or around $58,400 in U.S. dollars, the Global Online MBA will be less than half the cost: $33,000 AUD (about $24,000 U.S.). Call it a step in the democratization of business education. “The price point makes it accessible and inclusive for the many, not just the few,” says Snell.

That doesn’t mean Macquarie is abandoning its on-campus MBA, says Stephen Brammer, professor and executive dean of the faculty of business and economics at Macquarie. But times are changing. “Our new Global MBA reflects our commitment to investing in innovative business education that meets the career ambitions of today’s professionals, showcasing the talents of our excellent faculty, and developing global partnerships that enhance our brand recognition,” Brammer says. “Coursera is a world-class partner, and the Global MBA will be a game-changing program that brings Macquarie to a new global community of learners, complemented with continuous development in and commitment to our flagship on-campus MBA program.”

‘THE LABOR MARKET HAS CHANGED’

A 2018 Deloitte study found that 43% of millennials plan to quit their current job within two years; 62% consider gig work as a viable career path. This reality underpins the new Macquarie Global MBA, which will focus on building capabilities of the future, Snell says. It is designed to serve the rapidly growing workforce at a time when AI is expected to automate half of the activities that people are paid to do in the global economy.

The Global MBA is “built for professionals who want to future-proof and accelerate their careers from wherever they are located,” Snell says, making it “particularly relevant for rising generations that are looking for ways to be empowered in their careers outside of the traditional corporate ladder.” The Global MBA curriculum is designed to “build six cross-disciplinary capabilities: leading, strategizing, analyzing, influencing, adapting, and problem solving,” allowing professionals to “equip themselves with a broader set of adaptable skills.”

Macquarie is looking to appeal to specific student profiles across the Asia-Pacific region: Indian students seeking broader business acumen, increased reach, and a greater pipeline; Southeast Asian females, particularly in the “growth market” of Malaysia, struggling to overcome the “bamboo ceiling”; and Australians “wanting to reinvent themselves,” Snell says.

“The labor market has changed,” she says. “Industry is looking for graduates who have the technical competency, the technical skills, but they’re also looking for people who have the generalist abilities — the ability to communicate and add value from the strategic side. So they are not just familiar with data, with coding things and that space, but also interpreting that and giving recommendations. That point there has been sorely lacking, as perceived by industry. It’s the skill of understanding what’s going on, the ability to analyze, the ability to solve problems — adaptability and agility.”