Young entrepreneurs

Five key business course trends from Australian universities

By Michelle Hammond
Monday, 22 October 2012

feature-graduation-day-thumbBudding entrepreneurs looking for a good business education don’t need to escape Australia to do so, according to new figures, with five of our universities making it into the world’s top 100.


According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia are among the world’s best.


But as our universities continue to rise through the ranks, how are business students faring? What are Australian universities doing to help create the next generation of entrepreneurs?


StartupSmart did some digging to highlight the major trends you should be aware of:



1. A degree is more desirable than ever


According to the Australian Council for Education Research, which analysed census data, university enrolments between 2006 and 2011 experienced their fastest growth rate in 20 years.


ACER’s research briefing, which analyses data from the 2011 census, aims to provide insight into the characteristics of Australian university students and how they have changed.


The analysis reveals the number of university students grew by 25.1% between 2006 and 2011, taking the total number from 745,445 to 932,436.


This increase contrasts with the previous five-year period when the university student population grew by only 3.2%.


No other census period in the past 20 years has recorded the rate of growth identified in this new census data.


The research briefing found the growth was recorded in all age groups, not just high school graduates.


After a decline in the number of students aged 25 and over between 2001 and 2006, the growth in mature-age students from 2006 to 2011 was as large as the growth in students aged below 25.



2. Older students are more likely to start-up


Afreen Huq, a lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, is the program director of the university’s Bachelor of Business (Entrepreneurship) course.


According to Huq, there has been no significant change in the number of students enrolling in the course, despite controversial changes to its structure.


“In terms of students wanting to enrol, the number varies from year to year but it’s always anything above 200 or 250. In 2010, we had 700 applications,” Huq says.


“I guess with the introduction of the common Bachelor of Business, it’s across business. It’s not just entrepreneurship. Every single thing has been put under the same [banner].”


“It was only introduced from September 1, 2012, so it’s a bit too early to make projections [about its success].”


However, Huq is seeing a clear shift with regard to the type of students who launch businesses as a result of their education.


“In our program, about 60% of our students go and find a job with an employer,” she says.


“About 20% of our students actually do start up-businesses. The remaining percentage does something else.”


“Some students are already in business while in the program, and those are the ones that continue with their endeavour.”


“They came back [to university] to do the study – they’re the ones that tend to start their own business. They tend to be older and more experienced.”


“The ones that come into the program as fresh high school leavers tend to go into a job.”


Huq says students don’t face any pressure from the university to go and start a business.


“What we encourage people to do is to take a more pragmatic approach in terms of how prepared you are, and the networks and the experiences you have,” she says.


“Finding a job in the industry that interests a particular student, with a view to starting up a business there in the next couple of years, is perceived to be the right way.”


“It’s something they decide on their own after understanding what is required of them.”


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3. Overseas students like our business programs


Andrew Griffiths, academic dean and head of the University of Queensland Business School, says the number of undergraduate students has been “really quite stable” over the last few years.


“That’s less connected to maybe us specifically, and more connected to the university and the increased inflow of undergraduate student numbers [generally],” Griffiths says.


“If you look at undergraduate numbers, it’s… around about 5,000. That was the 2011 intake for our business school programs.”


“At the postgraduate level, it’s about 2,000, so we sit at around the 7,000 mark.”


“We mainly have domestic undergraduate students and mainly international postgraduate students.”


“Domestic students get their primary degree at an institution where they live [whereas] postgraduate students are looking for universities with good reputations.”



4. There’s more to business than reading books


Dr Richard Seymour, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, is the program director of the university’s Innovation & Enterprise Program.


Seymour, who is also co-director of the university’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Research Group, is currently in India where he is teaching a start-up unit.


“In the teaching program, there are hundreds of students enrolled, mainly at the postgraduate level, though there are about 60 undergrads doing an entrepreneurship unit,” Seymour says.


“Rough numbers would be around 400 students each semester doing these units. There are smaller numbers doing the majors.”


“We offer a Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship – rebranded for 2013 to include ‘entrepreneurship’ – specialisation as part of the MCom as well as the Graduate Certificate in Innovation & Enterprise… We’re continually thinking through the teaching philosophy.”


Seymour also makes special mention of Sydney Genesis, a start-up competition for students, helping them understand university is “more than just going to lectures”.


Similarly, Griffins says there has to be a balance between theory and practice.


“To have students engaged in a project which may have a social or economic impact [is crucial]. We’re getting them to apply the learnings from the course into a live project,” he says.


“We’re setting them up to understand how they might be entrepreneurial.”



5. Online business courses are surging in popularity


In September, the University of Melbourne partnered with US company Coursera to offer free online courses as a way of responding to the “explosion” in interest in online opportunities.


The university expects to have about 10 courses available through Coursera by the end of 2013.


Less than a week later, the University of Queensland announced it will also offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the next two years.


According to Professor Long, director of UQ’s Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, the centre is “exploring opportunities” to work with other institutions.


This could include the Office of Educational Innovation & Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


Between one and two courses from each of UQ’s six faculties will be made accessible online in a MOOC format over the coming two years.


Melbourne and Queensland are in good company – joining the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Princeton – suggesting other Australian universities will follow suit.


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