Graduation address: Ian Kowalick

Tuesday, 5 August 2003

What is the value of management education?

I am in the somewhat unique position of being the Acting Dean of a business school without having an MBA or a PhD. Thankfully for students I do not teach. Some people might therefore suggest that I am not in a position to answer that question. However, in my working life I have occupied senior management positions and had the benefit of formal management training. I have been responsible for ensuring that others get appropriate personal development.

As a person who has worked at senior levels in the private and public sectors I will first observe that whilst each situation requires its own emphasis the issues that face all managers are very similar.

For this speech I will define management as the pursuit of agreed objectives by organising the resources, including most importantly leadership of people, to confront ever-present change.

When I graduated from university the big issue was which of the 6 jobs on offer do I take?

The world has changed - it is much more competitive and we are but a small part of a global economy. Formal management education is a part of that competitive world.

In my role as acting Dean I have been the convenor of a review of the AGSB and as a consequence I have spoken to a large number of the alumni of the school.

It is revealing to consider what the differences are between the expectations of people entering the AGSB's programs and what they believe they got after graduation.

Most people take management courses in the expectation that it will improve their career prospects. However, within that general objective there is a wide range of motives.

Some enter the programs resigned to the fact that in a competitive world a management education is a prerequisite for promotion in their current job and they will therefore reluctantly serve their time as if it is a prison sentence. However, on graduation even the most sceptical acknowledge that their education expanded their thinking so that they were better able to deal with the endless parade of issues a manager confronts.

At another limit there are people who believe that an MBA can be a union ticket to a career as a highly paid high flyer in business. (The emphasis is on the highly paid!) That is they believe that a management education can ensure they achieve their ambitions. It may be that an MBA will help but it is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for success - time and chance happeneth to us all and talent still plays a role. Indeed the best manager I have ever dealt with and conversely the biggest fool both had MBAs from prestigious US universities. MBAs are not a guarantee but they can be very valuable. At the end of the course management students seem to understand that proposition.

The fact is that management education is undergoing a fundamental transformation and even the MBA graduates of the world's most prestigious universities cannot expect the highflying career paths of the 1980s or early 1990s.

The reassuring fact is that the vast majority of alumni believe they got personal value from their commitment of time and money. The notion of educational value has many elements. An important element is the personal development by being challenged to think in new ways - that is a key ingredient of a university education - although some people seem to believe this is a romantic notion many graduates understand this and their appreciation of that understanding grows over time.

However, there is an even more important element of value that I find encouraging. Many graduates in management education identify the opportunity to work in a group problem-solving environment as a very important benefit. That is encouraging for their future as managers. Many of the friendships have persisted and the AGSB alumni Association is in fact one of the schools greatest assets. The friendships so formed have in many cases lasted for several years.

However, management education is not fixed in time. Many business schools are going through a period of change and adjustment and there is always room for improvement. In the coming years the AGSB has to be renewed because in the ever-changing world nothing including business schools are owed a living.

Part of the change is driven by the need to meet the expectations of the market.

In the modern world employers expect more than an undergraduate degree. In many parts of the private and public sectors a significant proportion of middle and senior level staff have two or more degrees. Course work masters degrees are becoming very common as a way for graduates to increase their level of specialised knowledge or to build on a good general education to provide more specialist expertise. The world will be a better place for having better educated managers.

Course work masters degrees will become a very significant part of the teaching load of universities and that changes the underlying nature of the university as a society.

A very pleasant feature of business schools is the diversity of the people who undertake postgraduate studies in management. That is both diversity in nationality and social background. The programs of the AGSB have the capacity to enhance the well being of students both in Adelaide and in the offshore programs in Hong Kong and Singapore. We have a truly international program.

Whilst you may have been motivated to undertake your studies to advance your career there is a price you have yet to pay. The obligation of an education is to share the benefits. You have been exposed to modern thinking about management and leadership and you have a moral obligation to share the benefits outside the confines of your workplace. If a management education is to some degree a toolkit for analysis of issues then share some of that with the community to enhance our society. You have had an opportunity to network with your fellow students and you should maintain those networks to contribute to society as well as your own career.

You have all undertaken studies at some sacrifice to your personal lives. As a person who did most of their study part time I understand the price you have paid. However, other people have paid a price and on your behalf I will thank them. Families make a sacrifice. Spouses have been supportive. Fees have been paid with some opportunity cost. So we thank you all for making a contribution to the educational outcome.

I wish you luck in your future endeavours and I hope you will advance in your careers, capture your dream and get the satisfaction of confronting a complex world. However, remember those who supported you in your endeavours and share some of the benefits with society at large.

Thank you.

By Ian Kowalick, Acting Dean, Adelaide Graduate School of Business.


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