Australian universities are leading the world in business research, data reveals

Australia is a global leader when it comes to researching business topics, data analysis has revealed.

Deakin University is renowned for global marketing, the University of South Australia for brand management and Macquarie University for accounting education. The University of NSW (UNSW) is the top Australian university for four business-related topics: customer service, audit, corporate governance and corporate finance. And Monash University leads Australia in three areas: services marketing, econometrics and experimental economics.

The analysis by League of Scholars, a Sydney-based data analytics start-up, crunched the numbers on more than 100,000 business researchers worldwide to determine their academic impact and output – and also the number of other top-notch researchers working with them in that area at the same institution. The resulting table shows the top Australian universities for 20 business research topics, and their global ranking.

Of course, it’s one thing to have the best business researchers in Australia, but does that improve the quality of the postgraduate courses offered to early- and mid-career executives? Research productivity is a key factor at many universities for hiring, promotion and tenure of academic staff, to boost global rankings and attract external funding. But star researchers tend to focus on writing papers and speaking at conferences, leaving less time for teaching and course design. They may well be editors of prestigious journals and fellows of global associations, but is this relevant for students?

Not really, says Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute. “The international research generally finds little evidence that the level or standing of research activity in a field has any strong effect, positive or negative, on satisfaction with teaching or student learning,” he says.

But he also points out that most of the studies are based on undergraduate students, and postgraduates may benefit more from the highly specialised knowledge of some researchers. “In undergraduate courses, the curriculum is often by necessity introductory and sometimes also limited by professional admission requirements. There is therefore little scope for introducing cutting-edge research. In postgraduate courses, advanced knowledge derived from research may be more relevant and useful for students.”

Top research, top teaching?

Ross White, head of data and analytics at Good Education Group, is also cautious about the link between great research and great teaching.

“Business executives considering postgraduate studies, including an MBA, should note that there is no universal measure that demonstrates a relationship between top researchers and high-quality courses,” he says.

“There’s no question that in many fields, the higher the qualification of teaching staff, the higher the quality of teaching and course content. Quality course content and teachers can be found at a range of institutions, including those with and without top researchers.

“For prospective MBA students, we strongly encourage them to consider all the factors, including research activity, academic qualifications, corporate links and the student cohort.”

Unsurprisingly, the universities themselves say that having a cohort of top researchers feeds directly into the quality of the courses they offer. At UNSW, for example, leading international expert Professor Roger Simnett – chairman and chief executive of the Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards Board – teaches auditing at undergraduate and master’s level and last year created a new master’s subject based on his research into integrated reporting. “This is right at the cutting edge,” he says.

Also at UNSW, Professor Adrian Payne says his customer service research, used by brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Zurich Financial Services, is a critical part of the MBA’s marketing strategy topic and a specialist elective in marketing and commerce master’s degrees.

His research on customer relationship management resulted in a book that is the main text for two of the course he teaches.

Right at the forefront

Nick Wailes, director of the Australian Graduate School of Management at the UNSW Business School, gives another example.

Associate Professor Peter Heslin’s research on the connection between a growth mindset and the ability to learn, published in the Harvard Business Review, heavily influenced his design of the MBA executive program’s commencing course.

“They walk out of the class with a set of skills, informed by world-class research, that they can directly apply in their workplace the next day,” Wailes says. “Cutting-edge research plays a critical role in preparing the next generation of business leaders for the future. The real challenge is ensuring that we as educators help our students understand how the research can be used and applied in a real-world context.”

At the University of Melbourne, Professor Prakash Singh, head of the department of management and marketing, says some of the university’s best researchers are also the best teachers. “Our students are engaging with research findings and literature from the people who know it best; and that is a unique classroom experience.”

For example, Professor Cynthia Hardy is a leading researcher in organisation and management theory, and co-founded the International Centre for Research in Organisational Discourse, Strategy and Change. She helped design the organisational behaviour subject, including case studies based on her research.

“Many of the students coming into this course have a lack of real-world experience in large organisations – knowledge which is important when we’re looking at organisational change and how it impacts workplaces,” she says.

“Incorporating parts of this research into the subject helps students gain a contextual, practical understanding of what goes on in organisations, rather than simply a theoretical one.”

Rare depth of talent

University of Technology Sydney (UTS) ranks number one in Australia and number two in the world for quantitative finance research, according to League of Scholars, and Professor Erik Schlögl, director of the Quantitative Finance Research Centre at UTS, is not surprised.

“There is no comparable conglomeration of research expertise for quantitative finance in Australia and New Zealand,” he says, adding that six professors, including Eckhard Platen, and up to 10 other researchers work at the centre. “We have a lot more depth than centres built around one person.”

UTS offers a master of quantitative finance degree, which appeals mainly to those in big financial institutions such as banks, fund managers and hedge funds. Its content, he says, is highly integrated with the centre’s research and is mainly taught by the centre members. One of the final assignments is for students to take a recent research paper and implement it for the real world.

Monash University ranks top in Australia for econometrics and experimental economics, according to League of Scholars, but Professor Robert Brooks, deputy dean, education, points out that other rankings, using different metrics, also score the university highly for cognitive and behavioural economics and experiential economics. Like Schlögl, he emphasises that it is the number of researchers and depth of talent that is key to genuine discipline strength, rather than one superstar.

At postgraduate level, Monash students can do a master of applied economics and econometrics or a business analytics subject within its MBA, to take advantage of its strength in economics.

Latest developments

Associate Professor Julien Pollack (along with Professor Lynn Crawford) leads project management research at the University of Sydney, which League of Scholars rates as Australia’s best. At postgraduate level, the university offers a master of project management degree and a master of project leadership, as well as graduate certificates and graduate diplomas in both areas.

“One of the great things about teaching in a university is that we have access to the latest developments in the field, and can incorporate that into our subject material,” Pollack says. “However, our courses aren’t solely designed to build theoretical knowledge; many of our academics have practical experience in the field. I worked as a project manager for more than 10 years, and the last project I worked on was contracted at $3.6 billion.”

University of Queensland rates number one in Australia for international relations and Professor Tim Dunne, pro-vice-chancellor, says research and teaching in this area is a significant strength for the university (ANU and the University of Melbourne also rate highly). “Path-breaking work is being done at UQ on peace and conflict resolution, affective emotions, human protection, gender and environmental security,” he says.

UQ also rates top for leadership research. Associate Professor Neil Paulsen says he teaches an MBA subject that focuses on the challenges of leadership in groups and teams operating in complex organisational and community environments. “My prior experience and current consulting activities in Australia and in international development programs complement insights developed from my research activities. My teaching, research and consulting activities are interrelated: one set of activities directly informs the others.”

It seems, then, that plenty of stand-out researchers are fronting up to teach classes – at least at postgraduate level – and creating new subjects around their expertise or incorporating world-class research into class material. In some cases, students may be taught by the author of the key subject textbook or perhaps hear of cutting-edge research straight from the horse’s mouth.

Paul McCarthy, founder and chief executive of League of Scholars and an adjunct professor at UNSW’s school of computer science and engineering, puts it this way: “I would go to a research-intensive uni because you’re closer to the source of the truth, and you may get that star lecturer.”

To search for and compare Australian MBA courses across all university providers, visit www.goodmbaguide.com.au.

 

This article originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine – Australian universities are leading the world in business research, data reveals

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