Small schools hold their own in rankings

Defying the common belief that the best business courses are always provided by the largest and most historic universities, smaller and regional universities also feature in the top 10 in the career impact and quality categories of the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools rankings. Mid-sized Edith Cowan University in Perth, which caters for a large cohort of part-time and mature-aged students, ranked second in the quality category.

There can be advantages in both a smaller, easier-to-navigate institutional size and a regional location. Bond University is a fraction the size of many big city universities, yet its business school ranked seventh in the quality category. Head of school Professor Terry O’Neill says the school’s small size is both a blessing and a challenge.

“We’ve always made the conscious choice to leverage that size to get the best experience for the students,” he says. The school can give each student a personalised and individual experience and staff can engage at a level that’s not possible at larger institutions. Bond students have easy access to staff and post-graduate classes average about 15 students, O’Neill points out. Those close relationships are simply not possible at public universities.

A private not-for-profit institution on the Gold Coast, Bond offers a range of post-graduate business courses, including a master of international hotel and tourism management and a master of sport management. The business school focuses on themes, including the use of data analytics; entrepreneurship and family enterprise; and governance, accountability, purpose and sustainability.

None of the school’s courses are offered online. “We’ve consciously made the decision that we’re a face-to-face university,” O’Neill says. “We don’t do online. Even through Covid, the campus was only closed for one semester.”

Personal focus

Another small Queensland institution, the University of the Sunshine Coast, ranked equal ninth in the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools quality category. Based near Maroochydore, with another campus in Petrie, the university caters for mainly domestic students. The head of the university’s school of business and creative industries, Professor Lorelle Frazer, says many students prefer to study in a smaller university because of the personal attention it offers them.

“Obviously, we can have small classes and a lot of interaction between academics and students,” she says, adding many students switch to Sunshine Coast university especially to receive that personal attention.

These students appreciate the smaller nature of the courses and the business school routinely rates extremely well in satisfaction ratings, Frazer says. “Our school does very well in surveys, with high student satisfaction,” she adds. “I think it’s the practical nature of our courses that students really enjoy.”

The business school is focused on the overlap between business and creative industries and there is significant interaction between the two areas of study. Post-graduate courses include various MBA degrees, a master of international business and a master of management. International students at the school are mostly European, Frazer says, and they often prefer to take an MBA course.

Despite its small size, the business school expends significant effort to ensure it keeps up with developments in the relevant fields. An industry advisory committee with members from business, industry and university alumni provides insight into the latest business and industry trends, Frazer says. Industry partnerships provide placements and mentors for business students, which often lead to full-time positions.

Part-time options

Edith Cowan University, in Joondalup, northern Perth, caters for a large cohort of older students who might struggle to study full-time.

With family and work responsibilities, Edith Cowan business school students prefer the part-time flexibility of courses provided, says business and law school head Professor Maryam Omari. “Quality and care for students is in our DNA at the institutional and school level,” she says. There is an institutional ethos to provide special care for women and the under-privileged.

From a human resources background, Omari says she sits on every selection panel to ensure staff hires have the “right fit for our collegial and collaborative culture, and they are very student-centred in what they’re doing.”

Units, courses and curricula are all comprehensively monitored to ensure the staff who are lagging are provided with support they might need, she says. As well as “just-in-time feedback”, the business school has mid-year reviews of performance and other formal performance management processes, including end of semester unit evaluations.

“We actually dig down and pull the layers back to see why a unit is not doing well in terms of student feedback,” Omari says. “We keep a finger on the pulse for every unit in every semester.”

Each business course is informed by a course consultative committee, she says, with members from industry and accrediting bodies, as well as alumni members. The committees meet regularly to ensure the school is offering the contemporary products that industry needs.

Charles Sturt University, a small institution based in regional NSW, is equal tenth in career impact in the AFR BOSS Best Business Schools rankings. The school’s post-graduate business courses have been offered entirely online for many years.

“Our courses set our graduates up to take a practical, operational role in both regional and non-regional businesses,” says business school head, Professor Julia Lynch.

The broad mix of graduates includes both regional and metropolitan students who appreciate an online offering giving them greater flexibility, and students from the defence forces and policing whose schedules are not suited to face-to-face classes. “Pre-COVID we were online,” Lynch says. “We do online well. It was always our focus for our post-graduate courses, and it has been a real source of strength for us.”

The school surveyed the market a couple of years ago and found there was a continuing demand for graduates from both its MBA course and its master of applied business, she says. “The feedback from industry was the market really does value both offerings,” she says. The master of applied business allows students to choose a more specialist area as a major, say in dispute resolution, which is in high demand as a skill set.

Cutting-edge agribusiness research in the business school provides post-graduate students with the latest developments in many fields, and Lynch says the nation’s agriculture sector has an ongoing need for professionals with strong business skills. Regional corporations and regional government departments look for strengths in the field of human resources, she adds and the business school’s master in human resources is in demand.