Alumni refresher lecture series
2009 – A tipping point
2009 – A tipping point
We must underpin our programs and the culture of the Faculty with certain values – creating social good, embracing diversity and cultural awareness, and commitment to equity
(pages 3-7 of printed journal)
Pictured left to right: Governor-General Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glyn Davis AC, Chancellor, The Hon Alex Chernov AO QC and Dean, Professor Margaret Abernethy.
This is indeed a special night for the Faculty, the University and representatives from business and government, as we celebrate the opening of our new building, the launch of our Graduate School, our new name – Business and Economics – and our new directions. It is also a celebration of teaching and research in business and economics since the Faculty of Commerce was established at this University in October 1924 with the appointment of Douglas Copland as Dean of the Faculty.
Let me first focus on the building and what it means for us.
This building, affectionately called ‘The Spot’, will be the home of our Graduate School of Business and Economics. It symbolises the University’s confidence in our ability to build the leading school of business and economics in the region. We have the people, facilities and commitment to do just that.
We have come a long way since the 1930s. Then, we had only one lecture theatre with a capacity for 80 people, and two classrooms sharing space in the old Law School. We had four full-time staff and our students were mostly part-time. Copland’s plea for space was heard by The Myer Emporium Educational and Charitable Fund, which donated more than a quarter of the cost of a new building, completed in 1940, now known as ‘Old Commerce’. At that time, it was considered luxurious by the standards of other faculties – the lecture theatre had upholstered seats instead of bare wooden seats; it was commodious and furnished in contemporary art deco style; it had a lift; and it was airy and bright.
Before long, however, the Faculty was caught up in post-war exponential student growth – staff and students were accommodated in temporary huts and some were even located on the first floor of the King and Godfree building in Lygon Street. So here we are in 2010, in a building that has already become a landmark in a number of ways:
Moreover, this building is symbolic of where we are going as a business and economics school. It provides a strong connection to industry – our offices and classrooms look towards the city, symbolising our connection with what our founders envisaged for business education. Just as Copland’s appointment signalled that the Faculty was ‘in business’, this building signals that we are ‘in the business’ of providing graduate education. It manifests our shift to life-long learning. Our new generation undergraduate degree students will be able to go on to graduate school – a feature of the Melbourne Model – while the experienced executives who wish to update their skills or change careers, can complete a graduate degree or participate in leadership forums to deal with important issues facing business and the economy.
Let me now develop this point further and share with you some ideas I have for the ‘New Direction’ the Faculty will be taking in the future.
We have five generations represented here tonight:
All five generations are part of our journey.
Let me say something more about our founder, Douglas Copland, and those of his generation who established the foundation on which we stand today. Copland was a pioneer in business education and recognised the importance of industry to the development of the Faculty. In his Inaugural Lecture, he thanked ‘…the men of commerce whose interests in higher commercial education paved the way for the work of the School of Commerce.’ He recognised that business education is likely to be much more successful if it springs from the needs of industry and is supported by businessmen [and women],’ and he saw a commerce education as a ‘source of intellectual development and a service to business and government.’
Copland was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which lobbied for his appointment. The economic environment at the time raised many question, calling for professional analysis. Funds were raised from government and private sources to support Copland’s appointment. And in 1926 Sidney Myer, who established the Myer Emporium, demonstrated in a practical way the importance of the link between education and business through a generous gift to the University, which saw the creation of the Sidney Myer Chair of Commerce. Copland was the incumbent of this Chair until 1944 and, with the exception of the War years when he was located in Canberra as Prices Commissioner, was also the Dean of the Faculty. This Chair moved with Professor John Rose to the Melbourne Business School (formerly the Graduate School of Management) when it was established in 1989. I am pleased that the Myer Family has supported the return of the Chair to the Faculty.
Copland focused on the professional needs of business and a number of the academic staff were appointed from ‘down town’. One of the very early appointments was Alex Fitzgerald to teach accounting on a part-time basis. He was to become the first Professor of Accounting in 1954. I am delighted that one of his daughters and his niece are here with us tonight.
From its very beginnings, the Faculty offered programs that were designed to meet the needs of business at the time. Those who came after Copland also held his vision of business education. We took advantage of the boom in demand for university education, particularly in economics and accounting, in the 1950s. In this period, we also began to forge strong links with the region – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and, more recently, China – to support the demand for quality and modern business education. The first wave of students came under the Colombo Plan and we have many alumni in senior leadership positions in the region who studied with us under that plan. James Riady, who has just endowed a Chair in Asian Business and Economics, reflects the strong relationship we have developed in the region. Like Sidney Myer back in 1926, he knows the importance of the intellectual development of the nation for its economic and social wellbeing. We now have some 38,000 alumni spread around the globe.
While our focus in the first few decades was on developing undergraduate education, we did not lose sight of the importance of our contribution to knowledge. This was part of Copland’s vision, as he said back in 1924: ‘economic decisions are made by governments and business alike based on imperfect knowledge, and it is the role of the University to fill this gap and improve this knowledge.’ He saw it as our duty to add knowledge to the wider community. Today, our mission remains the same. The object of our research is to improve the functioning of business, the markets and the economy. In this connection, a major turning point in our history was the establishment in 1962 of the Melbourne Institute of Social and Economic Research and the appointment of Ronald Henderson as Director.
Our early focus was on the BCom and building its reputation. This sometimes overshadows our innovations in graduate education – both research-based and professional degrees. In the mid-50s, Donald Cochrane fulfilled one of Copland’s aims by developing a summer school for executives. It was managed by a Board consisting of representatives from the Faculty, University, government and business – very similar to our current board. Alex Fitzgerald was a member of the Board and, as Dean in 1957, proposed that a graduate school of business administration should be established to award MBAs. This finally happened in 1963 following the renaming of the Commerce Chair as ‘Commerce and Business Administration’. Our Faculty was the first to offer MBAs in Australia.
The development of the MBA reflected a shift to graduate business education. It came from the increased complexity of business and Australia’s increased engagement with the world economy. We began to design programs for the ‘silent generation’ – those building national wealth. Demand came from those with industry experience, and over the years businesses, both here and in the region, began asking for more specialised training. We responded accordingly. The Masters of Applied Finance was developed when industry was lacking well qualified practitioners; our Masters of International Business came from those in Australia wanting to do business outside Australia; and as technology developed, we established the Masters of Business and Technology for those in industry who sought these combined skills.
We are now poised to strengthen our position as the leading provider of business and economics education. We are undertaking a restructure and a refocus of our Faculty, to support life-long learning in Business and Economics.
Our three academic divisions reflect this:
To deliver life-long learning, we need to rethink the way we do business – what I am calling ‘new school thinking’. We need to meet the needs of not just those of the millennial generation but also deliver to Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Demand comes from the constant change we face – in business, in government and in the community generally. New skills must be learned; leaders want to be ahead of the curve so that they can identify the next set of problems and the solutions that will help them deliver value to their organisations and the nation. For us as educators, this means we have to be even further ahead of the curve. As Copland and others have observed for many years, ‘The function of the University is to be ahead of best practice, not to be tracking a few steps behind’ (G.L. Bach Management Science July 1958).
The source for ‘new school thinking’ is ourselves – we must be honest when we ask ourselves whether we are meeting the challenges of today’s leaders, as well as the needs of the Millenials, who will be tomorrow’s leaders. And then do something about it. Two consequences follow.
One relates to our curriculum design. We have known for some time that what we do to – and with – our students is very much related to our curriculum. We need to ensure that our curricula – whether it is for our undergraduates or for our experienced executives – provide the basis that allows participants to redefine how to do business, to rethink their role in society. To do this we need our graduate and executive education programs to have integrated curricula. Of course, we need high-level skills in each of the disciplines, but problems facing industry do not come neatly packaged up in discipline silos. To quote from a recent edition of the Financial Times : ‘…if business schools were to teach their students to examine problems as part of complex messy systems – to tolerate and appreciate messes – the better off we would be…We need leaders who can cope with messes as a whole.’ They use the Global Financial Crisis as an example: ‘…to understand something as big and complicated as the financial system it must be understood and managed as a mess.’ Leadership is about coping with messes.
Moreover, the change in our curricula does not have to be divorced from our research, which will always be a defining characteristic of a great business and economics faculty. Such change can be an integral part of a wider change in the research agenda of the University and the Faculty – tackling big messes related to sustainability, climate change, poverty and more from a multiple-discipline perspective and deriving an integrated solution, or at least an integrated way of coping with the messes.
Committing to a life-long learning model means more than changing the content and the way we teach. It also means embedding life-long values in our teaching. Remember millenials want to create a better world. We must underpin our programs and the culture of the Faculty with a set of values, namely:
I want the defining attribute of each graduate from this Faculty to be the recognition of the importance of contributing to the wider community. I want our curriculum to draw attention to how we do business, to recognise that business practices have a social impact and to redefine business to maximise the positive impact of those practices. This should underpin how we teach accounting, finance, management, marketing and economics. We must also provide opportunities for students to experience first hand what satisfaction and learning comes from working on projects with industry, government or the general community, and being committed to making a difference. Many of our students are already involved in amazing projects working with those less fortunate than ourselves.
I want us to continue to reinforce in our programs – inside and outside of the classroom – the importance of diversity. We live and work in a global community – embedding this in our curricula and what we do is no longer optional. As Daniel Norman said this evening, he fully embraced diversity in the classroom. It allowed him to create a network of colleagues with whom he will work in the future. It also opened his eyes to what else he could do in his career.
We must direct our resources to ensuring that the very best students can study with us regardless of their means. This is a hallmark of a great business school. Tonight we celebrate an anonymous gift from a Generation X alumnus who wanted to do just that – to create opportunity for others to study with us, so they could benefit as he did from his education. I thank him for what is a very generous gift.
We have an ambitious agenda and one for which we need the help of all generations. I know of your commitment to our agenda. I will need advice and support not only from our academics but also from the community we serve. Our vision reflects that of our founders. Now, as in the past, our charter is to improve the economic and social well-being of those around us. I look forward to working with you in achieving our vision in the years to come.