Meet the dean: Geoffrey Garrett, Australian School of Business

Technology-enhanced learning and a focus on Asia should help establish a stronger global footprint

Geoffrey Garrett, named as next dean of Wharton

Geoffrey Garrett’s biography reads like a guide to the world’s top universities – Oxford, Pennsylvania, Stanford, UCLA, Yale … he has taught at them all and more. Now he is planning to make his mark on the other side of the world, at a university in his native Australia, as dean of the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney.

It may seem like an unusual move, but Prof Garrett sees the positive. “There’s a benefit to being small and far away: you don’t expect other countries to operate like you,” he says.

And in spite of the “tyranny of distance”, as he calls it – Sydney is 10,000 miles from New York and London and more than 5,000 miles from Beijing – Prof Garrett believes that the school can increasingly be a global player.

At the heart of his argument is the appeal of Sydney to Asian students. “The integration with Asia is palpable in the streets,” he says. This is having an effect on programmes, particularly the MBA. “The Asian impetus is to make MBAs younger and shorter.”

But the relative isolation of Australian business schools also gives an impetus to the development of technology-enhanced learning, which could help them leapfrog their more traditional campus-based rivals in the US or Europe.

“The direction we’re going is to put much more material online,” says Prof Garrett, but he is quick to point out that online does not mean low cost or low value. “Online isn’t saving you any money, it is improving your learning,” he argues. “By far the most beguiling prospect, and the most dangerous, is existing degrees at lower prices. The risk in lowering your price is that you can’t go back,” he concludes. “The simple metaphor for me is that in-class time is special.”

That said, Prof Garrett is a supporter of the increasingly fashionable Mooc – massive open online course – but as a marketing tool, to project the school’s brand.

Teaching at a distance is something the school already knows well, as its Executive MBA – an MBA for working managers – is already taught in 10 locations across Australia. The school also runs a part-time MBA in Hong Kong. Indeed, of the school’s 15,000 students, 1,500 are enrolled on the EMBA, arguably making it the school’s flagship programme.

The school’s full-time MBA is 16-months in length but, assures the dean, two years of study are crammed into the programme, and online elements will play an increasing role. This is important as the Australian government requires overseas students to complete two years of postgraduate study to get the right to work in Australia.

The scene in Australia is very different to that in the US, where Prof Garrett has done most of his teaching, however. All 40 universities in Australia have a business school, and almost all are full service, with bachelor, masters level and PhD programmes. Indeed, a third of all degrees awarded in Australia are business degrees and business schools have the highest percentage of full fee-paying students, points out Prof Garrett.

Unlike the US, economics departments are usually part of the university and fees from business school used to cross-subsidise university research. “That makes it very hard for us to compete in the elite MBA rankings, as we can’t put all our fees back into the programme,” explains Prof Garrett.

But there are some issues that perplex business school deans around the globe, one of which is the relationship between the business school and the university. It is an issue that has proven particularly taxing in Australia’s top schools, such as Melbourne Business School and the Australian School of Business.

The history of the latter has been complex, with the graduate school, the Australian Graduate School of Business (AGSM) owned jointly at one time by UNSW and the University of Sydney. The Australian School of Business was established in 2007, when UNSW’s faculty of Commerce and Economics merged with the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). Today the MBA still operates under the AGSM brand.

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