In the wake of the global financial crisis, universities were widely condemned for schooling their business graduates in the ruthless pursuit of profit and failing to instil them with the broader set of skills needed to successfully lead business. UTS Business School responded to this challenge, developing a more integrative approach to its business education.
A vision to enhance student learning has been a catalyst for change and an opportunity for collaboration in the Business School of late.
“We believe the challenges – including environmental sustainability, business ethics and corporate social responsibility – are important opportunities for our graduates who are expected to build on specialised knowledge with boundary-crossing skills, such as creativity, teamwork and problem-solving,” says Dean of Business Professor Roy Green.
While other Australian business schools have also signalled a shift towards more ethics-based courses, Green says UTS’s approach is distinguished by its “emphasis on integrative thinking, which inspires relevant and rigorous research, innovative partnerships and practice-oriented learning.”
Several working parties were established with the purpose of embedding key themes of sustainability, ethics and creativity into a redesigned Bachelor of Business.
"The working parties represented all of the different disciplinary groups in the Business School – marketing, management, economics, finance and accounting – and we came together to try to think about how you can map out sustainability across a business degree,” explains Lecturer in Management and working party member Melissa Edwards.
Edwards coordinates the cross-disciplinary teaching subject Integrating Business Perspectives (IBP). Developed as a core subject in the Bachelor of Business as part of the review, IBP introduces first-year students to sustainability principles.
“In a nutshell, it presents them with business design that is both socially and environmentally responsible and considers the impact of all present activities on future generations,” says Edwards.
She emphasises this was the first step towards integrating the themes across the curriculum. Subject coordinators in each of the degree programs are also looking at ways to incorporate a sustainability-related unit, topic item or assessment project into their coursework so students can build on the concepts introduced in IBP throughout their degree.
With the revitalised Bachelor of Business program rolled out in Autumn 2011 following a 12-month review, Green says the new IBP subject has already proven a great success. “Major reviews are now underway for the MBA and other postgraduate programs."
Another facet of the Business School’s renewed vision was the creation of a Professor of Sustainable Enterprise position. Professor Suzanne Benn started in the role this year.
“Sustainable enterprise draws together environmental sustainability, innovation, people management, planning for the future, organisational change and leadership,” says Benn. “Sustainability is also inherently interdisciplinary, meaning these areas can be linked to other teaching and research specialties across UTS.”
Benn is currently co-leading a partnership project between UTS Business School and Ernst & Young, which has attracted over $300 000 in funding from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Energy Efficiency Training Program. The project aims to develop and deliver a comprehensive energy-efficiency education and training program for accountants and business managers in NSW.
The project team consists of representatives from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Westpac and the Sydney Institute of Technology, along with a team from the Business School that includes Associate Professor David Brown and Senior Lecturer Dr David Bubna-Litic.
Each of these institutions will contribute to an understanding of “what sort of training needs to be done for accountants and managers around energy efficiency, what roles accountants are playing in regard to energy efficiency and carbon management, and what skills and capabilities they need,” says Benn.
Based on this training needs analysis, UTS and Ernst & Young will develop a range of teaching materials, including a series of professional development seminars and courses for accountants and business managers, and a webinar targeted to the needs of senior business leaders.
The team is also developing a series of case studies to be incorporated into existing undergraduate and postgraduate business courses at UTS.
“So all business students will graduate with knowledge of how to approach energy efficiency,” says Accounting Lecturer Paul Brown, also part of Benn’s project team.
Brown is leading the curriculum development for the energy-efficiency project. He was also a member of the working party for the Bachelor of Business review and will be working with Edwards to incorporate energy-efficiency accounting and project evaluation examples into the IBP subject.
Emphasising the significance of educating finance professionals to support energy-efficiency projects, Brown cites anecdotal evidence saying within businesses, accountants are often roadblocks to sustainability initiatives.
“From what we understand, engineers and technical staff will come up with really good ideas for ways organisations can reduce their energy consumption. But when it comes to getting approval for those ideas, that’s where they come unstuck. Accountants and finance people within the organisation aren’t approving a lot of projects that could be implemented. They just don’t see the value.”
Brown explains that although energy footprint or lifecycle evaluations are done within many organisations, this is often viewed as an ‘add-on’.
“More progressive organisations have adopted what we call integrated business reporting, which is where the accounting systems record and disseminate information beyond pure financial information,” says Brown.
The team would like to see energy-efficiency accounting more widely embraced as part of the ‘business as usual’ accounting systems.
To facilitate this, all teaching material produced in the project will be made publicly available following evaluation. The team are in the process of developing a website encouraging other education and training institutions to integrate energy efficiency into their teaching programs.
“Accounting professionals, business leaders, not-for-profits, for-profits, anyone will be able to log on, download our resources, take them into their organisation and use them in promoting energy efficiency,” says Brown.
“That’s something we’re really keen to push. We want to cause change.”