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Innovate or stagnate: Upskilling the best protection against economic uncertainty

|Mar 31|magazine16 min read

From mining, manufacturing and the media through to education and aviation, many Australian industry sectors are in the midst of a period of significant economic and structural change with more focus on self-reliance and corporate responsibility than ever before.

The result? An increasingly nervous workforce with a growing number of professionals concerned about the possibility not only of redundancy but of future-proofing their employment prospects.

Professor Fred McDougall, Vice-Chancellor and President of Australia’s 40th comprehensive university, Torrens University Australia said research showed that enrolment in Australian postgraduate programs rose 6.5 per cent between 2008 and 2009, primarily on the back of the global financial crisis at that period.

If we’ve learned anything from the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and from previous economic downturns, it’s that during times of uncertainty, employees look to upskill, re-skill or add specialist qualifications to their existing credentials. Some do so because they find themselves unemployed and are looking to stand out in the job market, others do it to avoid being in that position in the first place. More still do so to add value not only to their own CV and skills but to their employer and, with time, their investment will pay off.

Postgrad and continuing education

Online education also enjoyed a boost between 2008 and 2010 as the global financial crisis undermined job security and encouraged people to enroll in education and training. A study conducted by Open Universities Australia in 2008 found that 53% of its students felt that the poor economic situation made it more important to take up university study. Enrolment numbers for online education were lifted by students deferring entry into the labour market, people who lost their jobs, and people who remained in the workforce but wished to upgrade their qualifications in a weaker job market.

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The cautious current mood, particularly in light of major manufacturing closures and massive job losses at companies including Qantas and Sensis, is tipped to prompt a surge in postgraduate study across myriad sectors with good reason – across the board, postgraduate salaries are higher than equivalent salaries for Bachelor degree graduates in every employment sector. 

“The aim of postgraduate study is not just to gain qualifications, seek promotion or boost job security, but to gain relevant expertise to add greater value to your organisation, and to explore new aspects of your chosen – or desired field,” noted Professor McDougall.

Australian Bureau of Statistics Census Data shows the number of people who completed a postgraduate degree over the past decade has almost doubled, while over 90 percentof postgraduates are in full-time employment shortly after graduation – on median salaries increasing year on year (by more than 7 per cent between 2010 and 2012). The median salary for Bachelor degree graduates in full-time employment is $66,000 per annum, a 32% increase since 2009; compared with a median salary of $85,000 for full-time postgraduate qualified employees; with postgraduates in management and commerce disciplines attracting the highest median salaries ($108,300 for men, $92,300 for women).

Professor McDougall said the opportunity to engage in online postgraduate study has opened up the field to a diverse range of students, with the 2014 Financial Times ranking of online MBA programmes indicating online students are more inclined to want to develop their management skills ahead of a primary focus on increasing earnings, with promotion and developing strong business networks also key priorities for enrolling students.

Changing landscape of business education

But it’s not just professionals and potential students who’ve learned from the GFC and are acting now to shore up and enhance their employment prospects, postgraduate program providers have also reacted to, and learned from, past experience.

A report from Hanover Research, which investigated trends influencing MBA courses around the world by analysing the Financial Times’ top 100 institutions (2012), found that many business schools had stepped up their focus on business ethics, international business, financial risk and corporate responsibility to equip students to do business in the altered post-crisis climate.

“Agility is key to delivering relevant postgraduate programs,” said Professor McDougall. “As a private university Torrens is in a unique position to craft programs and flexible delivery methods that have been specifically designed – with input from local industry experts - to quickly respond to market demand, which is why we’ve chosen to offer postgraduate programs in global project management, public health, education and business. As the university grows, we’ll continue to review current and anticipated industry trends in order to add programs geared towards jobs of the future,” advised Professor McDougall.

“Just as business must respond to industry conditions, as we’re seeing in the manufacturing, motor and aviation sectors right now, higher education must innovate – offering hands-on small classes, state of the art technology, 24/7 online access to resources and extensive domestic and international mentoring opportunities – to remain relevant and ensure our students do the same. That way our students will not only enhance their employability, they’ll add genuine value to employers in challenging conditions.”

Torrens University Australia is currently extending thirty percent scholarships to all accepted online MBA, global project management, education and public health postgraduate students who commence study in May 2014.

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As Australia’s 40th comprehensive University, Torrens University Australia aims to deliver an innovative environment for learning, scholarship and research that is culturally diverse, career-oriented, and with a distinctive global perspective. Offering a range of undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degree by research programs – for study on-campus, online or a mix of both depending on the program selected – Torrens is a part of Laureate International Universities, a leading international network of over 75 innovative higher education institutions – teaching more than 800,000 students in 30 countries and online. To apply, visit www.tua.com.au