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MBT Board Letter to the FEIT Dean

Date: 25th May 2018
Professor Ian Burnett
Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology
University of Technology Sydney

Dear Ian

Two weeks ago, the MBT Board successfully delivered an “MBT Speakers’ night” event in collaboration with UTS (FEIT) marketing, where we showcased the quality of our alumni and lecturers with a view to increasing the intake on the Master of Business and Technology (MBT) program. 150 people registered (70 future students) and on the night we had around 80 people in total attending the event. The feedback from the audience was fantastic and we are certain that it will have an impact on the intake of new students for the MBT program in Spring semester.

On the same night, it was brought to our attention that there are definitive plans to move the MBT into the Business Faculty. This came as a surprise to us especially as in latter years we have been actively engaged by UTS, and FEIT in particular, to participate on different advisory boards, focus groups and in other events, with the request to share the MBT Community experience and to help shape the future of current and future degrees. Furthermore, we have not been approached at all by UTS to provide our views on this important change which will have a deep impact on the MBT Program and Community.

Therefore, we feel compelled to set out our unsolicited views against this decision.

The MBT’s mission is to: develop talented, technology-savvy, people into innovative business leaders.

Since 1994, the program has made a significant contribution to the professional and personal life of all MBT students in line with its mission. In particular, as noted below, many MBT alumni have reached the highest levels in the corporate world or have founded successful new enterprises. Examples include:

  • Richard White: Founder and CEO of WiseTechGlobal, Sydney, Australia.
  • Grant Allen: Head: Technology Platform: Dow Jones, London, UK
  • Alex McClafferty: Director of Product Management: GoDaddy, Gilbert, Arizona, USA [Co-Founder and CEO of WP Curve San Francisco, USA which was acquired by GoDaddy in December 2016]
  • Sanjay Sridher: Executive Director: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), New South Wales Government, Sydney, Australia [UTS FEIT alumnus of the year 2012].
  • Dimiter Percev: Vice President: US Field Operations: Nielsen, Tampa, Florida, USA.
  • Dane Warren: Global Chief Information Security Officer: Intertek (a FTSE 100 Company), London, UK.
  • Damir Cuca: Founder and CEO of Basiq, Sydney, Australia.
  • Bettina McMahon: Chief Operating Officer at Australian Digital Health Agency, Sydney, Australia. [UTS FEIT alumna of the year 2016].
  • Chris Turnham: Global Chief Operating Officer of Leap, Sydney, Australia.
  • Nick Walton: Managing Director: Amazon Web Services (ASEAN), Singapore.
  • Malcom Pascoe: Group Chief Information Officer at SAI Global, Sydney.

 

The MBT mission is even more relevant today than it was when the program was created by UTS in 1994. The exponential growth, and ubiquitous influence, of technology in all industries has created a dearth of leaders who understand the strategic value of technology, and who can leverage the leadership practices that enable a business to exploit the competitive advantages offered by innovative technologies. The MBT, with its unique offering, has proven to be able to address this need more successfully than traditional MBAs and, by hosting such a leadership program, FEIT has differentiated itself positively among university engineering faculties. We fear that the move to the Business Faculty will result in the MBT being molded to fit into an MBA offering with all the limitations of which industry leaders are aware.

In this respect, the MBT has three key differentiators (in comparison with traditional MBAs):

  1. Hand-picked teaching staff who are thought leaders in their respective fields and who can theorise their practices in pedagogical terms that enable students to benefit from their experience. By using:
    • industry-based lecturers who are also excellent educators, the deep knowledge that comes from rich, relevant experience and critical self-reflexivity, informs the theoretical frameworks that are presented, discussed and debated in the classroom. As each lecturer only teaches a subject for a single semester each year, these committed professionals can invest the time in renewing the content every year in order to keep pace with the rapidity of change in industry;
    • using industry-based lecturers (employed on a semester-based contract each year) provides agility with respect to the curriculum of the MBT. Subjects that are nearing obsolescence can be easily removed; new subjects can be quickly inserted; and any lecturer who is not performing to MBT standards (as judged by students’ verbal feedback and the SFS results) can be quickly replaced.
  2. Elite group of carefully selected, talented and experienced students:
    • Many of the MBT students have been encouraged to enrol in the program by MBT alumni who are now their workplace manager. As alumni understand the standards and expectations that are a feature of the MBT program, they are careful in selecting talented people who have the requisite experience and potential to enable them to engage productively in class discussions, and who are able to conduct the work-based assessment tasks in ways that will be beneficial to the student and to her/his work organisation;
    • MBT students are encouraged to share their views and experience during all class sessions, which contributes to creating engaging discussions where students learn from each other. This would not be possible in a large class setting in which the majority of students have limited, if any, relevant experience;
    • As all MBT assignments are work-based and presented in class, students’ experiential frames of reference are broadened and developed through informed peer critique, including peers from other industries. In additional to enriching the learning experience, the interactive nature of MBT classes results in the building of strong sources of social and morale capital within the program.
  3. The existence of the MBT Board and Community is unique in Australian universities. The Board consists of 18 highly committed professionals, and the very active Community now has somewhere between 1500 and 2000 members. This powerful asset contributes strongly to the uniqueness of the MBT offering, at no cost to UTS. In particular, the Board and the Community:
    • promotes the MBT and UTS at every available opportunity, including through the social media;
    • organises high-profile events, with world-class speakers, each year which are fully sponsored by industry partners;
    • contributes to UTS’ offerings in a multitude of ways [BIT student mentoring, guest lectures, public speaking (via its Toastmasters club), LiDA events, Board-level experience, etc.];
    • markets the MBT to talented staff members of member organisations;
    • facilitates engagement by UTS staff with industry that produces various forms of collaborative endeavour, including funded research projects.

We believe that moving the MBT in the Business Faculty will result in a death sentence for this unique and prestigious program that has contributed significantly to the brand value of UTS and FEIT. We are well-aware of the challenges that the MBT is currently facing in terms of the recent decline in enrolments but, in our view, this situation is a consequence of the lack of planning with respect to Ken Dovey’s retirement in June 2017, and the failure to recruit an appropriate successor prior to Ken’s departure.

The MBT Board raised the succession planning issue well ahead of Ken Dovey’s retirement. We suggested having a six month (minimum) hand-over between him and the new MBT Director but, given his successor was not appointed until three months after his departure, this did not occur. As a result, the MBT community has lost confidence in the effectiveness of any successor to maintain the quality of the program; a consequence of which has been the community’s refrainment from referring new students to the program (in our analysis usually 50% of the students come through community referrals). At the same time, most students made sure that they completed any subjects taught by Ken before his retirement, which also explains the drop in numbers in 2018 for the subjects he had taught.

In conclusion, as long as the MBT remains in the FEIT, operating under the same conditions (highlighted in this letter as key differentiators), we will continue to support UTS and FEIT, as demonstrated by the event two weeks ago, and to promote the MBT brand in order ensure that it survives and thrives.

Look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Sincerely,

Stefano Bianchini
MBT Board Chair
Program Architect, NAB

7 Comments

  1. Royston Lobo says:

    What reassurance do current students have about the program going forward? Many of the cohort are in the MBT purely because of the elements described in the letter above. If this were to change, we could see an adverse impact to enrollments and viability of the program. I strongly urge UTS to do more to explain the thinking behind this plan and give current students a voice in this critical matter via the MBT Board.

    • Jens says:

      That’s a valid point Royston. I’d go even one step further and say that the future direction of the MBT program is impacting also alumni as the value of their degree diminishes if the program does not sustain the three key differentiators as described in the letter above. Therefore, I think alumni must also have a say in this.

      • Michael Johnson says:

        I am a MBT Alumnus, and I completely concur with the above sentiments. I did the MBT because I was blown away by home much it is/was a high-quality, challenging degree and NOT “just a piece of paper”. I demand to know the thinking behind this questionable move, please, ASAP. i

        Michael Johnson

  2. Robert Mulley says:

    This is a terrible move by UTS. As part of the MBITM I had to do a couple of electives involving other faculties including the business faculty. The elective I did there was horrible to be honest. The lecturer was inept at explaining concepts. The students were all high volume, low quality, just in it for the piece of paper types and it showed through with the group activities that I had to do. This move will devalue my degree and am furious with this direction.

    I hope sanity prevails and this decision is reversed otherwise I can’t see this course getting the quality of lecturer it has had in the past. The Industry experience provided is essential in this course rather than just delivering an academic view of the material.

  3. If the MBT moves to the Business Faculty it will be very unfortunate.

    When I completed my MBT in 2004 (known as the MBITM back then) it was commonly known that the subjects we took from the Business Faculty were nowhere as engaging or as rewarding as the other MBT subjects within FEIT. The Business Faculty class interactions were very different to the rest of the MBT program.

    It takes a huge leap of faith for a technical person to undertake a Masters of Business. Having the program run by an engineering or IT faculty with Industry-based lecturers helps overcome some of the doubts a technical person would have in committing to such a program.

    Moving the MBT program to the Business Faculty will almost certainly deter most prospective students who have a technical background.

    Is there anything current students and alumni can do to help influence the Dean to keep the program within FEIT?

  4. I graduated from the (then) MBTIM in 2004. It was the best course I ever enrolled in or completed. There we three main factors that made this course superb:
    – The content – which was up to date, delivered by UTS and industry experts, and challenging.
    – The students – the course has always been very selective, creating an environment where people want to learn – and want to learn from each other. The support and engagement from other students was vital . Competition between students was not a value within the cohort – unlike my experience of MBA subjects. The students all had work experience, so also had life experience.
    – The teaching staff engaged by the MBTIM were stellar. They knew their content, they knew how to engage adult students with work experience and they knew how to get the best from us.

    My experience of the MBA subjects I had to take, was that they were commodified to the nth degree. The goal seemed to be to push students through in bulk with little consideration for those with a hunger to learn and excel. One MBA guest lecturer even spent some time trying to poach us to join the MBA at his institution. The experience left me quite uninspired.

    Considering the MBT is consistently highly rated as THE best course on offer at UTS, it seems counter-intuitive to move it out of its current structure, where a board of Alumni and current students can continue to ensure excellence, to a faculty where so many of us have had unfortunate learning experiences.

    As an Alumnus, I have a stake in ensuring the value of my qualification is maintained. I certainly doubt this will be the case if the course is swallowed up by the Faculty of business.

  5. Solomon Ezekiel says:

    Absorbing the MBT into the business faculty is a disasterous idea to say the very least! Having completed some of my subjects in the business faculty, I completely concur with @Robert Mulley above – quality of most of the subjects and lecturers is low, students are not even close to the quality of MBT students and the “practical” aspect, where lecturers have real industry experience, which is part of the “DNA” of the MBT program and vital to the quality of the degree will be missing.

    I sincerely hope that this decision is reversed, as moving the course to the business faculty will certainly strip it of its uniqueness and value.

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