Putting the “Continuing” in Continuing Education

Changes in the mix of skills and occupations required by various industries influence the demand for education; this particularly influences mature-age students to return to education. The development of post-graduate courses and flexible methods for course delivery has allowed the expansion of this field over the past five years. In 2012-13, mature age students ie over 25 years old, accounted for 17.3% of the education and training market. Demand for these courses is high as people update and upgrade their knowledge and skills for career change and progression. Australia also has a strong record for participation in lifelong learning, measured against other OECD countries (IBISWorld Industry Report: Education and Training in Australia, February 2013.)

There has also been an explosion in choice of post-graduate courses on offer during this period, as universities have sought to attract students to fee-paying courses. Masters degrees, Executive Education programs and Graduate Diploma/Certificate courses attract thousands of mature age students every year seeking to advance or distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive and changeable global market.

The master of business administration degree (MBA) has transformed during this expansion from a degree of distinction to the staple of the postgraduate business industry. An MBA is effectively a general management qualification featuring a taste of all the core disciplines but focusing on leadership skills According to the University of Western Australia Business School’s postgraduate program director, the typical MBA student will be late 20s and early 30s, going into their 40s.  Many of them have non-business degree backgrounds – they may have good technical skills but no knowledge with respect to strategy, basic accounting or finance or leadership and organizational skills.  In contrast, masters students tend to be younger and continuing their studies in a field similar to their undergraduate degree (“Specialist MBA takes it to the next level” Australian Financial Review, 24 September 2012.) 

Professionals seeking to secure promotions and expand their careers are studying short courses in IT, finance and communication, seeking the right mix of skills to give them an edge in the job market.  The Chief Executive Officer of Open Universities Australia, Paul Wappett, has noted that students are currently very discerning about the type of education they want.  According to Mr Wappett, some students are doing short courses because they need particular skills to help them in their current job, with others taking single units because they are looking for promotion opportunities.