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Business school vs university

How to choose your business education


Navigating the world of business education can be confusing when you are trying to choose the right course. If you’re considering studying business, you might be asking yourself: what are the differences between a business school vs university?

Before making your decision, it’s worth making yourself aware of them, as each institution will focus on varying outcomes that may or may not suit your personal career goals and needs.

business school word cloud

What is a business school vs a university in Australia?

In Australia, all higher education providers must meet the higher education standards framework defined by the government regulator (TEQSA) in order to be certified. In this system, there are different categories for universities or other higher education providers.

A business school is an independent higher education provider that provides business administration and management courses. Kaplan Business School, for example, offers nationally accredited diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate level courses in business and business-related areas.

On the other hand, the (mostly government-funded) universities in Australia must be at least 85% self-accrediting. This means they have the authority to accredit their own courses and degrees.

It’s important to note, that higher education providers that have not been granted self-accrediting authority still have all their courses accredited and held to the highest standards by an external authority. In Australia, this is the Tertiary Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), Australia’s independent national quality assurance and regulatory agency for higher education.

Universities are required to offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses across a minimum of three different fields of study. So, unlike a business school, you cannot have a university that offers only business programs.

Universities also need to provide a broader spectrum of degrees and staff are required to research in addition to teaching. Unlike other providers, universities also offer doctoral and master’s degrees by research. Significant funding and effort go towards research.



Why do universities label their business faculties as 'business schools'?

You would have likely heard of universities who have labelled their management faculty as a 'business school' e.g. Harvard Business School, London Business School and Melbourne Business School, which can be confusing.

These are not actual stand-alone business schools but management faculties that are part of a wider university. In most instances, this is the case with huge universities with a strong reputation in business, where it makes sense to operate and market this faculty somewhat independently under the umbrella of the university.

The argued advantage of these integrated business schools is that students benefit from being part of a well-established institution that has access to greater funds and resources.

On the other hand, stand-alone business schools are considered more agile, have greater freedom in financial decisions and decision-making, and can therefore adapt more quickly to today’s changing business environment.

What are the other main points of difference?

Universities and business schools are different types of institutions that have their own history, structure, culture and teaching practices. Here are a few key points to think about when you are making your choice.

Institution size

Universities can be huge, with thousands of students on one campus. Because of this they often have many different clubs, societies and facilities. However, class sizes can be large, teachers have limited time, and big institutions can be bureaucratic and impersonal.

Business schools tend to be much smaller, with less staff and reduced class sizes. These can lead to a more individualised, personal teaching environment with greater one-on-one attention. There are fewer research facilities, but you become more familiar with teachers and other students.

Areas of study

Universities offer a broad range of courses across a number of faculties including science, education, teaching, business, law, medicine, engineering and arts. This means they are able to accommodate students with varying career interests, however their resources also need to be spread across all of these study areas.

Business schools have a specialised focus on business study and therefore cater to a smaller group of prospective students. Given the industry focus however, they tend to be quicker to introduce new courses and curriculum updates that align with the latest trends in the business world, including emerging fields and new technologies and applications.

For example, KBS has recently launched a series of business analytics degrees and new specialisations as part of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) course, in Tourism and Hospitality Leadership and Women in Leadership.

Career focus

Although this is no longer true in all cases, historically universities tended to focus on academic outcomes, with a heavy focus on research. On the other hand, the reputation of a business school comes from the performance of their graduates in the workforce.

For this reason, industry connections and work placements are a key focus, facilitated by dedicated careers services such as Kaplan Business School’s Careers Central. 

This makes it a great environment for students who want to build up their network of contacts in specialised business fields or learn how to run a small business from teachers who have practical experience as entrepreneurs.

a group of people working

Peers

At university you are sharing a campus with a range of students all studying vastly different courses. That can be fun, exciting and challenging. On the other hand, business schools are considered to be excellent places for networking, because everyone you meet is there with a career in business as their end goal.

Research

The requirement for universities to undertake research across a diverse range of fields often means they need to divert money to fund that research. A report by the Grattan Institute found that [Australian] “universities earn up to $3.2 billion more from students than they spend on teaching and have powerful incentives to spend the extra money on research.” *

University academic staff are also required to spend a considerable amount of time undertaking, or supervising, research.

Independent business schools, on the other hand, are not required to undertake pure research, so these funds and resources are not diverted from teaching.

So, which one is the right fit for you?

As with most things in life, what you get out of your business education is dependent on what course is right for you. Here are some top factors to consider:

Career Goals

While higher education is a good investment, you need to be sure about the particular area you are enrolling in.

What are you aiming for; entrepreneurship, accounting, management, analytics, marketing? What institution specialises in that particular field? What industry do you want to work in, and is there a school or university that specialises in that?

Research each institution that you are considering enrolling in and talk to recent graduates. Business schools often specialise in specific management courses, and that can lead to a more focused education, whereas universities tend to offer a more general spectrum of additional subjects.

finances money jar

Finances

Of course, then there’s the financial reality check; what can you afford right now? How much are your potential education providers asking in fees and what will you lose in wages while you are studying? Think long term and calculate your return on investment. Going straight for a degree may not be realistic regarding time or money. In that case, beginning your education with a diploma may be a good option.

Gradings that focus on academic quality AND student experience

Some rankings might be helpful and can add a sense of prestige around a provider, but they often do not tell you about the actual student experience, including support services and employment outcomes. 

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) system, however, assesses both business schools and universities for academic quality and learning and is based on student surveys rather than panel judgement.

This grading system factors in other important points such as student support that may otherwise be missed in studies focused only on academic results.

At Kaplan Business School we’re extremely proud that students have rated our student support higher than every public university in Australia. **

Kaplan Business School offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate business courses which deliver quality teaching and outstanding graduate outcomes. More and more people are choosing to study business for its strong prospects and job security that the business sector offers graduates. Check out what a KBS business course can offer you.

* https://grattan.edu.au/report/the-cash-nexus-how-teaching-funds-research-in-australian-universities/

** Undergraduate and postgraduate students combined. QILT 2018 Student Experience Survey National Report. Published April 2019