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Niche programs proliferate at business schools

Golf, mining, and fine arts are the focus of new graduate programs.

BY NATALIE SAMSON | MAY 14 2014

At a conservative estimate, there are about 15,000 students enrolled in MBA programs at 40 business schools in Canada. With total fees for Canadian students reaching $90,000 for some programs, graduate-level business education can be, well, big business for universities and a big investment for students. If the number of people taking the GMAT – a prerequisite for admission to most graduate business programs — in Canada is any indication, it’s an investment more and more Canadians are willing to make.

With all the options out there, how do business schools distinguish themselves and remain relevant within a potentially fickle job market? One way is through specialized MBA streams.

“MBA programs still have the foundation which provides the requisite knowledge for business, but [they are] being very specific at the elective phase,” said Hugh Munro, MBA director at Wilfrid Laurier University. He noted that these programs not only help the university recruit students but also respond to industry needs.

Laurier recently developed a golf and resort management stream within its MBA program after being approached by the Golf Management Institute of Canada. According to Dr. Munro, Canada’s $11-billion golf industry needs “a different kind of talent” these days. While golf clubs record massive growth worldwide, membership numbers at home are stagnating, he said. “Management acumen in the industry needs to be elevated to be able to address those kinds of issues.”

Students in the golf and resort specialization take the same core courses as the traditional MBA, but in their second term they participate in five industry-related courses on services marketing, real estate, sustainability, talent management and governance. A co-op option is in the planning stages.

Aligning graduate business studies with market needs was also a factor in Ryerson University’s decision to offer a specialization in mining and corporate social responsibility as part of the Global MBA. Philip Walsh, academic coordinator of Ryerson’s mining management programs and a veteran of the mining and energy sectors, said Canadian natural resource companies are increasingly aware of the high cost of not being socially responsible. Industry partners such as McEwen Mining, Agnico Eagle and Barrick Gold, he said, have supported Ryerson’s move to integrate sustainability and corporate responsibility throughout its mining management curriculum.

“The design that we came up with moves away from the traditional mining management programs that focus heavily on things like operations and finance,” said Dr. Walsh. “For example, when I teach the finance course, there’s a significant component on ethical investment. Students not only understand the fundamentals of how you value property and determine a way to finance the development of it, but they are also taught to recognize … the most ethical approach to investing in that project. Will [the project] be dealing with social concerns, environmental concerns that need to be addressed?”

The program offers MBA students the option of pursuing two specialized classes – mining evaluation and finance, and corporate social responsibility in mining – besides the core business courses and an elective. Since it opened in January, 10 students have followed the mining stream.

Students want practical knowledge

It’s not just industry driving these intensive business programs. Dr. Munro sees much of the demand coming from students looking to build practical knowledge and learn in smaller class settings. That certainly seems to be the case for Université du Québec à Montréal’s new graduate studies degree in arts career management.

A collaborative effort by UQAM’s faculty of arts and business school, the part-time program is unique in its focus on developing business skills among working artists.

Program director and art history professor Gilles Lapointe noted that artists rarely see a link between artistic achievement and financial success. The problem, he said, is that when artists aren’t paid enough for their artistic pursuits to cover even basic expenses, the burden can become so onerous that it entirely stifles their creativity. The program aims to demystify the relationship between artistic output and money by walking students through the processes of grant writing, sponsorships, business plans, copyright, organizing tours and the like.

Some schools have creatively tailored their specialized programs to niche markets, while others have simply aimed to reflect the strengths and makeup of their own communities. In Western Canada, for example, Simon Fraser University, Thompson Rivers University and the University of Saskatchewan all offer business administration programs that focus on the unique needs of aboriginal communities and enterprises. Similarly, both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta offer specializations in energy management.

– With files from Jean-François Venne

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  1. UA Editor / May 28, 2014 at 14:23

    A quote regarding Ryerson’s mining program that had been misattributed has been corrected. It is now correctly attributed to Philip Walsh