Uni degree redesign to focus on digital literacy post-COVID

Monday, 19 October, 2020

Uni degree redesign to focus on digital literacy post-COVID

Digital literacy and a technology focus are increasingly important attributes for graduates, especially business professionals hoping to thrive in a post-COVID world, according to University of NSW (UNSW).

The university’s highly regarded Bachelor of Commerce degree has undergone a complete ground-up redesign in response to the pre- and post-COVID challenges facing business now and in the future.

Aspiring graduates will require a more diverse range of skills outside of those taught in traditional business degrees, said Mark Uncles, Deputy Dean (Education) and Professor of Marketing at UNSW Business School.

“While pre-pandemic understanding of areas such as accounting and financial literacy, economic and marketing principles, business communications and teamwork all remain important for organisations, additional themes have emerged in recent times,” Professor Uncles said.

“These include learning how to survive — and thrive — in the digital economy. It is clear we need to give more emphasis to digital literacy, business analytics, organisational agility, workforce flexibility, innovation and entrepreneurialism.

“This holds true because of the current pandemic, but also because of the other big issues we face as a nation, such as climate change, limited water resources, changing energy demands, urban growth and renewal, and population ageing. There are business challenges — and opportunities — in all these areas.”

To equip graduates with a sharper skillset, UNSW Business School engaged a wide range of employers as well as its Business Advisory Council (which includes board directors and C-Suite executives from Australia’s top listed companies, regulators and public sector organisations) to better understand their business and organisational requirements.

Designed to meet industry needs

EY’s Oceania Campus Recruitment Lead, Sarah Perrens, served as the industry representative on the Academic Program Review panel redesigning UNSW’s Bachelor of Commerce.

As well as the skills EY would expect to see in its graduates — such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving — Perrens said the firm now assesses graduates for a range of other skills and competencies.

These include adaptability, being a virtual collaborator, drive and resilience, learning agility and being technology focused (the ability to keep abreast of new technologies and how they can practically be applied), Perrens explained.

“We are seeing an increasing demand for future skills in data and analytics, and staying abreast of new technologies such as automation, robotics and AI. Creativity, problem-solving, adaptability and resilience will be paramount in the future,” she said.

Professor Uncles underscored the importance of producing graduates with a current and focused work-ready skillset.

“UNSW’s Bachelor of Commerce has always done well in attracting students with first-rate maths and literacy abilities with a good technical grounding, and then building on that to develop their analytical and critical skills within a particular discipline.”

Employers are looking for graduates with analytical and critical thinking skills who can work with data and apply their insights to address particular business or societal problems. Areas of application are as diverse as auditing and fintech, and consulting and business analytics.

Professor Uncles said employers are also looking for communication skills that extend beyond simple oral and written presentation to the visual presentation of data using Tableau and PowerBI, and the ability to draw out insights for decision-making.

Other valuable skills incorporated into UNSW’s Bachelor of Commerce include teamwork and collaboration to address practical business problems, well-developed levels of cultural competence, business ethics and leadership in terms of influence.

“All our students will be engaged in work-integrated learning and have access to our unique Career Accelerator services, including options for career development, internships, mentoring and practicums. They will curate these activities — and their attainment of skills — into personal portfolios,” Professor Uncles said.

“We are embedding all of these skills and competencies, and practical employability features, into the curriculum — they aren’t optional extras, they are built into the fabric of the degree.”

Adding cross-functional value in business

Employers and UNSW’s Business Advisory Council also highlighted the importance of cross-functional and cross-disciplinary thinking. The Bachelor of Commerce first-year courses now come together as a fully integrated offering.

“If you think about what goes on inside an organisation, there are interrelationships between all the functions,” Professor Uncles said. “Accounting and finance principles naturally fit together, while international business and marketing often go together, so too do governance, regulation and ethics.

“In the broader business ecosystem, at a macro level, opportunities and problems don’t present themselves in neat packages, so it’s important to apply a business mindset where connections and interdependencies are understood.

“We carry this through to double-degree programs where the Bachelor of Commerce is offered in combination with other degrees,” Professor Uncles said.

A large number of students, for example, are undertaking a Commerce degree with Engineering. Professor Uncles explained how this approach might add cross-functional value within an organisation.

“Say there was a problem around water resources in a region of Australia. You can think about that from an engineering perspective, but also think about the business opportunities presented by water management.

“That’s where value is created, or if you do it badly, where value is lost — and that’s the kind of connected thinking we are developing in our students.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/WavebreakMediaMicro

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