At the Victorian Institute of Technology’s bustling campuses in Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney and Adelaide, a quiet revolution is underway. On the four city campuses, which are set to welcome 600 new international students this month, nothing significant may have changed. But behind the scenes, on VIT’s online servers, a quiet transformation is gathering pace – which could change the face of business education forever.

Last month, VIT took the bold step of uploading its Master of Business Administration (MBA) resources online for open learning, in what is believed to be a first for a private college in Australia.

The open-learning MBA – or “MBA pathway”, as VIT calls it – means that for an annual registration fee of just A$99, students anywhere in the world can access all the lectures and resources of the 100-plus modules, or subjects, that make up the 16 units of its MBA course.

While the college is keen to stress that its “$99 MBA pathway” does not provide a formal qualification, it does let students sample a rich variety of lectures – from business leadership and culture-building, to recruitment, marketing, and customer engagement – as well as Powerpoints, learning resources, digital library access, and self-assessments that students can do to see how well they’re tracking.

“It’s basically an opportunity for a student or a young professional to test out the subjects of our MBA program before they commit to a full two-year program,” says Arjun Surapaneni, the softly-spoken CEO of VIT.

A review of inequality

That commitment, which can cost up to $100,000 for some Masters degrees, has in recent months come under close scrutiny by Education Minister Jason Clare, who in January announced a federal review to address inequality in access to further education in Australia.

The review aims to address the growing wealth gap that prevents capable young Australians from entering further education, simply because of where they were born. Although more than 40% of 19-year-old Australians enrolled in higher education in 2021, only 17% of these were from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and only 21% from regional or remote communities.

For Arjun Surapaneni, it’s obvious that open-learning platforms – with their negligible hosting and distribution costs – have a vital role to play in levelling the playing field.

“MBAs are a popular qualification in Australia and globally, and the topics they cover are clearly going to be an important part of our transition to a more innovative economy – where employers want people with multifaceted skills and broader professional knowledge,” says Arjun.

“If a student has shown that they’re smart and committed, but their family can’t afford a further education, that shouldn’t be a reason for them to miss out.”

More affordable options

Because of the “fixed” costs of its on-campus MBA – rent, salaries, administration, and support services – VIT’s MBA, which is often held up as a low-cost model, carries a price-tag of $32,000 on campus and $16,000 online (or $2,000 and $1,000 per unit respectively, after bursaries). But the fact that many students can’t even afford that has inspired Arjun and his colleagues to look for a more affordable option. That’s where they came up with their MBA pathway and open-learning option.

“It’s basically an opportunity for a student to ‘try before they buy,’” explains Arjun, with a hint of the capitalist jargon he generally eschews. “These days, anyone can go to YouTube and find lectures and presentations on virtually any subject – but they don’t help you join the dots to a full Masters qualification.

“By presenting all our lectures and resources online, we want to help prospective students identify the pathways that best suit them and their career goals. If they want to upskill or reskill, or simply try something new, they can give it a go – for just a few dollars – and see if the MBA program is for them.”

For overseas students, and other new migrants, VIT’s “micro-credentials” can also help students design flexible study schedules, improve their English, and prepare for the other challenges of an Australian education. While the online modules won’t lead to a formal qualification, VIT will in some cases issue a “non-award certificate” to show that a student has completed a specific module or unit.

Daily struggles

With most of VIT’s students originating from developing economies on the Indian sub-continent, South East Asia and South America, a growing number are already struggling with the rising costs of living.

Arjun says the struggles of these students remind him of his own upbringing in India, where he watched several friends – “including some of the smartest ones” – abandon hope of a tertiary education, simply because their parents didn’t have the money.

Over the past three years, VIT has provided financial assistance to many students whose education was interrupted by COVID – including full scholarships to those unfortunate enough to lose a parent or guardian while they were studying at VIT.

“As a knowledge economy with a globally-respected education system, we should never have to watch students slip by the wayside because their families can’t afford a tertiary education,” says Arjun.

“If there aren’t subsidies or scholarships available, I think it’s up to the educational institutes themselves to provide affordable options that can help students make the most of their future. I really hope that other institutes will follow VIT’s lead in this.”

More information:

VIT’s $99 MBA pathway:
MBA resources:
Information on courses at VIT:

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