width=280A number of reasons exist for this.  The demand for business education at the graduate level has continued to grow and with it the demands of the international labour market.  Though the popular MBA program still attracts more than 250,000 applicants a year for universities and business schools all over the world, the strict conditions imposed on students before they successfully begin their course of study can provide a limit for those who are otherwise academically qualified.  For example, evidence exists that more and more students move from their bachelor's degree to a masters degree without significant working experience one of the key requirements for the best international MBA programs and so they are prevented from pursuing this kind of degree.

Secondly, the demand from employers is such that more specific skills are now required in the increasingly diverse employment market that exists internationally.  The previously more generalized approach to management education is still popular, but many institutions are recognising the need to offer programs in areas such as risk analysis, IT management, organizational behaviour and various aspects of financial analysis to answer the specific demands of employers.

The value of business and commerce

The actual value of a graduate degree in the business or management area is certainly something that ensures that programs of this kind are particularly popular internationally.  A 2005 study by Australian consulting group Access Economics found that graduate business qualifications generate the greatest estimated net economic benefit of any university degree.  A graduate business qualification is estimated to add an extra US$500,000 to the economy, when compared to the benefit generated by a high-school graduate.  These benefits apply to the whole economy from the individuals (whom earn more income) to the government (that collects more tax) and to firms (whom earn greater profits from skilled employees).

Table 1: Economic benefits of undergraduate and graduate qualifications

All figures in AUD$Business UndergradTertiary undergradBusiness postgradTertiary postgrad
University cost$30,239$47,382$60,351$76,714
Student costs$8,082$8,082$13,084$13,084
Deadweight losses$5,395$11,842$3,350$3,350
Total cost$43,716$67,305$76,786$93,149
Income Premium$542,509$250,818$736,512$347,234
Net economic benefit over a high school graduate$498,794$183,513$659,726$254,085

Like instituitions the world over, the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Economics and Commerce offers Masters programs in management, marketing, applied commerce, business and IT, international business, accounting and finance.  The benefits graduates generate from the graduate programs are not just economic - graduates seek career transition, professional development and intellectual stimulation.  They tend also to seek degree programs that are flexible and that allow them to be better qualified for a wide range of jobs.  For example, Stephen Bowditch worked in the consulting and pharmaceutical industry for eight years and then chose to study a Master of Applied Commerce, specializing in marketing, to broaden and deepen his business knowledge.  Stephen says having a formal business or marketing qualification at master's level is increasingly becoming a prerequisite to obtaining positions in the top echelon of companies.  As career opportunities are becoming increasingly global, it is important to attend a university with world-wide recognition for teaching quality and research.  Stephen completed the Master recently and has been appointed as Business Development Manager at Eye Research Australia.

Fuelled by demand

Of these specialized business programs, development can often be in response to a demand from industry or the corporate sector.  An example of this is forensic accounting.  When forensic accounting is mentioned, most people think of the auditing work that brings business fraudsters to court.  With a recent KPMG survey finding 45% of Australian and New Zealand firms experiencing fraud, it is not an unreasonable assumption to make.  However, there's more to business forensics than that - divorce cases might seem an unlikely source of work, but forensic accountants are often called on to provide valuations of family company assets to stand as evidence in Family Court cases.  Similarly, they are often called on when remedies are sought against deceptive and misleading conduct under the Trade Practices Act, such as when a business has been sold on the basis of inflated statements of turnover.

With the divestment of consulting arms by the big four auditors, forensic accounting services have become the preserve of many second-tier practices.  But the potential is there for small practices in small business and partnership disputes that are often referred by solicitors to the biggest accounting firms.  Ken James is looking to turn that situation around by introducing forensic services into his practice.  He says, success will depend on experience, exposure and recognition, and for him the first step was to get a recognized qualification, essential to assert credibility in court.

According to Professor D. Larry Crumbley, founder and editor of the Journal of Forensic Accounting, a staggering 6% of all organizational revenue is lost to fraud.  Most often, fraud is only uncovered by accident or because the perpetrator's colleagues tip off the organization.  Internal and external audit provide the most reliable method of uncovering and tracing fraud but auditing, unlike forensic accounting, isn't undertaken with evidence standards and legal outcomes in mind.  Providing reports that will stand up in court and delivering those reports as an expert witness is the job of the business forensics specialist.

Fraud is only one of the reasons for business forensics experts to get out of bed each day.  Determining economic loss and business valuations arising from commercial disputes are also part of the business forensics portfolio.  Investigating fraud, forensic accounting work is like a coronial investigation looking for small pieces of evidence that might indicate criminal malfeasance.  It's not quite CSI but an investigative mindset and preparedness to think like a criminal are a part of the role.  The real substance of the business forensics role, though, is preparing reports for court and acting as an expert witness.  If auditing reports or valuations appear to be based on assumptions, they will not stand up in court.

Forensic services use accounting, auditing and investigative skills primarily to provide advice on legal matters.  Typically, the advice sought from forensic specialists is used to determine economic loss and/or business valuations arising out of commercial disputes or criminal behaviour.  If these matters come before the courts, as they often do, the forensic specialist may be called to appear as an expert witness.  According to Wikipedia, Forensic accountants utilize an understanding of business information and financial reporting systems, accounting and auditing standards and procedures, evidence gathering and investigative techniques, and litigation processes and procedures to perform their work.

Business forensics specialists usually come from an accounting or auditing background.  The skills and knowledge they require lie in the intersection between accounting, auditing, law and criminology.  Specific understanding of legal processes, business valuation methods, investigative techniques and information technology are all important first and second tier accounting firms are facing increasing demand for forensic services so many auditors are facing forensic work demands.  In the Australian context, forensic accounting is currently taught at graduate certificate or Masters level for practitioners and degree-qualified accountants at QUT, with a Master of Business (Forensic Accounting), University of Melbourne Graduate with a Certificate in Business Forensics, the University of Wollongong, Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting and a Master of Forensic Accounting.

So, it seems that now is the time to specialize and access new career paths and interesting new areas in the increasingly diverse field of business and management.  Not only do new graduate degree programs appear every year, but business opportunities in related areas follow.