I have presented this research topic in Paris at INTE International Conference on New Horizons in Education, in July, 2018. The full version of the paper is submitted for publication in an international journal. This is a brief summary of the findings of my research.
Need for research and objectives
This research is needed because of the different status and competitiveness of master’s degrees from traditional universities and universities of applied sciences on the labor market and because there is a need for more clarification of the business benefits for employers of the UAS master’s degree and thesis. Furthermore, I strongly believe that there is a need for making the UAS master’s degree better known to employers because it would increase the competitiveness of UAS master’s graduates. For this purpose, I collected and analyzed qualitative data from 91 organizations during the period of 2007-2016.
In my empirical research paper, I sought to answer the question: How does working life benefit from UAS master’s theses? My goal was to demonstrate how master’s students of the Degree Programme in International Business Management (IBMA) at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Finland bring business benefits to organizations with their master’s theses as work development projects.
Data collection and research approach
Employers of UAS master’s students, i.e., Finnish managers, involved in the thesis assessment process answered the following five questions when they assessed the master’s thesis (figure 1). The bold arrows on figure 1 indicate the focus and scope of my research.
(Please note that the tables mentioned above are presented in the full paper.)
Feedback was given by different (international, domestic, small, and large) organizations from different business sectors. For example, managers from Accenture, Basware Oyj, Danone Finland Oy, Danske Bank Oyj, Ericsson Finland, Ernst & Young Oy, Fazer Food Services, Hartwall, Hewlet-Packard Oy, InterCall Sweden Ab, KONE Corporation, Nokia Oyj, Reaktor, Trawise Oy, and so on answered the feedback form.
Finnish managers who provided feedback have the following titles and positions: CEO, CFO, Director of Learning & Development, Global HR Line Manager, Head of Product Development, Information Manager, Managing Director, Process Development Leader, Program Manager, Sales and Customer Service Manager, Sales Manager Finland, Senior Account Manager, Senior Executive, Senior Manager People Advisory Services, Technical Director, and so on.
I analyzed the qualitative data according to four themes (figure 2). Next, I briefly present the findings.
Theme 1: What has been developed – What product/service has been developed in the master’s theses? What are the specific benefits for the organization?
From the business world feedback, I identified 101 specific benefits provided by the UAS master’s thesis to organizations. They could be grouped in the following way: market research and market entry, marketing, communication, human resources, leadership and management, organizational change and development, innovation, sales and services, and collaboration.
Theme 2: Immediate business benefits – Have the findings of the master’s thesis been implemented/used? What are the immediate benefits and impacts of the master’s thesis for the organization?
The benefit analysis resulted in 153 immediate business benefits. Here, however, I present a few quotations from managers as illustrations.
‘The main benefit of this work was to document an HR project, which was challenging and partly abstract.’
‘Our performance review meetings are no longer just a chat, but rather a systematic discussion where all relevant issues are made compulsory to discuss.’
‘The thesis has been extremely helpful for the company in order to evaluate the most effective ways for entering the market, as well as understanding the territorial limitations, cultural and socio-economic aspects, and different segments.’
‘The thesis has been a useful leadership tool for global leaders in our organization.’
‘The thesis gives an overview of suggestions on how to increase our business value.’
‘The benefits for the organization are new ideas and knowledge.’
‘The research results allowed us to better understand our market segment and find better ways to cooperate.’
‘For the first time there is detailed information of how personnel think about the company.’
‘The developed framework was the key input for two organizations in planning expansion of R&D activities to Russia.’
‘The development project resulted in new job opportunities.’
‘Benefits to the organization include a crystalized and more explicitly articulated strategy when it comes to talent management.’
‘Utilizing the different business modeling tools added value in local operations in Vietnam.’
‘The practical suggestions gave our organization good ideas on how to approach the market, and how to better find potential partners.’
Theme 3: Future business benefits – Are there any plans for using the outcomes of master’s theses in the future?
Finnish managers in their feedback on the master’s thesis indicated 76 future business benefits. To illustrate the findings I present here a few quotations from the feedback provided.
‘General management program is a very critical element in developing future leaders in our organization, so clearly this project work will be utilized in further program development.’
‘As sales agents have the best possible help and have the tools at hand, this will evidently affect the competitiveness and profitability of the company.’
‘After this thesis, we are able to assess brand functionality better and be more precise in giving instructions to co-operative companies (e.g., advertising companies).’
‘As longer-term benefits, this work will be used when going through some developmental steps in the near future, when we develop our services.’
‘For the longer term, the master’s student has been able to develop a profound market study which will work as a framework for us in future developments.’
‘It shows us important data in order to make our communication strategy in the future. It shows the subjects we have to consider when thinking about our communication strategy.’
‘We could easier recognize the intellectual capital inside the organization and then be able to utilize it.’
‘In long term, it will have meaning as a sales and support tool.’
‘We will change our development discussions according to the findings of the thesis.’
‘The thesis will be used in leadership, management and work community training.’
‘Based on this thesis we started to build our e-learning network.’
‘The thesis was the starting point for our company to develop a brand and marketing strategy, and to help us mature as an organization.’
Theme 4: Who has benefitted – Who has benefitted from the master’s theses? With whom have the findings been shared?
The thesis’ benefits has been shared widely inside the organization (e.g., business units, product developers, designers, brand managers, HR managers, the marketing department, leadership, and so on). Furthermore, according to the feedback the organizations’ partners, customers, sales agents, the community, users, key accounts customers, network contacts, global contacts, advertising agencies, joint-venture partners, clients, international researchers, alumni, bloggers, market segments, and experts are benefitted from the master’s thesis.
Value contributions and implications
The paper clearly demonstrates why business and academic collaboration during the thesis process is necessary and valuable. This paper shows the benefits of a collaborative learning approach. I see three value contributions of this paper:
- It brings value to employers by making explicit the benefits that UAS master’s students bring with their theses to their employers and the business world.
- It increases the awareness and competitiveness of UAS master’s graduates in the job market.
- It brings value to educators of UAS and educational policy makers by demonstrating that working life values the contributions from the UAS master’s thesis.
My empirical paper has implications for managers, researchers, educators, and educational policy makers.
The managerial implications are that the UAS master’s thesis proved to be very useful and valuable, not only for students, but also for organizations as employers of master students. From the managers’ feedback, it is obvious that they also learned and benefitted from this collaboration. Because this paper made very explicit the business benefits brought by the UAS master’s thesis, managers are encouraged to be open to providing future developmental projects for master’s students, to providing them career development opportunities, and to continuing close collaboration with UAS.
Implications for researchers are that they should continue working on promoting the benefits of the UAS master’s thesis, and on increasing the awareness of the differences between master’s degrees from traditional universities and universities of applied sciences. The scale of the research could be extended to other master’s degree programmes and UAS in Finland and abroad.
Educators in UAS would need positive feedback of their master’s thesis tutoring work and they need appreciation from the business world. Educational policy makers in Finland could consider if it is wise to have both the traditional university master’s degree and the UAS master’s degree in the future. The master’s degrees of these two different kinds of universities are converging, and both make valuable contributions to knowledge. Policy makers need to make more clear distinctions between the degrees; they should think about how to increase the acceptance of UAS master’s degrees in the job market.
The author Maria Jakubik is a Principal Lecturer and the Head of the Master’s Degree Programme in International Business Management at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.