Universities steal the march on e-commerce

Pick an IT job - any IT job - and no matter what the actual title is, chances are it's woven into the Web in one way or another. And when it comes to e-commerce training, universities around Australia have stolen the lead in providing the latest fix of e-knowledge. Paul Conyers reportsIf you go by what leading information technology recruiters have been evangelising for the last 12 months, electronic jobs are driving all the hot jobs. Its demands, including Web applications development and less obvious ones like Unix network administration, head the list.

And as e-commerce, e-business, e-anything has the ability to offer most organisations a yellow brick road to success, it can also provide IT professionals with a fast career track as the job outlook gets brighter by the day.

Depending on the information that vendors provide, industry analysts and purveyors of Internet and electronic commerce applications and security devices, the market on a global scale is worth billions. In just three years, Forrester Research predicts the value of electronic commerce will be close to $US4 trillion.

With this in mind, it would not be inopportune to assume there would be a wide range of courses available that capitalise on educating the would-best and IT professionals alike.

Who's offering what

The relative newness of electronic commerce has caught many companies on the hop as they try to grapple with developing courses that ensure accuracy and currency.

The academic area appears to have stolen a march on the business sector with Queensland University leading the way. The university has reacted swiftly to a request a few years ago to run "more innovative programs".

"The Queensland government has been exceptionally supportive of our electronic commerce program as it has already recognised the desire of small business to embrace this technology," Queensland University's Colin Ferguson, associate professor of the Business School, said. Ferguson said there are not that many electronic commerce courses readily available in Australia.

"Our program is attractive to potential students for that very reason. We have a wide range of students from varying undergraduate areas, many of whom are actually working in the IT environment and recognise the need to get ‘tooled up' in electronic commerce," he said. Queensland University is, Ferguson believes, the first real mover in the electronic commerce area as it has addressed the ‘unmet demand' for these skills.

"We train up our students in the all elements of electronic commerce such as marketing, design, legal aspects that as yet have not be meet by the business sector," Ferguson said.

The university is launching its Master of Electronic Commerce in Singapore in July in conjunction with Forte IRI, which is associated with the HELP Institute in Malaysia. It's Bachelor of Electronic Commerce started in 1999 at its high-tech campus at Ipswich. The Master of Electronic Commerce, which started in February this year at its near-Brisbane St Lucia campus, had anticipated the demand to be around 40 students.

"To our surprise, we grossly underestimated the demand, as we now have 160 enrolled full-fee paying students," Ferguson said.

Deakin University (Victoria) has introduced its Master of Electronic Commerce that is being conducted for the first time this year and has enjoyed an overwhelming response.

"We have had students enquiring about our e-commerce courses from the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Asia," said Deakin University's Professor Tanya Castleman.

"The area of electronic commerce is moving so fast that [we] are continually looking to develop our courses as much as possible, in particular law and marketing to keep pace with student requests," Castleman said.

The RMIT University (Vic) has introduced the Master of Electronic Business, that is three years part time and the Master of Electronic Commerce (Research) that is expected to be four years part time.

"The Master of Electronic Commerce (Research) is a hybrid course of which we would expect 80 per cent of the students to be undertaking it full time for a two year period," said RMIT's Professor Paula Swatman, "as this provides a direct entry to a PhD or into the research area with, for example, the large accounting companies."

Enrolments in the research course are expected to be small as it is a highly specialised area. The RMIT conducted a market research and analysis project of the electronic commerce area with an independent company and jointly funded by UTS.

"Armed with this research we have developed a strategy and focus that embraces the whole of faculty app-roach," Swatman said. The subjects within the electronic commerce area cover a broad range of its elements, such as design, legal and marketing, she said. There is, Swatman believes, a definite lack of understanding of electronic commerce. "RMIT has many requests from companies to speak at conferences, run lectures or be a part of their training program."

The demand for electronic commerce courses will only increase as more companies come to grips with the technology.

"The universities will find, over time, that there will be an almost equal demand for both long and short courses. For instance learning Java could be as important as a longer course," Swatman said.

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