Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

From IR to HRM: Thank God for AACSB!

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

From IR to HRM: Thank God for AACSB!

Article excerpt


Efforts to achieve accreditation with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) by the Faculty of Business at UTS began in 2001 and corresponded with an increased pressure upon academics in the industrial relations (IR) and employment relations (ER) area at UTS to adopt a stronger and more overt focus on teaching HRM. AACSB requirements exerted a profound influence on the movement from an IR/ER to HRM focus in teaching and not only acted to reduce academic resistance to the movement but moreover resulted in what has been assessed to be a more meaningful teaching and learning experience.


Academics in the fields of industrial relations (IR), personnel management (PM), employment relations (ER) and human resource management (HRM) are very much aware of the impact which global, national and local shifts in ideology have exerted upon their disciplines (Kelly 2003). In the 1970s for instance, many students clamoured to study industrial relations and many academics had focussed their careers in this field. At this time, PM was viewed as a separate study from that of IR and as having a more administrative and less academic focus. Throughout the 1980s and 1990's, a fundamental shift occurred in the dynamics of tertiary education and in the nature of the courses sought by students (Airini et al 2006; Ziguras 2003; Biggs & Davis 2002; Brand 1999). Reforms to Australian higher education beginning with Dawkins (1987, 1988) and intensified under the 1996 Federal government budget cuts, moved the higher education sector more towards a market of competing institutions (Marginson 1997).

In the process of reform, new processes of government and management were put in place, including "new systems of competitive bidding, performance management and quality assessment (which) have all been used to steer academic work and to install a process of continuous self-transformation along modern neo-liberal lines" (Marginson 1997:63). Universities were required to change from government funded bodies in which academics could pursue the subjects that they thought important and relevant, to bodies which were required to respond to market forces.

"The society we want cannot be achieved without a strong economic base...Our industry is increasingly faced with rapidly changing international markets in which success depends on, among other things, the conceptual, creative and technical skills of the labour force, the ability to innovate and be entrepreneurial." (Dawkins 1988:6)

"Human capital investment came to be seen as instrumental to economic reform." (Harman 2003:3)

The needs of business came to dominate the national educational agenda supported by government and this pressure was mainly accepted by university hierarchies with apparently little resistance. Demand for subjects in HRM increased, while those focussed on industrial relations, labour studies and other 'less relevant' fields waned or at least stagnated (Kelly 2003; Westcott et al 2003). The Australian experience was common to that of many industrialised countries (Dunn 1990; Kelly 2003; Kochan et al 1986). Industrial relations in the United States of America, for instance, "suffered a significant decline in intellectual and organizational vitality in the 1980s including a shift in students from IR courses to HR courses" (Kaufman 1993:157).

Academics at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) were traditionally accustomed to delivering courses which recognised the interests of employers, employees and unions. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, for example, the university offered post-graduate programs in 'Industrial Relations and Personnel Management' and atypical cohort of students would include individuals from small to large private sector organisations, not-for-profit bodies and trade unions. A variety of socio-economic backgrounds and current work experiences was evident among the students, although women were certainly under-represented and the tide of international students had not then arrived. …

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