An interesting event occurred in the live music world, deep in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Australian musician Nick Cave performed an entire concert online, alone inside London’s Alexandra Palace. The event was called ‘Idiot Prayer’, and viewers paid $29 for the chance to watch the live stream, which couldn’t be paused, rewound or recorded.

Afterwards, critics lauded the musician, praising his brilliance. What some suspected would be a fleeting, passionless, online performance was, in fact, a valuable musical experience. True, they couldn’t feel the music thumping in their chest or dance amongst a crowd of fans, but they could enjoy other benefits that live concerts had never offered – the comfort of their favourite lounge chair, the intimacy of a hot cup of tea during a concert, a private musical experience with a close friend or a loved one.

And that’s what online learning should be. Not a lacklustre online performance, but a valuable interactive way to engage students who are learning from their home or office.

Let’s have a look into the cost of an online MBA in Australia:

MBA’s have also made the move to online

Even before COVID-19 forever changed the on-campus university MBA experience and drove students towards the web, those students had been appreciating the previously unimagined value of the online learning experience. It was so much more than a voice coming from a screen, they discovered. It was possible to network. It was, in some ways, far more interactive than real life. It could all be done from the privacy of their own home, or from a hotel room as they travelled for work, or from a café, or a park.

Most valuably, it could all be done in their own time and often at their own pace, fitting in with their increasingly busy lives.

And so, an MBA, whether online or on campus, still has great and sometimes unique value. However, just like the Nick Cave concert, the online versions are often more affordable.

Online vs on-campus Master of Business Administration – Costs compared

Traditional on-campus MBA cost

The average price for an MBA in Australia in 2020, according to MBA News, was $58,000. That’s almost 8% above the average price in 2019.

Australia’s most expensive MBA is the University of Melbourne’s Senior Executive MBA, at $126,000.

Online MBA cost

Australia’s cheapest MBA is Central Queensland University’s 100% Online MBA (Leadership), at $16,992, or $1416 per unit plus $2832 for the final double unit.

Some, but not all, MBAs cost more for international students. Sometimes it’s simply a difference of a few thousand dollars – an MBA at AGSM @ UNSW is $86,850 for domestic students and $88,350 for international students, for example. Sometimes it’s a significant difference – Swinburne University’s MBA is $44,400 for domestic and $73,920 for international students.

Another significant difference can come when we compare online and on-campus MBAs. For example, compared to the most expensive traditional MBA at University of Melbourne, the priciest online MBA is a relatively affordable $62,400, the QUT Online Digital MBA.


Some of the major online MBAs cost:

  • QUT Online Digital – $62,400
  • AGSM @ UNSW – $59,760
  • Swinburne University – $43,500
  • Southern Cross University – $43,200
  • University of Tasmania – $41,776
  • Australian Catholic University – $38,712
  • Australian Institute of Business – $35,964
  • Australian Institute of Management – $32,400
  • Central Queensland University – $16,992


Interestingly, there are also significant differences in the cost of traditional MBAs from state to state. Six of the ten most expensive (for domestic students) traditional MBAs are based in Victoria, three in NSW and one in WA. Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania are represented more broadly further down the price list.

Online MBAs, however, don’t follow the same pattern, with the most expensive coming from Queensland’s QUT.

Understanding online MBA costs

As online MBAs in Australia are typically more flexible than their on-campus relatives, it’s important to look more deeply into costs and figure out how those costs can be spread across several years.

Online MBAs in Australia tend to charge students per unit, or per subject. Depending on past education and equivalent work experience, advanced standing may be offered for some units.

Let’s use Southern Cross University as an example. Each unit of study costs $2700 and the MBA requires 16 units to be completed, coming to a total of $43,200. However, a student may be granted advanced standing for up to eight of those units, depending on past education and work experience, which could potentially halve the price and length of time to earn the respected degree.

As mentioned, some universities also allow MBAs to be completed over a longer period. If this is the case, fewer units can be taken each year and the costs and effort of the full degree can be spread across more time if preferred.

Hidden costs of an MBA

Once the fees of an MBA in Australia are taken care of, a student must also consider the hidden costs. That’s where the online option truly shines, as the hidden costs are typically significantly lower than they are for on-campus courses.


Potential loss of income due to study

Consider, first of all, the inflexible nature of on-campus MBAs. Typically, a student must work less at their paying job and, in many cases, cannot work at all, during the years of study. That lost income is the first and biggest hidden cost. The far more flexible nature of an online MBA means lost income doesn’t have to be an issue.


Living costs

Next up is cost of accommodation and other living costs in a new location. This can include travel costs to and from campus, travel costs of trips and retreats for the course itself, sometimes overseas, and costs of social events and club dues that are deemed necessary for the networking side of the experience. Once again, these costs can be almost non-existent for the online MBA student.

A study by Bloomberg Businessweek back in 2014 and 2015 asked MBA students in major US MBA programs what they spent on extras. The annual cost for students at Stanford Graduate School of business was US$18,553!


Study supplies

In fact, spending begins before students are even accepted into an MBA. Application fees are sometimes non-refundable, then the essentials such as pens and paper, tablets and laptops, ebooks and software subscriptions all add up. Not all of them can be avoided by doing an online MBA.

For international students, there are also often minimum language requirements that can sometimes mean a language course will also have to be undertaken, which of course has its own cost.

It’s important to ask MBA providers for clear estimates of non-fee costs. Add these to any other lifestyle costs – such as lost income – to ensure you’re fully prepared for the financial side of the MBA. It’s a course that has a very good chance of increasing your income or the value of your business. However, that promise may not be enough if the course itself does serious damage to your financial wellbeing.

How can an MBA affect your career?

How much of a financial benefit can an MBA make to your career? The most honest answer is that it’s impossible to say, but net effects across MBA graduates are highly positive.

An annual global MBA ranking by the UK-based Financial Times said in 2020 graduates of the Melbourne Business School averaged a salary of US$115,679 three years after graduating, and Macquarie Business School graduates earned an average of US$120,091 three years later. This represented an average salary increase of 74% and 83% respectively, compared to what they were earning before the MBA.

But who knows how much of these averages were influenced by a few major players. And remember that these average increases are measured three years after graduation, or likely a full five years after the graduate’s last full-time job.

The truth is that each individual will get out of an MBA what they put into it. If they develop exceptional discipline and a particularly good work ethic during the degree, that will combine with their new knowledge and their much-improved network to contribute to career success.

In a way, an MBA helps to demonstrate how seriously a person would like to treat their career. It’s an investment, often a hefty one, that indicates the student is taking a stake in themselves. That, in itself, is an excellent sign of likely future success.


When should you spend money on an MBA?

If you’re planning to study an online MBA in Australia, when is the best stage of life or career to get the most out of it?

A few business schools recommend moving directly on to the MBA after completing an undergraduate degree. Most, however, prefer their students to have some experience in industry. Most top business schools around the globe insist on at least five years of work experience after an undergraduate degree, before beginning an MBA.

However, as with the question of salary increase after studying an MBA, the best stage of life to invest in oneself via an MBA is a uniquely individual decision.

A young person singularly obsessed with building a startup might benefit from completing their MBA as soon as possible after school. A person enjoying a fruitful and successful corporate journey might wait until late in their career, as they’re approaching C-suite executive level, before they take the plunge.

The great beauty of an online MBA in Australia is that it can be merged into one’s life at any time and in any place, during the life of the student. Part of its strength is its flexibility.

Just as Nick Cave, alone at his piano, thrilled audiences from around the globe and across generations with his online performance, enriching their lives and proving to them the collective and collaborative power of online, so too does an online MBA add value to the lives of those who invest, whenever they choose to do so.

Disclaimer: Figures in this story come from publicly available sources such as university websites and MBA ranking services.

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