For Manela Gunawardena, a graduate degree from the University of Melbourne was an essential step towards her dream global career. Sri Lanka born Manela moved to Melbourne in 2016 to study the Master of Management (Accounting and Finance)- a qualification she knew would give her an advantage within the competitive financial industry. She now works for Melbourne-based firm Discover Financial Partners.
Manela first joined Discover during her studies as part of the University of Melbourne Business Practicum (MBP) program. She impressed her host organisation so much she was offered a permanent position. Manela credits the internship with helping her to decide which area of accounting and finance she would like to specialise in. “When I was assigned to Discover as a student consultant I had the opportunity to understand the essence of financial planning,” she says. “This is what made me interested in pursuing this as my career.”
Manela also travelled to Hong Kong as part of the University’s Global Business Practicum (GBP) during her degree. “The MBP and GBP programs gave me a different perspective to learning,” she says. “Our group worked as actual consultants on real-life business challenges. This helped me fine-tune my skills, which I am certain will be advantageous in my future career plans.”
Graduating from the University of Melbourne, which is ranked seventh worldwide for graduate employability, Manela knew she would have the best chance of success in her career. More than 80 of the world’s leading organisations, such as KPMG and CPA Australia, personally visit the campus each year to recruit students. Manela says there was a strong focus on developing both practical and ‘soft’ skills in her degree. “My studies helped me to understand what employers look for in today's competitive job market,” Manela says. “On top of academic learning, I have been able to develop skills in presenting, problem-solving and research. The challenging nature of the course gave me a feel for the more practical aspects of working, an important factor when stepping into the business world.”
Ranked number one in Australia and 32 in the world in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the University of Melbourne attracts talented students from all over the world – including more than 100 Sri Lankan students every year. Manela enjoyed collaborating with ambitious peers from diverse backgrounds during her degree, and believes this helped her adapt more easily to the organisational culture of her Australian workplace. “I love the emphasis placed on different cultures and how these are celebrated,” she says. “It was a rewarding experience mixing with people from all over the world, and this also helped me gauge how the Australian workplace would be in terms of culture. Diversity is an important organisational value adopted by many of the companies in Australia.”
The city of Melbourne has become Manela’s new home, and she has come to love it fiercely. “The University is very conveniently located to the city's best amenities, from fresh produce at our local markets, to some of the world's best cafes, to the museums and galleries,” she says. “The vast array of activities and festivals in Melbourne has ensured that I have enjoyed every minute of my time here. One highlight was White Night, where the whole of the city was lit up and I was mesmerised. I am sure I took a million pictures that night. I also love travelling and Melbourne has been perfect for this. I have seen quite a bit of regional Victoria, and as a photography enthusiast, it has been absolutely wonderful to be able to capture the change in seasons in each of these places.”
The scholarships available at the University were also a strong drawcard for Manela. Scholarships are available to high-achieving students and some are specifically reserved for those studying in the business field. Manela was awarded two scholarships: the Eric Ingram Prize for Project Finance and the International Graduate Merit Scholarship. “To be a scholarship holder at Australia's top university is indeed an amazing accomplishment and has really helped me financially,” Manela says.
Manela has no hesitation in recommending the University of Melbourne to students in Sri Lanka who are considering studying overseas. “I believe that there is so much you can experience by being part of the University, diversity being the top of the list,” she says. “It is not just an educational degree but an experience full of new learnings. The extracurricular and enrichment activities are at the heart of an unforgettable journey you will be on, should you decide to study here.”