The business of doing good
But, these days, to make the leap from classroom to gainful employment, they also need hands-on experience and workplace skills - and that is just to get past the first base in the recruitment process.
For this reason, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School provides a holistic education, with a range of initiatives and electives that emphasise involvement and ensure students see how the "real world" is changing in the wake of the financial crisis.
"One new course we have introduced is on the credit rating industry," says Professor Dennis Fan Kin-keung, associate dean and director of the integrated bachelor in business administration (BBA) programme at CUHK Business School.
"To teach this course, we recruited a senior director from one of the three major [credit rating] agencies, who is very experienced in the industry and is passionate about passing on his knowledge," Fan adds.
Clearly, he says, the credit crunch has caused many people to question the role, reliability and impartiality of these agencies. He adds that their pronouncements can have significant repercussions, which makes it important for students to hear "from the horse's mouth" what happens and why - and where things can go wrong.
In a similar vein, the school is also updating its approach to teaching corporate social responsibility (CSR). Recognising that the general public now views many leading players in the finance sector as untrustworthy, the aim is to show the part that CSR can play in shaping a company's values and making a positive impact on the wider community.
"For us, CSR education is about active involvement and participation, not sitting in the classroom and listening to lectures," Fan says.
For instance, small groups of students will undertake relevant research projects for sponsoring companies such as Sino Land or Hang Seng Bank. An executive provides supervision, and the project might look at local policy, co-operation with social services, or the most effective use of funds. Scholarships and grants are also available to the students to support these projects and make sure good ideas are implemented.
"We are training students to be future business leaders who have a conscience and understand the impact their decisions can have on society." Fan says. "This has always been one of our principles. Maximising returns and making money is not a sin, but you have to make responsible decisions and consider all stakeholders - employees, customers, partners and the public - not just your own gain."
To provide specific technical skills, the school has set up a training lab - widely regarded as one of the best such on-campus facilities anywhere in the world. In effect, it is just like the trading floor at a major bank or brokerage, with monitors and live data feeds tracking real-time prices on global markets. As a supplement, professional options traders may come in after a day's work to explain precisely what their job entails - what to watch and how to trade.
"Students have a hands-on opportunity to write their own programmes, test the algorithms, and do high-frequency trading," Fan says, adding that some students are even allowed to trade stocks and options.
The popular elective in quantitative marketing has the same sense of doing real business. Guided by a professor with more than 10 years' consultancy experience, student teams take on projects for organisations looking for fresh insights and perspectives.
The usual focus is to help the client - a bank, telecoms company, or exporter - increase its market share.
"It is very exciting for students because they are working on real business problems. So successful has it been as part of the BBA degree that we plan to start a quantitative marketing major," Fan adds.