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Doing business

Published on Thursday, 09 Jan 2014
Photo: CUHK
Billy Mak
Sean Ferguson

Going beyond ranking, accreditation, cost and a pay rise

Since the first MBA degree was offered by Harvard Business School in 1908, the value in learning “the business of business” has only appreciated.

Some of the pivotal factors that influence students’ preferences when seeking admission to an MBA institution are rankings, accreditations, fee structure, flexible scheduling, course offerings and opportunities to network.

While all universities funded by the University Grant Commission (UGC) compete fiercely for the best and brightest of students, their full-time MBA programmes have distinct personalities and tend to attract substantially different people. 

The University of Hong Kong (HKU), City University (CityU), Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) all have impeccable business-school accreditations.

These endorsements include the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International. Beta Gamma Sigma membership of the AASCB is the highest recognition a student can receive in a business programme.

Sean Ferguson, HKUST’s associate dean of master’s programmes and director of MBA programmes, affirms the importance of the quality of an institution’s faculty members, along with its links with the business sector.

“Our academic faculty was ranked first in Asia for research productivity by the Financial Times,” Ferguson says. “Our practitioner faculty has held prominent positions at leading multinational corporations. For example, the former president of Wal-Mart China and former VP of marketing at IBM Asia-Pacific serve on our faculty.”

One important trend in recent years has focused on the versatility of an MBA degree. Financial crises have created an environment in which management schools have to work harder to show their relevance. This is done by making significant changes to what is taught and how it is taught, such as developing students’ entrepreneurship skills, running a business in China and sustainability.

Students who enrol at HKUST do so in the knowledge that they can look forward to management education at an institution that the Financial Times has consistently ranked among the top 10 in the world since 2010. The university also boasts excellent industry connections.

“This ensures that our students are well prepared to excel in the global workplace,” Ferguson says. “The combination of world-class students and faculty make for a transformative MBA experience.

HKUST offers a flagship MBA course to those eager to understand the role of the executive in China. It focuses on the realities of a changing environment and of facing challenging or ill-defined situations that are part of operating a business on the mainland.

“The world needs business leaders who can capitalise on the rising Asian economy,” Ferguson says. “We are nurturing exactly that kind of talent by offering a global learning experience with an Asia focus.”

Over at HKU, an MBA degree comes with a choice of educational, experiential and networking opportunities for students. The programme requires them to spend a month in Beijing, nine in Hong Kong and then, depending on their track of choice, four months at London Business School, Columbia Business School in New York, Fudan University in Shanghai or at HKU.

For students preparing for careers on the mainland, HKU’s China Immersion Programme facilitates the development of their Chinese-language capabilities. It comprises of a four-week intensive conversational Mandarin course – offered at the beginner, intermediate and advanced level to accommodate students’ language ability – and an intensive “Business Communication Course” for students proficient in Mandarin. It also includes classes on Chinese culture.

HKU’s intensive MBA programme also offers a stimulating Business Lab elective which is based on a sequence of topics delivered in case studies. They include start-up pitch videos presented by industry experts, who provide students with opportunities to pursue their interest in entrepreneurship.

For students who find a full-time MBA programme prohibitive, there is a plethora of alternatives. The pros and cons of distance-learning options can be weighed against part-time programmes with universities or international business schools in collaboration with local institutions.

Part-time programmes at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have triple accreditation similar to other University Grant Commission (UGC) institutions.

Dr Billy Mak, associate director of the MBA and MSc in Business Management (MScBM) programmes at HKBU, says that they have recently switched to offering the programme on a part-time basis only.

“The new MScBM is designed for fresh graduates and those who are in the early stages of their careers,” Mak says. “It was launched in 2012 to replace the full-time MBA programme. This conforms to the global trend of clearly differentiating the pre-experience master’s from the post-experience MBA, which is designed for people with three or more years of relevant work experience.”

The MScBM also caters for MBA students seeking the convenience of a part-time programme. “We have seen an increase in the number of students who own small to medium-sized family-owned business,” Mak says.

“Global vision, China focus” is the theme of HKBU’s MBA programme. “Our curriculum balances the need for executives to acquire a global mindset, while understanding the business environment on the mainland,” Mak says.

While students completing online courses don’t have the advantage of rubbing shoulders with on-campus recruiters, some business schools offer the same certification for their online MBA courses as they do their mainstream ones.

The Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), meanwhile, is one of several overseas business schools that offer MBA programmes in collaboration with local institutions – the Hong Kong Management Association in the case of MGSM – designed for busy executives.

The unique nature of MGSM’s suite of postgraduate programmes is that it offers several entry points, allowing students to select one that best suits their needs.

Students also need to consider the time allocation offered to asynchronous learning, or independent study, in comparison with synchronous learning, or real-time classes.

Working students generally benefit from the flexibility offered by pre-recorded videos and lectures. However, the classroom peer experience, which is a major source of added value in the synchronous learning experience, is lost.

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