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Guiding game-changers

CityU DBA helps industry leaders find solutions

While MBA and EMBA students learn about how the business world works, Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) participants can help change the way that world functions by pushing back the boundaries of theory and knowledge in their chosen field.

The DBA programme run by the College of Business at the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) is aimed at business leaders, with 60 per cent of its participants either CEOs or directors of their companies. Each enrollee has an average of 19.3 years of work experience.

“This is a research-based degree,” says Professor Muammer Ozer, DBA programme director at CityU’s College of Business. “It’s about each participant finding answers to the important practical questions they have about their company or industry. While an MBA or an EMBA would be too superficial for them, a PhD would be too academic.

“Their questions may have been in the back of their mind for some time, but they’ve been too busy with their job to work towards a solution. Or they may want to change career – they might be a manager or engineer in their fifties who plans to become a consultant and wants credibility, recognition and some kind of legitimacy.”

Ozer cites an example of another type of candidate. “Last year, we had an applicant from a major multinational financial institution,” he says. “By training, he was a financial expert, so I was thinking of assigning him a finance professor as his supervisor – all of our candidates have a one-on-one supervisor. But he said he had been in this business for a long time, working in Tokyo, London and other financial centres, and that he would receive little benefit from research on financial matters. Instead, he wanted to switch his career focus and study leadership so that he could lead his organisation.”

CityU’s College of Business placed second in Asia overall, and top among those offering DBA programmes, in the University of Texas-Dallas’ 2009-2013 business school rankings. “These are the most objective rankings you can get, because a DBA is research-based and this ranking is based on the number of research articles published,” Ozer says.

Ozer can list several reasons for the success of CityU’s four-year part-time programme, launched in 2006. “We are very international in our student body and our faculty members, and we have been able to attract people from more than 15 countries, including Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Indonesia, the US and Singapore.” Ozer himself is originally from Turkey.

“In terms of research, the questions DBA students want to answer are typically about their companies,” Ozer says. “I attend application interviews and will say if necessary: ‘No, that’s an MBA or EMBA case study. Please think a little bit broader, so that it will benefit other companies in the industry.’ It’s better if you can think of a wider social impact your work could have.”

Ozer explains that a unique dimension to the programme is the spiral learning model. “On other programmes people have to take courses for two years and … achieve a certain number of credits before they are assigned a supervisor. With us, from the day of their application, I start thinking about the appropriate person for them. Then at the admission interview, they meet their potential supervisor to see if there is a match,” he says.

During the first 18 to 24 months of the programme, coursework provides students with a solid foundation in research methodology. This training is an essential part and covers research design, data collection and analysis, the application of various research methods, project management, and presentation.

There is also a range of electives for students who are not MBA or EMBA graduates and need a grounding in business management. Specialised courses exist for those who are graduates of such programmes.

“The assignments from these courses are extremely focused, and are all about their thesis and the proposal they are working on,” Ozer says. “For the first 18 months, we all meet together about once every month, but after that it is always on a one-on-one basis. Given the nature of the jobs of most of our participants, and the fact they might be based on the other side of world, arrangements are flexible, and one-to-one meetings can be face-to-face or via various electronic means.”

At the end of the first two years, if a student’s thesis proposal is judged to be good enough, they will be questioned about it and given feedback by a panel. The spiral learning model then helps to provide continuous advice that leads to ongoing revisions of their work. This ensures that there is no danger of reaching the end of the programme and being given surprisingly bad news about the quality of their work. “We also have milestones along the way, so that the students are always progressing, always moving forward,” Ozer says.