Applying lessons from the best business programmes

by Mary Luk

Judy Tsui, dean, Faculty of Business; director, Graduate School of Business, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

School's key principle is to equip graduates for the real world

One of the key challenges for any academic institution is to devise a curriculum and teach practical skills which can be put to effective use by graduates when they enter or return to the workplace. This is especially true in the case of business courses where the very latest methods and theories must be taught in a way which translates immediately into a professional context. It takes considerable planning to strike the right balance, which is why The Hong Kong Polytechnic University was proud to be recognised recently by the UK-based Association of MBAs (AMBA).

The association's international accreditation advisory board granted five-year AMBA accreditation status to the university's Graduate School of Business for all its MBA courses, including those offered in Hong Kong and the mainland, and the China EMBA programme. The chief reasons cited were the clarity of mission, dynamic leadership, the excellence of staff, the credentials of students and faculty, and outstanding documentation.

"This is a significant milestone as it underscores the international standing of our programmes," says Professor Judy Tsui, dean of the Faculty of Business and director of the Graduate School of Business. "It means that we are on a par with some world-renowned learning institutes such as Imperial College London, Tanaka Business School and Lancaster University Management School. The accreditation will help to set our programmes apart in the competitive market of business education providers."

Professor Tsui says that the association was also impressed by the fact that the faculty's applied research and consultancy projects are firmly based on the realities of local and global business. This reflects the school's guiding principle that qualifications should equip students for the real world.

"Our curriculum is designed to ensure that graduates can make an immediate contribution to the organisations for which they work, and that they are ready for a lifetime of learning and professional development. Our unique strength is the ability to bridge the gap between theory and business practice," she explains.

More innovation

A good example is the latest MBA programme in Innovation and Design Management, which focuses on the emerging industry of design in the visual and creative fields. It deals with the most up-to-date technology, the development of successful enterprises, and changing consumer demand. Besides analysing technical aspects in the classroom, students are also encouraged to interact and share their experiences as they look into the problems associated with implementation.

To make sure the standard of teaching continues to improve, Professor Tsui and other members of the faculty recently introduced a student assessment scheme based on clear performance criteria. Under the scheme, the requirements for achieving each grade are set out, so that students can have an accurate understanding of what they must do to attain a specific mark. This creates greater transparency and allows students to aim for defined goals as they work their way through the course materials. Knowing exactly how they score, they can also evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses in each area.

"It is not enough just to tell students they have an A grade because different courses have different objectives," says Professor Tsui. "For certain subjects in which integration and teamwork are regarded as very important, a student should know why they only get a B, when their written work may have been given top marks."

She adds that faculty members take a personal interest in mentoring students. The objectives are to inspire, impart knowledge and experience, and discuss the broader implications of research and consultancy projects.

For students taking BBA courses, it is possible to choose from a diverse selection of major and minor subjects. The credit-based system then allows them greater flexibility in deciding how to allocate their time and when to take courses.

International outlook

To enhance its programme portfolio, the school recently signed an agreement with the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) to offer a credit-bearing elective in 2006 for students taking Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Management programmes. This collaboration is a step towards becoming more international since the Swiss-based IMD is regarded as one of the world's leading business schools and was ranked second in executive education in Europe by Business Week in October 2005.

Furthermore, it has been agreed that faculty members from the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business will jointly teach certain DBA subjects.

Professor Tsui notes that over 70 per cent of current lecturers hold relevant PhD degrees. Many have also had their work published in top-tier international journals and serve as editorial board members for some of the leading academic publications in their fields.

"They are committed to synthesising research results into practical information for use by the business community," she says. "They also develop new concepts which are put to the test in the classroom and fuel a dynamic and effective style of instruction."

The school maintains strong ties with the corporate world and provides a range of consultancy services for the business community and the government. This ensures that both faculty and students are fully aware of changes in the marketplace and are in tune with real business needs. It also means that the findings of applied research projects, such as one commissioned recently to analyse public opinion on the development of West Kowloon Cultural District, have genuine relevance.

Best in class

  • Curriculum bridges the gap between academic theory and business practice
  • New initiatives will introduce more international aspects
  • Student assessments are based on clear performance criteria
  • Strong ties with the corporate world maintained to ensure faculty and students are aware of changes in the marketplace

Taken from Career Times 10 February 2006
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