Becoming the general manager or director of a listed company or being admitted to partnership in a leading accountancy firm can be regarded as a major step in anyone's career. These days, though, it does not signal an end to the formal learning process.
Even the most senior executives must be prepared to keep studying if they are to maintain a competitive edge and contribute to maximum effect in their day-to-day roles.
To meet these needs, the University of South Australia is offering a doctor of business administration (DBA) programme through APMI Kaplan in Hong Kong, to give top managers new skills and a broader range of perspectives.
"The aim of our DBA programme is to help students extend their knowledge of the business arena, and it is not limited to theory or critical analyses," says Derrick Mak, assistant manager, admissions, APMI Kaplan.
The structure of the course follows an internationally established pattern by covering advanced management topics and expecting that students will then have the chance to put key principles into practice back in the workplace. There are also specific research projects which require students to explore both the theoretical and practical aspects of a subject, write them up in a report, and be able to show the effectiveness of the proposed solution.
"For example, if a student is currently working on a project about business in the Pearl River Delta, he or she can consult supervisors in the relevant field," Mr Mak explains. "Our aim in the learning process is to give the student a thorough understanding of the project and how to solve specific work-related problems."
According to Mr Mak, the DBA is an integrated programme of coursework and research for management practitioners and professionals. Applicants should have an MBA or business-related master's degrees, as well as a minimum of five years' executive management experience. Teachers with a similar length of experience lecturing at tertiary-level institutions could also apply. A high standard of written and spoken English is required and, in certain cases, applicants may be asked to submit certification proving their language competency. In addition, they will be asked to write a short paper of about 500 words outlining their proposed project, which is the basis for allocating supervisors.
Mr Mak emphasises that the main task for supervisors is to give direction and keep students on the right track during their projects, making sure not to forget what happens in the real world. Including both the coursework and research components, it is possible to complete the DBA in a minimum of two and a half years or a maximum of five.
Each individual course involves preparatory reading and 24 hours of intensive seminars, assignments and/or examinations, plus independent study. There are six series of research workshops, allowing for face-to-face discussions between supervisors and students. All seminars and other contacts are conducted after office hours or at weekends.
"DBA students are required to finish a 30,000-word thesis, compared with PhD students, who need to write 80,000 words," Mr Mak says. He adds that the aim of the coursework is to help action-orientated managers strengthen their ability to meet the rapidly changing needs of the knowledge-based economy. However, the essence of the course is the "process of research", teaching students how to go about the business of collecting and analysing the most useful data.
"If a student works on a project about branding, we expect them to start with certain plans and assumptions in order to take the right approach," Mr Mak explains. "This might mean preparing questionnaires as a tool for research and knowing how to define the extent and limits of the project."
The DBA programme was originally launched seven years ago and there are two intakes annually, each with between 20 and 30 students. About 50 per cent are classified as local Hongkongers, with the remainder being from the mainland or overseas.
- DBA programme gives senior executives advanced management skills though a combination of coursework and research projects
- Emphasis on providing knowledge that helps in finding practical solutions in the workplace
- Supervisors on hand to give guidance and keep research projects on the right track