The publicity around the Enron financial scandal in 2001 led to a renewed global focus on business transparency, while the current US sub-prime crisis has raised concerns over the risks connected to high-leverage investment strategies. Corporate governance aims to ensure that corporations comply with standards beneficial to their sustainability and to the interests of their stakeholders. Business executives must therefore gain an understanding of the subject to enhance their companies' performance in the long term.
Hong Kong executives now have access to a recognised online corporate governance programme entitled Directors Online, jointly developed by the University of Newcastle, Australia, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. The programme, offered via GradSchool.com, the university's online division providing postgraduate programmes, aims to equip managers with the necessary knowledge and skills.
In Hong Kong, the programme is available through Raffles International College (previously known as the Hartford Institute). The college is an established business education provider, headquartered in Singapore with subsidiaries across Asia Pacific.
The demand for corporate governance programmes is strong, says Kevin McConkey, deputy vice chancellor (academic), the University of Newcastle, Australia. "Surveys indicate that companies and executives see a practical need for complying with the principles of sound corporate governance. The online delivery mode gives an extra edge of convenience for working adults seeking knowledge in this area."
Directors Online is a flexible, convenient and cost-effective programme, which enables participants to upgrade their professional knowledge and qualifications at a time and place that suit them.
The programme is endorsed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, which is a member of the ASX Corporate Governance Council, a body responsible for promoting corporate governance practices inside the Australian Securities Exchange. The council recently released an updated document articulating the core principles underlying effective corporate governance.
"This means programme participants will have access to the most current corporate governance information and advice," stresses Professor McConkey.
The Directors Online programme, comprising two compulsory courses and three elective courses, requires a minimum of 98 hours' study. Participants may also take individual courses such as "structure and role of corporate governance" and "board of directors and corporate governance" without enrolling in the complete programme. Elective courses include "risk analysis for practitioners" and "audit governance, independence, market disclosure and shareholder communications".
Those who successfully complete the programme are eligible for membership of the Corporate Governance Association, an Australian non-profit organisation that aims to research corporate governance issues and promote ethical compliance business practices. They also receive 10 units of unspecified credit towards any postgraduate business programme offered by the University of Newcastle's Faculty of Business and Law.
Members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Australia, and professional practitioners may use their course time as continuing professional education qualifying hours.
Corporate governance is about how companies are directed and controlled, explains Professor McConkey, noting that the programme is truly international. Business decisions and actions should comply with the principles of integrity, which are essentially universal, although laws and regulations may vary from one country to another.
"While companies are expected to act transparently, accurately and honestly, it takes professional know-how to implement these principles optimally," Professor McConkey says.