Earthly reasons

by Grace Chan

Chung Shan-shan, assistant professor
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Hong Kong Baptist University
Photos: Dickie Tam
Master's programme harnesses environmental management skills

In today's business environment, there has been an increasing emphasis on pursuing responsible business management.

It is a quest to balance economic development with environmental sustainability, and the demand is rapidly growing for professionals with skills to incorporate managerial insights into the scientific principles of environmental protection and effective maintenance of a healthy environment.

"Going interdisciplinary is a trend in the present market, which has been tested to be an effective approach in addressing and handling environmental problems from various angles," says Chung Shan-shan, assistant professor, Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU).

For this reason, the university's master of science in environmental and public health management programme has over the past few years attracted not only local professionals, but also mainland graduates who aspire to take up managerial roles in this field.

Wide scope

Offered in a one-year full time and two-year part time basis, the programme aims to provide insights into environmental management; food protection and safety management; occupational health and safety management; and public health management for students skilled in project management and research methodology.

Students are required to complete seven modules out of eight choices and a dissertation, in addition to passing written examinations and module-specific group projects.

"Many of our students hail from strong technical backgrounds, and are familiar with the technical details of the subject. With the managerial skills they acquire from this programme, they are able to take up managerial roles rather than stay at technical functions," Professor Chung notes.

The programme's teaching staff are made up of academics with a proven research background in the fields of environmental and public health. Striving to combine theoretical principles with real-life experience, the Department of Biology has invited SGS Hong Kong, a leading certification company of service management standards and technical inspection of products from various industries, to give lectures on three subjects.

"In doing so, students can learn from hands-on experience of industry practitioners," Dr Chung points out. "Most important of all, they are expected to have their critical thinking enhanced during the study."

She explains many legal regulations in this industry are not always black-and-white, allowing situations to be open to interpretation. Therefore, students who take on managerial positions need a sharp, critical mind to analyse every issue and derive the best possible solutions.

Topical issues

The master of science in environmental and public health management programme is under constant review with a strong focus on hot issues such as waste management (electronic waste in particular) and food safety. Regular research offers students the latest data to work on.

Since its inception in 2001, the programme has received a 10 to 15 per cent increase in applications every year, particularly from mainland China. A stringent screening process that includes a face-to-face interview for local applicants and phone interview for overseas applicants ensures that applicants' educational goals match the programme's curriculum.

As Dr Chung notes, no admission quota has been set and the average intake is around 70 students every year. Considering the increasing interest in the discipline, the annual intake may be extended to 100.

Currently, almost 40 per cent of students are studying full time. Among them, 50 per cent are fresh graduates from the mainland. "Some of them become environmental managers of companies when they return home," she reveals.

Part-time students are mainly locals who come from diverse educational and professional backgrounds, particularly from major food companies, the construction sector and government departments.

"While confronting critical issues about food hygiene, food companies these days have to step up their environmental and public health management in order to comply with food provision," Dr Chung says. "When people from a wide range of backgrounds get together, it provides a fantastic networking opportunity. We had a student who used to be a computer expert and eventually worked in an environmental company of which her classmate was its CEO."

Currently enrolled full-time student Philippe Langis, a Montreal native business major, is impressed by the programme's interdisciplinary and critical thinking approach.

"To be a manager in the business field, it is crucial to take environmental issues into consideration," he says. "The extensive scope that the curriculum covers has led us to think of different perspectives, and it has given us the necessary tools to look for a career."

With knowledge gained from the programme, Mr Langis aspires to enter the auditing field and to check if companies are committed to complying with environmental rules and regulations. "Demand in this profession is soaring not only in Hong Kong but anywhere around the world," he observes.

Greener pastures

  • Interdisciplinary approach combines managerial skills and scientific principles
  • Industry practitioners invited to present real life examples
  • Soaring demand for green managers ensures excellent career prospects

Taken from Career Times 14 May 2010, A11

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