Issues concerning public health and safety have been making headlines these days. While many people remain concerned, some take the initiative to seek a better understanding and in so doing learn to manage potential impacts.
"We're confronting issues from food and drug safety to global warming. Before we can solve such problems, it's necessary to identify their source," says Cheung Kwai-chung, associate professor, Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU).
HKBU began offering its master of science in environmental and public health management in 2001. Since then, demand for professionals specialising in management techniques for environmental protection has surged, all thanks to the growing awareness concerning environmental issues.
Environmental management remains at the core of the programme with food protection and safety management, occupational health and safety management, and public health management as supporting streams.
According to Professor Cheung, the master's programme aims to equip students with essential management techniques and systems that prevent or improve environmental issues.
"By introducing international standards like ISO 14000 for environmental management and ISO 22000 for food safety management, for example, students learn to come up with solutions scientifically," he notes.
In addition to the programme's core subjects and the three main streams, other modules include sustainable management systems, management of public health risks, land and water resources management, integrated waste management, project management and research methodology.
The programme is offered on a two-year part-time or one-year full-time basis and students are required to complete six modules and an optional dissertation.
Courses are reviewed regularly as new issues arise, confronting students with challenges and situations that reflect real life. "Ecotourism and environmental law have been phased out," says Professor Cheung, "We now put more emphasis on hot issues such as food protection and safety as well as waste management."
Students usually take four modules in the first year and the remaining two in the first semester of the second year while starting work on the dissertation. To better equip students for the increasingly competitive business environment, seven completed modules will be required by 2010.
Professor Cheung notes that students opting out of the dissertation are awarded a postgraduate diploma. "With individual tutors assigned to guide each student, some 99 per cent of them complete dissertations and go on to obtain the master's degree," he adds.
Professor Cheung remarks that the programme takes in 50 students annually, 10 to 15 of them mainland graduates. "It started with three to four mainland students initially, but as China confronts its various environmental issues, demand for a higher degree in environmental management has been growing," he explains.
This particular student composition adds an extra dimension to the programme. Local students come from various career backgrounds, including those in government departments, engineering and accounting. While the majority of them hold management positions in private companies, mainland students are mostly fresh graduates. "This encourages the exchange of ideas and insights on both sides," says Professor Cheung.
An interdisciplinary approach is adopted throughout the teaching as both scientific principles and management methods are introduced. Another key feature is the course assessment, which relies 70 per cent on coursework and the rest on exams.
To accommodate students' busy work schedules, lectures are conducted on weekday evenings with optional weekend site visits to green organisations or waste handling factories.
Past students openly praise the course. Alumni Yasmin Chir, now a quality control manager of a consultancy firm, emphasises the real life examples provided on campus helped her to grasp an advanced understanding of Asia's current environmental challenges. An additional skill that she believes facilitated a recent promotion is her knowledge of the management system ISO 14001, which enables her to handle her company's environmental auditing.
Another graduate, Winfred Lau, is impressed by the programme's practical management skills training. "The fundamental knowledge of local and international issues I learnt has equipped me with a solid foundation for a career in environmental management," Mr Lau says.
Business benefits as well as individuals, Professor Cheung stresses. "Green purchasing, energy saving and waste management all help to save operating costs. As long as every company appoints a key person in environmental management, global environmental issues can eventually be settled," he concludes.