With an economy that thrives on the property market, success in the property and construction business in Hong Kong lies with effective project management. Nothing is more important than the ability to oversee the work of skilled people assigned to the right management and project roles.
Project management began in the 1950s as a specialised skill representing the ability to organise and manage resources in such a way that everything required to complete a one-time project in terms of quality, time, and cost is accomplished despite the presence of constraints. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), celebrating its 70th anniversary, has for the past nine years run a master of science (MSc) and a postgraduate diploma (PgD) programme (delivered via Hong Kong CyberU — the online arm of PolyU, for the past six years) dedicated to the field.
"The MSc programme aims to deepen students' knowledge in areas of project management where the students tend to be specialised in areas such as building or construction engineering," says Geoffrey Shen, programme leader of MSc in Project Management, and associate head of the Department of Building and Real Estate.
Students typically come from a construction or building related background with a first degree in construction related discipline. "We also have people coming from a first degree in mechanical engineering but currently working in the construction industry, so it is for anyone that has a first degree and relevant experience who wishes to improve themselves," he adds.
Time to learn
For building professionals like construction surveyors that work long hard hours, finding the time to attend classes in the evening can be difficult, if not impossible. The project management programme frees up the necessary time with the flexibility of its web-based guide and part-time classroom approach. The web-based learning approach allows student to learn anywhere at anytime at a student's own pace. They join the programmes through HKCyberU, which facilitates participation by overseas students. "Our philosophy is to facilitate student learning," Professor Shen remarks.
Another time saving feature is the administration of the programme, which saves time and effort by innovatively providing all necessary textbooks and reading materials directly to the students. Supplemental online tutorials where students interface with the lecturer and other classmates are an added bonus. "It is not simply web-based, what we are using is a hybrid mode of delivery," says Professor Shen. "Students want human interaction rather than just watching a cold screen all the time, hence, it is important to have a good balance between high-tech and traditional face-to-face teaching."
Students on the MSc programme take four three-credit compulsory core subjects (real estate development, managing people in projects, construction process management and strategic management), three other core subjects, and complete three elective subjects or a dissertation.
Theories that are learned in the classroom are often at odds with actual applications in the workplace, however at PolyU two stages of validation ensure that the course work is relevant and can be applied back to the workplace. "Students are encouraged to combine what they learn in the classroom and then draw from their own experiences in the workplace — critically reviewing how the project can be done better," says Professor Shen.
Another appealing aspect of the programme is that on completion it is recognised by the UK's Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), hence students are exempt from entry examinations and require only a successful interview to become full members.
For those seeking project management positions, Professor Shen believes the programme equips them with people as well as financial management skills. Effective channels of communication are essential and this requires project team members who understand reporting hierarchy and the necessity to ensure that all personnel are made accountable. "Students normally specialise in one area and when it comes to project management they need to have a broad background in all related fields as they will be working with people from various backgrounds," says Professor Shen.
The extensive knowledge students' gain from the programme makes them well placed to take on projects for their respective companies. Professor Shen concludes, "An employer's biggest asset is the employees so if employees can improve themselves to do a better job in a shorter period of time that itself adds value to the company."