The major universities in Hong Kong now offer the opportunity to pursue continuing education in a host of diverse disciplines. While the focus is still on providing top quality programmes, tertiary-level institutes have become increasingly market-driven and conscious of the need to develop courses which cater more directly for students who are also professionals working in commercial enterprises.
According to Forrest Chan, business development manager of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Professional and Continuing Education (LiPACE) of the Open University of Hong Kong, a course can be developed with or without other parties. Collaboration partners may include professional bodies, overseas universities and major industry players. These contacts make it possible to tap into different levels of expertise and ensure the programmes are up to date and relevant.
In his current role, Mr Chan, together with other academic staff, develops course content, covering everything from generating initial ideas to conducting market research, needs analysis and general liaison. For example, in putting together the joint diploma programme in in-flight service with Cathay Pacific, he had to study the recruitment requirements of all major airlines and their current training programmes before drafting his proposal. Altogether, the process took close to a full year.
On the business side, Mr Chan is responsible for the contract negotiations, which determine how the university and external parties will cooperate, and for setting tuition fees. Once course details are fixed, programme coordinators then get involved in order to plan implementation and decide on operational aspects. At that point, Mr Chan switches his attention to marketing and promotional activities.
LiPACE also arranges tailor-made corporate training programmes for both public and private organisations. Although this only represents a small proportion of their business, Mr Chan says it helps in establishing relations with industry players and allows the school to keep abreast of market trends.
Besides that, LiPACE has plans to work with certain companies to repackage and "formalise" their in-house corporate training programmes and potentially make them available not only for trainees but also for the general public. "This will help companies to enhance the standard of their staff training, while enabling the university to develop new courses which will be able to generate additional long-term revenue," Mr Chan says. Initial examples of this approach include a professional diploma in Banking and Finance and a course in Putonghua for retail banking, specially developed to incorporate the internal training materials of DBS Bank and course content from the Open University.
For a programme to succeed, Mr Chan says that course content must reflect market needs and the fees must be generally affordable. The effect of the school's branding can also have an impact. He admits that the role of business development manager brings with it a heavy workload and significant pressures, but says there is great sense of achievement when a course is successful.
Before Mr Chan joined LiPACE in 2002, he was a regional manager for Pearson plc, an international media company with interests in education and publishing. He was a part-time lecturer on business topics for the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Mr Chan suggests that people interested in business development within the education sector should start in a teaching position and realise the importance of acquiring diverse experience. "Their main commitment may be to education, but they also need to be outgoing, analytical and pragmatic. They should have good business sense, so as to understand what kind of new courses will work," he says.