Case study: Chinese University of Hong Kong

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As one of the world’s leading financial centres, it is hardly surprising that Hong Kong is full of financial training courses.

While all the city’s nine universities offer a wide range of business education programmes, potential students can also choose from dozens of other classes provided by local institutes and overseas universities. As a result, competition is keen.

With that in mind, the faculty of business administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the city’s second-oldest university with a picturesque campus in the north of the territory, is trying to attract students by being “practical”.

“Most people who study for a master’s degree do not plan to go for a [Doctor of Philosophy]. They want better career prospects. Our job is to train our students to be more employable,” says Chak Wong, director of the school’s master of finance programme and associate director of MBA programmes.

Having worked at leading investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Barclays Capital, Mr Wong knows firsthand what it takes to become a successful banker.

He also understands what a good master in finance programme should teach and what his students ought to learn to excel in the financial world.

Based on his experience, Mr Wong has structured the master in finance programme to train students to “think on their feet” on graduation.

“The most important thing is to train our students to be able to solve new problems based on fundamental knowledge,” he says.

To do that, he has invited people from the financial industry to teach and supervise at the master programme. The specialists – including bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate treasurers and lawyers – are responsible for about a third of the courses, while the rest are taught by the school’s own faculty members.

Having industry participants teaching is a big difference between the master in finance programme offered by CUHK and other courses in the territory, according to Mr Wong.

“[The industry specialists] make a big difference to our programme. They can share with our students what the real world is like,” he says.

In fact, collaborating with others is something CUHK’s business school has been doing over the years to build its reputation.

In 2002, CUHK’s accountancy school, Hong Kong’s oldest with 30 years of history, set up a master of accountancy programme with the Shanghai National Accounting Institute, which is backed by the State Council and the Ministry of Finance, to train senior accounting professionals to meet China’s growing demand for accountants.

It was the first master-level accountancy course offered in China and quickly became highly sought-after among middle level managers. Today, students are mostly chief financial officers or senior partners at accounting firms, with 15 years of working experience on average.

The programme has not only been successful in attracting applicants – but also copycats.

According to Oliver Rui, director of the executive master of professional accountancy programme, 34 universities in China, under the direction of the Ministry of Education, now offer a similar programme.

To stand out, CUHK added “executive” to the name five years ago and plans to raise tuition fees in 2011: “We want people to know that it is not a regular master degree. It is ‘executive’. We want to differentiate ourselves from them,” says Mr Rui.

But a change in the name is not enough: “I have been told that the ministry of education is going to copy us again and put an ‘e’ in their programme names. We are going to face another round of competition,” he adds.

In response, CUHK is going to resort to what it does best – collaboration. The accountancy school plans to ask an international university to teach some classes. It is currently in talks with University of California, Berkeley, The University of Texas at Austin and the University of British Columbia about being a partner.

“Competition is not always bad. It pushes us to advance our content, approach and the curriculum,” says Mr Rui.

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