Business education reloaded
The full impact of the global financial crisis is still to be determined, but the Hong Kong University of Science, and Technology's (HKUST) Business and Management School has already drawn key lessons from the events of the past three years, and is adapting courses accordingly. Where necessary, this means rethinking certain elements of the curriculum and, perhaps just as importantly, giving students the analytical tools and broad perspective needed to challenge ingrained but outdated beliefs.
'We are now putting more emphasis on things like responsible leadership, risk management and sustainable development,' says Professor Leonard Cheng, dean of HKUST Business and Management School. 'And the new four-year undergraduate curriculum will involve more case studies, company-based projects, and two courses on business ethics, replacing the current one.'
The all-round aim is not simply to teach the methods and mechanics of disciplines like accounting, finance, marketing, and operations management. It is also to build students' character and give them a real sense of business responsibility and consequences, Cheng adds.
This has to go beyond narrow concerns about the performance measures and competition affecting one's own company or industry. In a global economy, where consumers in the widest sense are closely watching corporate behaviour, future executives and aspiring leaders must also concern themselves with issues such as the environment, natural resources and cultural diversity.
'We have also introduced initiatives that focus on risk management,' Cheng says. 'Students at all levels need to be more aware of this, not only in the Business School, but across the university.'
Seeing, too, how roles are now changing the world of finance - and anticipating the possible repercussions - departments are being asked to put greater emphasis on aspects of entrepreneurship. The reasoning is that when everything plays out, the global crisis will lead to significant net loss of finance-related jobs.
It is already clear that many of the financial innovations dreamed up in the past decade did not meet the needs of the real economy. In due course, restructuring looks sure to stretch well past the immediate circle of investment and commercial banking to touch many other sectors.
'The shrinking of the finance industry means that jobs there will be gone,' Cheng says. 'But if students learn the skills of entrepreneurship, they can create new jobs and new types of career.'
A first step is to offer electives on start-ups and small business management. In addition, professors teaching core modules will more deliberately draw attention to examples of the 'entrepreneurial mindset', showing how and where key decisions were made.
The objective is to give sufficient framework, and then - logically enough - to encourage students to learn by doing. Whenever possible, expert advisers will be invited to share their experience and insights, with the ultimate goal being to set up a successful business, not merely gain credits for an academic exercise.
This mirrors the intended outcome of the annual entrepreneurship competition already held on campus. Initially run for Business School students, it is now open to every faculty, and teams can even include members not directly affiliated with HKUST. Prize money is awarded as seed capital for a start-up, office space is made available, and the winners are generally expected to convert their ideas into action.
'We allow 'outsiders' as long as they contribute to the success of the business that is proposed,' Cheng says. 'Overall, in terms of strengthening our offering on entrepreneurship, it is still work in progress, but students should know what it takes to create new opportunities and run their own business.'
With the introduction of four-year undergraduate degrees next year, certain changes will occur. One is that new students will now enter the school, not a specific programme, and take core courses before declaring a major at the end of their first or second years.
This will encourage a broader outlook. It will still be possible to take a double major, an option increasingly favoured as students see the benefits of combining subjects, thereby adding more to their repertoires.
'We will have a fairly large university core requirement - 36 credits - covering humanities, science and engineering, social science, and business,' says Cheng.