A-Z lessons on economic crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


As the world economy teeters on the brink of a recession, it is of great importance to understand how the international financial system functions. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) offers two degree courses in economics for those who are curious about how to forecast and avoid crisis situations.

The master of social sciences (MSSc) in global political economy is a taught degree course organised by the faculty of social sciences and launched in 2008, in response to the financial crisis and the dire state of the global political economy.

Its fourth intake is now open to students from different sectors and countries to apply for, although candidates usually hail from the Hong Kong government, investment banks, retail banks, and not-for-profit organisations.

The programme's aim is to provide a comprehensive curriculum based on theoretical training and empirical analysis, giving students a good grounding in global political and economic issues.

But the ultimate objective is to equip students with broad vision in the globalising career market and in a fast-changing and volatile world.

For better flexibility, the programme has just two required courses, and 13 elective courses covering China and its neighbours, plus other developing and developed economies.

They address issues such as the global financial crisis, global civil society, global governance, global integration and regionalism, the development of China's Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas, the BRICS and emerging economies, and Islamic financial markets, among others.

There are field trips organised as well. This year, a trip to Brazil is planned to familiarise students with emerging economies, while previous trips have included India and Laos. The programme also regularly invites financial and academic experts for sharing and has joint-institution seminars with the CUHK executive master of business administration (EMBA) programme.

Available as a one-year full-time or a two-year part-time course, all classes are taught in English. Courses are offered on weekday evenings, Saturday mornings and afternoons, to accommodate part-time students' working schedules.

Graduates of the MSSc programme receive job offers from the government, banks and financial institutions and international organisations, such as the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations. They can also go on to do further studies such as a doctorate.

The division of economics, under the faculty of social sciences, has been running an MPhil in economics programme for 38 years.

'Our MPhil programme is now the only active research master's programme in Hong Kong,' says economics professor Junsen Zhang Wei Lun, head of the economics division at CUHK.

'It has proven very popular with bachelor degree holders from economics and related disciplines such as statistics, mathematics, finance, risk management, and business administration,' he adds.

The division typically receives 200 applications a year and accepts only around 25 students, with about 60 per cent taking the MPhil and the rest doing a PhD.

The MPhil's objective is to offer an analytical framework for students that supports them in the consideration of economic issues, and develops their abilities to analyse problems independently and with sensitivity.

Students get rigorous training in economic theory, maths and statistics, and will also analyse a range of economic issues through applying economic theory and analytical tools. Theory and applications are equally emphasised throughout the study.

'The programme requires core skills in economic analysis, including microeconomic and macroeconomic theory at an advanced level, and econometrics,' Zhang says.

Students have to take a 'thesis research course' every term, totalling six units, and have to present their own research at the end of their studies.

'Apart from coursework, students have to do a substantial thesis to demonstrate their research skills,' says Zhang. 'Many of our students choose to do research related to China because many interesting topics have emerged in this field, and many of our colleagues are researching China.'

The MSSc usually takes two years for full-time students. Part-time students have to attend classes during the day, although they can take up fewer courses per year. All classes are taught in English.

A qualifying exam is held for those who wish to continue on to a PhD. The exam includes micro- and macroeconomic theory, and one on a chosen field of study.

'Our graduates are sought after by employers in many different industries, especially in the banking and finance sector,' says Zhang. 'Knowledge and skills in research are required for these positions.'

Graduates can apply as economic or financial analyst with the government's policy bureau, as well as the census and statistics department.

Public organisations - including the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Trade Development Council - retail and investment banks, as well as securities and investment firms usually also require graduates with an MPhil degree in economics.

Consulting will also benefit from this educational background, but previous work experience is key.

However, Steve Parkes, associate director of executive recruitment firm Michael Page, offers a word of caution. 'Given the uncertainty of the market, it is difficult to tell. There was a major growth, but in [this] type of role, you never have large teams,' he says.

Parkes emphasises that previous work experience will be key for applicants' marketability.