Jake's View

Business schools and their 'case studies' are a waste of time

The government is cheating us by gifting a big site to the University of Chicago to build one

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 5:24am

A top American business school said its self-financing programme would contribute a lot to Hong Kong despite the fact that the course's HK$1.2 million tuition fee has raised a few eyebrows.

SCMP, July 13


I don't have much time for business schools. They all operate on the false premise that advantage in commerce can be had by memorising morality tales called "case studies".

It's false because good judgment is something that you learn at your mother's knee and then refine through a lifetime of interacting with people and learning your business or profession.

Judgment is not something you pick up from notes on what the professor said the company did wrong.

The question to ask the professor is how much experience he or she has had of commerce at a real decision-making level. The invariable answer is none at all, except perhaps for a stint with a consultancy, which is just business school written in a different script. Talk of the blind leading the lame.

If there is a real advantage in commerce to be had from any formal course of studies, then it comes from studying accountancy. This is the language in which business doings are written.

Learn to read a set of accounts properly and it is like opening your eyes. The story becomes apparent in detail that words can never bring you.

Put this together with the apprenticeship of a junior position in whatever industry you find yourself and you are on your way to becoming someone of real insight and importance in that industry.

You won't get there, however, by the mediaeval notion to which business schools subscribe: that understanding can be had from studying the modern equivalent of the lives of the saints (as seen from an American perspective that ignores differing views).

All that this can give you is a perverted code of ethics, which recognises profit alone and scorns the joy that so many successful business people reckon is the true reward for having built something of social value. You'll quickly be spotted, too. Avarice is not actually a virtue in business dealings, especially not with people who really matter.

But I can understand why our bureaucrats decided to accommodate the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with the effective free grant of a 72,000 square foot site on Mount Davis.

They have given Singapore one in the eye. This business school has abandoned the lofty Lion City to move to Hong Kong. Ohhh, doesn't it feel good. Take that, you snobs!

You will note, however, that this project is not really self-financing, as it claims. We have given it a huge subsidy.

The public purse has forgone the billions of dollars that any developer would have paid to build housing on that land, while our bureaucrats proclaim to be desperate to address housing issues. No one seemed to think of housing in this case. How odd.

You will also have noted the HK$1.2 million tuition fee. Here is a course of studies for the rich, of the rich, by the rich. We may find some Hong Kong students attending it eventually. Then again, we may not. This will be a school for the pampered children of corrupt party officials in China.

But just as well, perhaps. As the chart shows, more than a quarter of our workforce is already composed of degree holders, double the ratio of only 15 years ago, and these graduates increasingly complain there are no good jobs around.

They are wrong. There are plenty of good jobs just begging for skilled tradesmen to fill them. Would there happen to be such a thing as the University of Chicago Toilet Booth School of Plumbing?