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In the 17th century, the English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon declared: "Knowledge is power." And the lasting validity of his insight is clear in today's blink-and-you've-missed-it economy, where swift and accurate collection, processing and dissemination of information have become vital to success.
This commercial imperative has led to a growth in demand for professionals with higher-level qualifications in key areas such as information systems management.
"Demand has been increasing in a variety of businesses and roles as companies have become more dependent on information systems to be able to run their businesses efficiently and effectively," says Dr Theodore Clark, associate professor and academic director of the master of science (MSc) in information systems management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
This positive outlook for those with the relevant higher-level qualifications is echoed by Lancy Chui, managing director of global recruitment firm ManpowerGroup's Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam Operations. Through its Experis brand, ManpowerGroup provides talent in finance technology, investment banking and IT.
"Hiring managers are seeking IT candidates who have superb IT skills and knowledge, gained through upgrading their IT qualifications, coupled with strong business acumen," says Chui. "Candidates with the right skills can find it easier to accelerate their IT career."
HKUST offers MSc and doctorate (PhD) programmes in information systems management. "The MSc is a part-time 16-month programme designed to help students become effective managers of technology within the businesses where they work," says Clark.
The PhD is a four-year, full-time programme designed to prepare academically focused candidates on careers in research and education.
Chui recognises the importance of the non-technical skills that IT professionals can also develop on programmes such as HKUST's. "To make themselves stand out from the crowd, it is essential to have the relevant work experience, specific job skills, and show great capabilities in team building, critical thinking and lateral thinking," she says.
HKUST is the only science and technology research university in Hong Kong, and Clark believes that the make-up of his faculty ensures the quality of its programmes. "We have an exceptionally strong faculty in information systems management that combines both academic excellence and practical experience in a way that no other university in Hong Kong can match," he says, adding that less than one third of student applicants are admitted given the university's high standards.
The entry requirements cover not only academic qualifications, but also work experience. "While we expect all of our applicants to have at least two years of work experience, the average for our candidates is nine years of post-undergraduate work experience. There are a few cases where we have made exceptions and have admitted students who have only one year of work experience," Clark says.
"But these were extraordinary candidates who would have also been qualified for consideration as PhD students, due to their first class honours achieved at top universities and their exceptional performance on graduate admissions test exams."
The tuition fee for HKUST's MSc in information systems management is HK$132,000. The programme is structured to run parallel with the students' working week. "All courses are delivered via lectures and case discussions in class, with classes held on Saturday morning and afternoon on our HKUST campus," says Clark.
There are also some optional evening classes during some instruction periods, which may replace morning classes as an option for students.
The courses within the MSc are usually eight weeks in duration. However, adds Clark, "there is one course in January that is only four weeks long and which is taught all day on Saturday; and at least one four-day elective course offered during the summer."
Clark says that all classes are worth two credits, and the programme consists of 15 classes, each taught in eight-week, half-day per class sessions.
According to him, graduates from the MSc programme are primarily serving in information systems leadership roles, either in the management of technical teams or in providing the bridging management role between functional areas of the business - such as finance, marketing and accounting - and the information systems development teams.
"They help to ensure that their firms get what they need to be successful from their investments in information technologies," he says, adding that his former students are filling these roles in a constantly expanding range of businesses.
"Consulting, security, and auditing for information systems are growing professions with increased demand for professionals. Electronic commerce is also an increasing area of employment and business demand for a multitude of companies," Clark says.
"Customer relationship management and business intelligence are also expanding, and increasingly require people with information systems management skills," he adds.