New Hong Kong branch of top US school 'not for elites', says dean

Dean of top US school now in HK aims to recruit right students, not right families

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 4:39am

The dean of a top US business school, which has relocated one of its two overseas campuses from Singapore to Hong Kong, said its programme would not become a certificate-printing machine for the children of China's rich and powerful.

"Our programme is not intended for elites," said Sunil Kumar, dean of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "It's for people who want to be future leaders of businesses. But that doesn't mean, especially in Hong Kong, that you need to come only from certain families.

"If you want proof, my father was a police officer."

The school's executive MBA programme, which charges each student HK$1.2 million, will start at a 35,000 sq ft interim campus in Pok Fu Lam's Cyberport next June.

Kumar said the two-year programme, which includes 14 courses, was hard and demanding, and he expected a maximum of 100 of the "right students" to take it.

These students will spend three weeks in the school's other campuses in Chicago and London, where they will be studying from 9 am to 9 pm, he said.

A grade-three heritage site of about 72,000 sq ft on Mount Davis has been set aside by the government on a 10-year renewable lease for the school as its permanent campus for a one-off premium of HK$1,000.

The school is expected to move into the former detention centre on Victoria Road by 2016.

The school needs to raise HK$270 million in capital costs for the project, and has so far raised almost HK$160 million, Kumar said.

He said they chose Cyberport to accommodate the temporary campus because it is close to a hotel, which is convenient for students who need to fly in to study, and it has buildings with ceilings high enough for auditorium-style classrooms. The campus will host public lectures, according to Kumar, and will provide free venues for conferences.

He refused to disclose the rent of the site, saying only it was a market rate.

Kumar was not worried about attracting the best students in the city to the programme. He said there had been Hong Kong students flying to Singapore to take the courses, and the alumni base here is strong, which would help spread the reputation of the school. Kumar also aims to attract students from Japan, Korea, the mainland and Taiwan.

In the programme's most recent class profile, four out of the five most represented countries are in Asia, with the top three being Singapore, India and China. Hong Kong residents are the fifth largest group taking the courses.

"The first few years are critical in making sure we attract the right students," Kumar said. "We'll use our existing relationships and build new ones."

But some critics have been asking if the skill of making good business decisions is one that can be learnt at all.

While admitting that there is no shortcut or formula to making the right choices, Kumar argued that business schools can teach students how to analyse situations, develop tools such as "economic psychology" and teach how to evaluate the potential consequences of decisions.