Award-winning professor relishes the challenges presented by a group of exceptional EMBA students TO THE uninitiated, global macroeconomics may sound like a mouthful, and a rather dry subject at that, but Milind Rao would not like you to think that. Professor Rao teaches the subject as one of the required core courses in the executive MBA (EMBA) offered by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Global macroeconomics is also being taught in most of the other MBA programmes. The subject is the study of the overall aspects and workings of the global economy, covering major international economics issues, and it offers a framework for thinking about these issues in a clear and systematic manner. Professor Rao says the secret of teaching the topic lies in the way it is approached. 'Teaching isn't so much about conveying information as helping students to learn how to think about a subject,' he said. 'I want them to be able to pose a problem, to develop a framework to address the problem, and finally to solve the problem. 'Ultimately, I want them to be able see the relevance and applicability of the theory to the real world, and vice versa.' Professor Rao, who holds a bachelor of arts and a PhD in economics from Columbia University in New York City, has research interests in macro growth models and international flows of capital and labour. The professor is in his third year at HKUST, having previously taught at the Columbia Business School. In addition to EMBA students, he teaches part-time and full-time MBA students, and students in the international EMBA programme and the MBA programme in Shenzhen. 'Undergraduate students and EMBA students are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with the MBA students somewhere in between,' Professor Rao said. 'EMBA students can be very demanding in class.' Unlike undergraduates, EMBA students expect more than a presentation that engages them. They also want real world relevance and applicability, and they expect to be able to raise questions and intelligently discuss related issues, even if they are not touched on in the lecture. Professor Rao said the EMBA students were fully committed to trying to understand the material. One feature that sets a class of EMBA students apart is the varied background of the participants. Some have studied the subject before and may be working in a related field, as bankers or consultants, while others might never have heard of the subject before. 'This range is usually wider in the EMBA class than in other programmes,' Professor Rao said. 'The challenge is to reach those without a background and not lose those with an extensive background in the topic. Those without a background in the field give it their all by assuming they can understand everything, given sufficient time and effort. 'At the same time, those with a background do not try to show off. Instead, they tend to add material by sharing personal experiences that would aid in the understanding of the subject,' Professor Rao said. Teaching EMBA students is challenging and can also be highly rewarding. 'You cannot just come in with prepared lecture material for that day's class. 'You have to know anything that is relevant to the subject,' Professor Rao said. 'This means you are continually preparing for the class. Expertise does not come from a few days of class preparation. I am always on the lookout for new material, and I try to be aware of any news or issue related to macroeconomics. After teaching an EMBA class, I am always on a high.' EMBA students tend to ask questions that are both interesting and probing. 'I frequently end up thinking differently about a topic,' Professor Rao said. 'I actually learn something about the topic myself.' The standard of participants is always high, and this year's graduates seem to be especially strong. 'They are of a high calibre both in terms of the composition of truly senior level executives and, in my experience, the highest average level of academic performance with the lowest variance,' he said. 'And, finally, there was a wonderful cohesiveness and camaraderie within the class and in my relationship with them.' Being voted best professor is nothing new for Professor Rao. He has also been voted best professor in HKUST's full-time and part-time MBA programmes, as well as by undergraduate business majors. 'It is always gratifying to win a best professor award,' he said. 'In this instance, it is a particular honour because of the extremely high calibre of the students who voted and the world-class quality of my colleagues - both from HKUST and from Kellogg.'