Faced with a lecture theatre full of senior business executives whose opinions and business methods differ widely can present plenty of challenges, but it is also one of the most rewarding aspects of an IEMBA programme. According to Gary Biddle, chair professor of accounting at the School of Business and Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), the IEMBA programme always presents new questions and insights. 'During breaks we often hear students calling their companies explaining what they have learnt and immediately putting new concepts into practice,' Professor Biddle said. The topics discussed and examined are real issues faced by senior executives in an evolving business environment. He said this makes the IEMBA programme one of the most exciting aspects for an instructor to be involved in. Because participants represent a broad range of industries and businesses there is always lively debate and a thirst to learn about new ways of solving problems. He said the programme, which teaches a combination of western and Chinese management techniques, would help Chinese companies compete against international rivals. Professor Biddle said working with an IEMBA class requires more than providing insightful business and management information; it also involves engaging each student. For example, one participant may have experience and a clear understanding of accountancy while another could be a novice in this area. The challenge is to help the novice acquire relevant knowledge while keeping the more experienced participant engaged. 'We do this by looking at different approaches and solutions that challenge the experienced participant but at the same time raise the knowledge levels of the entire group,' Professor Biddle said. The same principle applies throughout the programme. He said during four-day intensive learning sessions, each day often lasting up to 10 hours, the enthusiasm for learning and networking continues once the classroom periods have ended. During casual discussion sessions, friendships are cemented and the benefits of networking are extended. 'Each graduation class of about 50 senior executives with direct connections with the programme alumni forms a very strong business network,' Professor Biddle said. Although taught in English with simultaneous translation into Putonghua, Professor Biddle said the use of both languages created more benefits than problems. 'Many of our students are familiar with various English business expressions so when they hear them explained in detail in both languages it helps to reinforce the meaning,' he said. As part of the programme acceptance criteria, participants and their companies must commit to completing assignments and attending residential sessions. The class schedule is designed to allow participants to continue their careers and work commitments while they study. In addition, the schedule provides students with the opportunity to exercise their new skills in workplace situations.