Howard Davies is associate dean at the faculty of business, Polytechnic University. He explains what impact recessions have on the demand for further education at the MBA level and above. Has the economic downturn heightened awareness for further education, especially at MBA/EMBA and DBA levels? An economic downturn usually leads to a higher demand for education on the whole. For business and management education, this phenomenon is very obvious. When business slows down, you have more time to ponder and reflect, to think about what you need and what you can improve. When the environment becomes more challenging and the situation more difficult, you would think more about how to maintain your market share, what edges you have over others. One very direct way of enhancing your abilities and strengths is further education. That is one major reason why postgraduate business education, including MBA, EMBA and DBA places, is now in demand. Have you noticed an increase in interest in business education from people in specific industries? Why do you think this is so? As far as we know, there has been a bigger demand for business education in general. The reason, probably, is that the economic crisis is global, affecting the whole world and all industries. In response to a growing need for further studies in general management, our MBA programmes will be merged in the coming academic year for a more flexible curriculum. Students are still free to choose from a range of electives to focus on the areas of fashion business, financial services, IT management, and innovation and design management. What role do you think business schools can play in equipping students with the right skills to deal with similar economic downturns in the future? The recent economic downturn prompted us to re-evaluate our risk management and corporate governance. These are some of the areas we have neglected in the past. Or, at least, their importance was underestimated. To avoid or minimise risk and to prepare our students to address economic crises, our MBA programme will include new subjects such as operations management, global economic environment and leadership in the Asian context to name but a few. Business research methods is a subject where students learn how to deepen their understanding of market needs, growth potential, and so on. This can be applied to different industries. How important to business education courses is the quality of the students on the programme? For postgraduate business education, the quality of students is as important as the curriculum. To achieve a more rigorous standard, our MBA programme is reducing the annual intake number but increasing the number of credits each student is required to complete. Apart from being mature and confident, our students need an analytical and critical mind to apply what they have learned to real-world business and address complex issues. Leadership and ethical thinking will be further developed during their studies. After a three-year process of international benchmarking and planning, we're extending the curriculum and our reach across China. Our MBA students have an average of over 10 years of professional/managerial experience at middle level. They exchange views and share experience with fellow classmates and professors. This is an integral part of their learning. What sort of networking opportunities do business schools such as yours provide, and how important are opportunities such as these? We have students from various fields including IT/engineering/surveying, accounting/finance/insurance, sales/marketing, merchandising/fashion, logistics/operation, administration/HR/training/education, design, and so on. This is very important as it not only helps students to develop multiple perspectives in looking at problems or managerial issues, but also enhances their ability to handle multifunctional tasks. To address complex issues in today's business world, you often need concerted efforts and collective expertise. A successful business leader certainly needs a strong and extensive network and our MBA classroom is where you find people from diverse backgrounds and professions. To facilitate exchange of knowledge and experience, we're unifying our MBA programmes offered in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Xian under our OneChina MBA scheme. Students will also have ample opportunities for networking through common workshops, forums and alumni involvement. We are also looking at ways to link our students with MBA students in other places.