Polytechnic University's (PolyU) faculty of business is confident that curriculum changes it made in the years running up to the financial crisis have markedly improved its programmes. According to Professor Huang Xu, head of the department of management and marketing, these changes have been well received by students. More leadership-related content has been introduced into the MBA and doctor of business administration (DBA) programmes because of a growing realisation that in tumultuous times, leadership can make or break a business. 'Many of our executive students are interested in leadership and the financial crisis has provided the motivation and circumstances for them to understand the value of leadership,' Huang says. 'Many of them led their companies through a tough period and now they want to know what mode of leadership is best.' PolyU has also introduced an MBA module on the global economic environment. The aim is to help students understand the economic systems and conditions on the ground locally and internationally. Contrary to the popular wisdom that Hongkongers are exclusively money minded, PolyU's course on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in its master of science programme has garnered increasing interest. Huang explains that students are now raising 'questions in class on matters of business ethics, sustainability and the environment', because they are keen to fulfil their obligations as responsible social actors, while meeting their commitments to their companies' bottom lines and growth prospects as managers. 'Students want to know what business models meet the expectations of customers and other stakeholders.' The university's negotiation and conflict management course has also been warmly received by students. It's a popular class because managers must constantly negotiate with clients, suppliers and staff, Huang says. 'Knowing how to negotiate is a daily exercise we all experience to varying degrees.' As for the calibre and type of candidates applying to PolyU's business school in a recession, conventional wisdom portends that when the economy is bad, there are more applications to all graduate programmes - especially for business degrees. 'It's been much the same for our MBA, DBA and master of science programmes,' Huang says. Numbers for PolyU's DBA increased 50 per cent in the past two years. 'Last year, it rose 5 per cent, despite the [financial] tsunami.' However, Huang argues the net result of the recession has been to attract a higher calibre of applicants to PolyU. Applications for the DBA were up 40 per cent last year and many were senior executives with 15 to 20 years of managerial experience. 'They all came from different industries and possessed ample seniority, and exceptional ability and academic records,' Huang says. 'It was more competitive than the previous year because normally we only admit 20 DBA candidates, but last year we let in 25 because the pool was just that good.' All DBA candidates must have a master's degree. 'We are training manager-scholars and only let in senior executives,' Huang says. Most DBA students are in their 40s and 50s, with a few in their 60s. While some DBA graduates choose to teach after graduation, most stay in their industries and apply their knowledge to their companies. The goal is help veteran managers and executives learn and apply scientific methods to solve real-world business problems. 'Most of them are already successful executives in China or Hong Kong - they are not doing this for career development,' Huang says.